Organization and History of the Spring Lake Township Schools

Barber Street School

The Barber Street School has been rebuilt, renovated, twice relocated, and has served as everything from a church to an opera house. But the structure was originally a schoolhouse, and a schoolhouse it will remain in the hearts of Spring Lake residents.

Sometime before 1844—no one is sure of the exact date—the first school in Spring Lake [Mill Point] was erected. Since it was built on the corner of Park and Mason Street, the name "Barber Street School" is a bit of a mystery.

Instructors were almost exclusively female in the beginning, although some men were hired as Spring Lake’s population increased and the school needed more teachers. Class was held from 9 a.m. until noon and then resumed after lunch at 1:00 or 1:30 and lasted until 4:00. Students studied spelling, arithmetic, reading, and geography. There were no written lesson or tests, so oral exercises, such as recitations and spelling bees, took up a good part of the schoolwork.

The Spring Lake Heritage league moved the old school to Exchange Street and restored it in 1988, reviving it with new carpeting, a kitchen, landscaping, and new furniture. It has since been used as a community facility for everything from wedding receptions to meetings of the Village Council.

Barber Street School served as a schoolhouse, church, and public hall until 1855, when a new and larger school was built on one and half lots on property, acquired on November 3, 1854, located on the southeast corner of Park and Liberty Streets. The Barber Street building was remodeled into a residence, and in 1895 it was moved to the site of Cutler and Savidge Sawmill for use as a clubhouse for the Spring Lake Yacht Club. For many years, Barrett Boat Works maintained the building, which later housed a youth recreational center and gymnasium.

It was described as a plain, unpainted building, perhaps 18 or 20 feet wide and 26 to 28 feet long, having a door and one window in the north and two windows on the other end and both sides. It was surrounded by tall shrubs and several fallen trees on the south and west. Inside the building was one room. With the door in the center of the wall. On each side were nails for the children'’ wraps, boys on one side and girls on the other. A large box stove stood a little way in the room. A bench was built along the side walls and a desk with a shelf for books, etc,. Under it, and a passageway through the center of the desk to allow the scholars to pass to their seats; also room at each end for that purpose.

In front of the desks a lower seat was built for the smaller children. The teacher’s desk was at the south end of the building, and it was flanked by two desks for the oldest scholars. Boys and girls sat separately.

Sarah Finch Loosemore [1844-1937], who arrived in Mill Point in 1848, reported: "he first I remember, there were about 20 pupils, mostly small children. Numbers increased. The teachers had different methods of teaching and punishing children. One teacher required the children to make a low bow or curtsy and bid her goodbye when school closed in the afternoon.

There was also teacher’s desk in the south end of the room, with a chair for her use and a seat and desk on each side of the teacher’s for the oldest scholars. There must have been school for some time before we came, for one lady had taught anyway, a Miss Fannie Lovell, afterward Mrs. Foster of Grand Rapids. The first teachers I knew were Miss Marie Hopkins, Miss Bates and Miss Roper, Miss Davis and Mrs. Sexton. I do not think teachers were hired by the year, but by the term, three or four months. The first I remember, there were about 20 pupils, mostly small children, Numbers increased.

The geography studied at that time was much different at present, in treating of the U. S., as the territories have been divided into many states. The questions and descriptions being in one book and maps in another for the oldest students. For beginners the primary geography was in one book, Sanders Readers first, part of the time McGuffey’s, and a primer for the ABC scholars and one or two syllables. The little ones gathered around the teacher and she showed them the letters and taught their names. The teacher had to use her ruler sometimes and sometimes a child would have to stand on the floor by the desk for punishment. The boys and girls had recess separately part of the time, but as the number of scholars increased it made it too much confusion and all went to play an exercise at once.

De Witt School

Right down to the traditional rooftop bell, the De Witt Schoolhouse exemplified the one-room schoolhouse that were common in the United States around 1900. For more than 60 years, students came to the school from their countryside homes, some walking more than two miles to get there.

The building was erected in 1891 on land donated by the De Witt and Bosch families. Thanks to recent renovations, the interior accurately resembles that of the original school, featuring a globe that hangs from the ceiling, portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, a wood stove, gas lights, blackboards and desks, even a piano. The original building used kerosene lamps for illumination and had a octagon clock. Six windows lined the walls and slate backboards and students desks finished the interior. The roof was done in wood shingles, and the belfry had a lightning rod.

The bell signaled the beginning of class each day at 9 a.m. The students, all between the first and eight grades, would hoist the flag, sing a patriotic song, and open their lessons with a reading from the Bible. A single teacher could handle up to 40 pupils at one time by conducting one 10 minute period per subject for each of the eight grades. School was out at 330 p.m.

The students came from an area of approximately four square miles. They walked as much as two and half miles to school and carried their lunch. Enrollment for a year averaged 25 to 30 students for the eight grades. Upon completion of the eighth grade, students transferred to Grand Haven High School for grades nine through twelve.

