Hartman chronicles 154 Cass country school sitesPublished 8:30am Wednesday, September 16, 2009
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
CASSOPOLIS – Ironically, the man who has devoted 20 years to researching and preserving the history of 154 such Cass County sites, didn’t attend a rural one-room school.
Kenneth Hartman, 75, of Wayne Township, went to school in Dowagiac, including the old Oak Street school where Justus Gage Elementary is today.
He blames his wife Mable’s White School reunion for some 300 former students at Newton’s Woods in August 1989 for kindling his pursuit.
His research exposed him to others who share his passion, though they would not include the dog who chased him away from Dwyer School in Newberg Township or the woman who attended Cherry Grove School who slammed the door in his face rather than share any recollections.
Milton Township had a Cherry Valley School.
There were two Oak Groves – in Porter and in LaGrange townships. The Porter Oak Grove schoolhouse, now a home, puzzled Hartman because it seemed to move. He finally determined that it was the road that altered course.
At least one bell tower – from Goodenough School east of Volinia – found new life as a doghouse.
As Hartman told the Cass County Historical Society Tuesday night at Cass District Library, he’s still amazed by the number of people who can go into their old school, point out where their desk was and reel off who sat where from one side of the classroom to the other.
“Most people I’ve ever talked to about schools sure have a whole lot of pride in the building they attended. It’s amazing how many years back they can remember,” Hartman said.
Rather than a recitation of history, Hartman’s Sept. 15 anecdotal program recounted “some of the situations I found myself in chasing down some of these schools.”
Picking the brains of what is now some 300 people mostly proved pleasant experiences.
But when he knocked on the door of that Dowagiac woman inquiring about her LaGrange Township school memories, “She said, ‘Nope!’ There was no way she would talk to me whatsoever, and I never did figure out why.”
In Wayne Township, for example, Hartman knows of 12 school sites, including Glenwood, North Wayne, Gage, Kirkwood Red, White, Hardscrabble, Dutch/Chiverton, Glenwood Adventist, Higgins, Brown-Ellis and two from 1860 and 1872 without names – one, an outline of a foundation remains and the other, even the exact location has not been determined.
Of those structures that remain, they are used for residences, the North Red Hill 4-H clubhouse, an adult foster care facility, an art gallery and church.
Cullinane School is Silver Creek Township’s hall. Kessington School is Mason Township’s hall. Peavine School is Pokagon Township’s hall.
Hartman can’t resist noting that the Rev. Ted Bennink, who married Ken and Mable 55 years ago and died in April 2001, lived in brick Indian Lake School, as did Leader Publications editor Marcia Steffens.
Skeptical that Globe School sat on Finch Road in Marcellus Township between two rails, Hartman asked an older man for proof.
“Son,” the oldtimer replied, “I went to school there and my mother was a teacher there. I know full well where it’s at.:
Where 10,200 country schools operated in Michigan in 1900, 22 remain. A state one-room school association has documented 6,300.
“One school I had a tough time finding was King School in South Porter Township along the St. Joseph River,” Hartman recalled. “I usually look for an area about an acre square. Nothing. We went clear to the Indiana state line and didn’t see a thing. We turned down Idlewilde Street and every mailbox down that road for a mile had the name King on it, so I knocked on a door. He said, ‘My name is Bob King. I’ll show it to you.’ It was his living room.”
At some point King students decided to attend school in nearby Bristol, Ind., which upset Michigan taxpayers, so they ended up attached to the White Pigeon district.
Hartman was particularly intrigued by Biscuit Hill School on the corner of Redfield and Brush roads in Milton Township.
How did it come by its unusual name? Hartman learned that from the west side, the ground it sits on resembled a biscuit. He said the California School name originated with residents leaving the area for the gold rush out west.
When isolated schools consolidated and stood empty, many caught fire, including Hampshire-Collins in Pokagon Township, Glenwood and Warner in Volinia Township. Only Warner’s water pump remains.
