A map of all of Allegan County’s one-room schoolhouses is being developed. It has several missing schools in Gun Plain and Otsego townships.

Group seeks (more) help with one-room schoolhouse photos

Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

A project to document Allegan County one-room schoolhouse project is closer to completion; however, several photographs of schoolhouses are still missing, a majority of which are from the Gun Plain and Otsego Township area.

The community stepped up to the chalkboard to help with schoolhouse photos in the past. Now organizers David Thompson and Keith Behm are hoping they’ll do it again so all areas are represented in a new map, a historic book and in the repository held at the Jewett School. That building is preserved at the John Pahl Historical Village at the Allegan County Fairgrounds.

Thompson, Behm and other volunteers started the project last year to preserve the documents and photographs relating to Allegan County country schools dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The original documents and photographs at Jewett School are opened to the public during fair week and were getting worn and faded from being handled. They were also susceptible to being lost forever by water or fire.

After 100 volunteer hours, 3,500 original photos of schoolhouses, class pictures and other related documents were digitized and reprinted. The digital version and originals will be housed at the Old Jail Museum while the reprints will be back on display in three-ring binders that include a master list and related documents indexed for easy lookup.

Working to find more than 200 country schoolhouses, one for every square mile in the county, the research was made extra difficult considering many schools had aliases.

“While schoolhouses were usually named after the farmer who donated the land, families came along that didn’t like the school being named after just one person and gave it a new name that did not reflect a local family,” Thompson said. “This made trying to find a specific school more difficult due to a number of different names for the same building.”

The book “The Schools of Allegan County,” is also being compiled to document the photos and research. It has five pages devoted to the aliases of country schools and cross matches listings of all of the known names. For instance, Jewett School was also known as Brownell School, Kaylor School was also named Diamond School and Monteith School was also Oakshade.

Plans are in the works to make the book available to the public through The Allegan County Historical Society. A smaller version of the schoolhouse map for purchase is also being considered.

Thompson, a retired Borgess information and technology officer,  also learned teachers of kindergarten through eighth grades (all learning at the same time under one roof) themselves only needed an eighth-grade education through the 1800s. By 1903, local teachers needed a high school education and a certificate from County Normal located in the Dawson School in Allegan. The one-year certificate was good for three years. To continue teaching it was required to complete Western State Normal School training if they wanted to continue teaching in country schools.

Two women living in the Allegan area that graduated 8th grade, went to Dawson County Normal and then on to Western’s Normal school are Jeanette Parkhurst and Annabelle Samuelson, Thompson said.

Since organizers made a plea last July for photographs by location, the community has shared 1,500 more photos to add to the collection maintained at Jewett School. Organizers have also been invited for some interesting tours of township schoolhouse collections.

If you have or know of someone who might have some of the missing country schoolhouse photos, call Thompson at (269) 673-4136 or email davebette@charter.net or call Behm at (269) 673-4672 or email keithbehm@yahoo.com.


Missing schools include (*The numbers represent (District/Section) respectively):


Clyde Township

Jackson (11/4), Oakwood (35,6), Pitchard (35/6), Tracy (1/5)


Dorr Township

Hillside (28/8)


Fillmore Township

Becksvoort (aka Klomparens) (5/?)


Ganges Township

Lewis (10/10)


Gun Plain Township

Banning (1/9), Bellingham (15/6), Brophy (9/5), Doster (0,7), Hooper (6/10), Morrell (36/3), Neeley (1,9), Silver Creek (34/1), White (17,4)


Heath Township

Hamilton (6,5)


Leighton Township

Huber (1,6), Nelson(32,4)


Manlius Township

New Richmond(16/1)


Martin Township

Martin (29/1), Oakshade (28,4)


Otsego Township

Barton (11/6), Knowles (2,5), Starr (34/7), Wing (25/3)


Salem Township

Mellish (25/10)


Trowbridge Township

Harper (26/7)


Valley Township

Brininger (17,3)


Watson Township

Elm Hill (27/2), Swan (25/8), Vineland (7/9), Watson Corners (27/2)


Wayland Township

Gardiner (15/5), Kinner (11/1)



Fun facts

Among the history of local country schools were rules for women in the school year 1908-09, for teaching the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). They included:

• No marriage during the term of the contract.

• No keeping company with men.

• Staying home between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m.

• No loitering downtown in ice cream stores.

• Two petticoats worn at all times.

• Dresses no shorter than two inches above the ankles.


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