A few changes came in the 1940’s, when new windows were put in, and electricity replaced the gas lighting. Indoor toilets were also installed, replacing the separate outdoor facilities for boys and girls. Aside from these additions, the school appeared almost the same as it had 50 years before. In 1976 the school was listed on Michigan’s State Register of Historic Sites, and three years later the building was reopened as a living history museum. It was given the street address of 17710 West Taft Road.

The original four square mile school district was bounded on the south by Van Wagoner Road, the county line on the north, the railroad tracks on the east, and Lake Michigan on the west. In 1959 the district merged with Ferrysburg schools, and the De Witt Schoolhouse closed its doors to students.

Ferrysburg School

School District #1, located in the Village of Ferrysburg, was organized in 1857. The next year Thomas Merrill was elected Director, B. F. Evans, Treasurer, and William M. Ferry, Moderator. In the mid-1880’s women teachers were paid $20 to $24 per month for a ten-month school year, while male teachers received $55 to $60 for eight months. A small wooden schoolhouse, painted white, was built on Elm Street sometime after the Civil War, probably in the 1870’s. The building was enlarged as attendance grew. A woman teacher instructed the small children. When they passed to the fourth grade, a male teacher was in charge. Each teacher had between 25 and 40 pupils. The school stopped at the eighth grade. The rooms were heated by wood-burning stoves. By 1926 there were 161 students and four teachers. High School students went to Grand Haven

John Sechestage was the principal.

In September, 1927 a two-story brick structure, built just north of the old school, replaced the frame building. The ground floor had four classrooms and lavatories, and the second floor had two classrooms, a library, and a auditorium with seating for 200. The auditorium could be converted into two more classrooms, if necessary. The principal was given a small office. The building cost $45,000. Late on February 10, 1953 a fire extensively damaged the school. The 240 students were schooled temporarily in Spring Lake.

A one-story brick building replaced the burned edifice in September, 1954. It was located on a triangular piece of property west of the railroad tracks, boarded on the north by Roosevelt Road and on the south by Ridge Avenue. For a few years this building was sufficient for grades kindergarten through junior high school, but by the early 1960’s the seventh and eighth grades were bused into Grand Haven. On March 17, 1959, voters approved having the Ferrysburg School annexed to the Grand Haven school system, and the merge was completed in 1963. The Ferrysburg School continued to serve kindergarten through sixth grade until Lake Hills was built.

Holmes Elementary School

This Spring Lake School, located at 426 East River Street, was named for Jay Holmes, Superintendent of Schools from 1923 to 1958. It replaced a school on the northeast corner of Buchanan and Exchange Streets that had been in use since 1894. He new one-story, sandstone building opened for classes to 500 students in the fall of 1951 and was dedicated on November 8 that year, with Congressman Gerald R. Ford leading the ribbon-cutting ceremony. It took less than 12 months to construct the $425,000 structure. Two classrooms were added in subsequent years.

Jeffers School

Built as a rural school in 1868, Jeffers was located at 14429 Leonard in Spring Lake Township. Like many small schoolhouses, the original building was converted to a residence.

McMann School

This Spring Lake school was established in 1856. It was located at the northeast corner of Old State Road and 144th Street. It was named for Jeremiah and Ellen North McMann, who donated the land for the school. It later became part of the Fruitport school system.

Park Street School

On November 3, 1854, Spring Lake Township acquired the property on the southeast corner of Liberty and Park Streets for a new Park Street School.

Spring Lake Junior/Senior High School

In 1958 Spring Lake voters approved a $1.35 million bond issue to build a combined junior/senior high school at 345 Hammond Street. The new school opened the next year, and Spring Lake students no longer had to take the bus to Grand Haven . Three years after that the school district became independent of the Grand Haven system. The center section of the building originally housed junior high students. The trademark arches dated from that year, also. In 1963 Spring Lake added freshmen and sophomores. The first class to complete four years in the new building graduated in 1965. Also in 1963 a new junior high section was added to the north end, allowing the high school to expand into its former space. Five years later the school was again enlarged with an addition to the south side. That space eventually housed the high school gymnasium, the pool, art and home economics classrooms, and technology and administrative offices. In 1991 two science classrooms were added to the west wing.

A 175,00 square foot high school was opened at 16140 148th Avenue in Spring Lake Township in the fall of 2000. The new school housed ninth through twelfth grades. Voters made the new construction possible when they approved a 22.8 million bond issue in May, 1997. After moving into the new high school, the Hammond Street structure was renovated to house upper elementary and intermediate students.

Union School of Spring Lake

There also was a Union School in Spring Lake. In 1867 voters in the Village agreed to "proceed to organize a Union or graded school." The school was built on Exchange Street in 1869 at a cost of $6,444. In 1873, $400 was raised to add the north wing, the upper floor of which was finished and furnished in 1880 at a cost of $534. This was the first graded Spring Lake school. It was destroyed in the devastating fire of May 11, 1893, and replaced the following year by a brick building at a cost of $12,000. The building was used until it was replaced by Holmes School in 1951. High school courses were available either in Muskegon or Grand Haven.

Transcriber: Barb Jones
Created: 3 May 2007