Glenwood students “went to school at church for a while, then part of them went up to Mattawan. Warner, some of them went to Decatur. Consolidation started doing away with rural schools. Everybody seems to think that was back in the ’60s, but it was earlier than that – the 1920s. The lower portion of Cass County was designated the Edwardsburg Consolidated School.
“In our area up here, a gentleman from Lansing, affiliated with a Michigan education association, went around to the schools telling them the benefits of consolidating and going into, in our case, Dowagiac. I stated to him, ‘I think you owe my wife an apology.’ He got all flustered and said, ‘I don’t even know your wife.’ The way you’re talking here, because she went to a country school, she’s less than intelligent. I should be a lot smarter than her because I went to a city school in Dowagiac.”
And that sparring was Ken’s introduction to a product of Goodenough School – the late state Sen. Harmon Cropsey, R-Decatur.
Hartman has compiled a list of when each school hooked up to electricity (Briar Patch in Volinia, Aug. 30, 1938-Nov. 22, 1950; Bulhand in Calvin Township, June 26, 1939-Aug. 25, 1949; and Dibble in Howard Township, Sept. 12, 1938-July 31, 1947).
Dewey School in Pokagon Township had its power disconnected Jan. 13, 1954, for non-payment. Pokagon’s Mayflower School didn’t need power after a 1949 fire.
Hartman recalls his visit to Corey School, also in Newberg. “He took me in his house. They’d done a lot of work. The walls are 11 1/2 inches thick” due to layers of drywall, wooden siding and vinyl siding.
“I’ve got a book on Corey Lake School, which was in Newberg Township until the population moved. They moved the school, which is now in Fabius Township, St. Joseph County. Chiverton School was by Dowagiac and was also called Dutch School. Chiverton was a family that owned property in the area. If you went into the U-shaped driveway of Calvary Bible Church, it was right straight across” on the other side of Marcellus Highway until closing about 1910.
In some ways, education has changed little since the era of one-room schools, Hartman pointed out. “Lady teachers were paid a whole lot less than the men teachers for doing the same work.” As recently as 2000 he clipped an article from the Elkhart, Ind., about a lawsuit making the same claim.
“Nowadays we have bullying in school,” Hartman added, “with people who come around giving seminars on how to get away from bullying.”
In April 1876, he read, teachers complained that village boys “are getting extremely unruly. They make it a practice of carrying revolvers on their person for the purpose of frightening younger pupils. The teacher also informed them that this class of boys makes large purchases of trashy dime novels for their own reading.”
Hartman, who contributes articles to the Marcellus News on one-room schools and was a reference for Betty Ross’s book about her aunt, Charlotte Haley, said the earliest school he has been able to find was in LaGrange Township in 1830, about where Cherry Grove sat later.
“The school board in 1840 set up seven districts. The first one was Cassopolis,” he said. “I got in a pickle over Dailey School because I couldn’t find a school where my map showed me it was. I saw a gentleman out in his yard. He told me, ‘There ain’t no such thing! It’s Salisbury! Now do you want to know where it’s at?’ And he showed me. He was feisty. It was on the triangle where M-62, Library Street and Hospital Street” converge in Jefferson Township.
Sometimes Hartman must feel like a detective.
“In our area, Wayne Township, there were history book references to a ‘school in the woods.’ That’s it.” Referring to his map, he drove down Dewey Lake Street. The property owner lived on the “valley road” and Ken had visions of being run off at gunpoint, but he approached cautiously and knocked on the door. The man obliged Hartman and pointed him to a swampy area, “but I’ve never found a name for it.”
Abstracts sometimes provide him with solid clues. That’s how he learned of the existence in 1881 of an uncharted schoolhouse on Charles Knapp’s Wilbur Hill Road farm.
If you ever wondered why so many schools were situated next to cemeteries, Hartman said that’s so the good-sized buildings could hold people for funerals.
Hartman rescued 27 volumes of school reports being tossed out in Calvin Township.
In 1870, seven new schoolhouses had been built in Cass County.
“One superintendent complained that they had so many schools because everybody wanted it convenient to them. They didn’t care if it was the best one, they just wanted them close by so they didn’t have to go another mile,” Hartman said.