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History Lives Here Text

The 1866 Old School House

Photo of Old Schoolhouse
Douglas School circa 1915.

History and Learning

The 1866 Old School House (built as the Douglas Union School), is a landmark as the oldest multi-classroom school building in Michigan and regarded as one of the finest examples of 19th century school architecture in America.  The building is listed on both the State and National Register of Historic Places.

Along with its six city lots of lawn and gardens, it has been transformed into a "History Center" campus where Saugatuck-Douglas citizens and visitors to the community can benefit in a multitude of ways from the area's rich history and culture.

Current History Center Attractions include:
Life Boat Exhibit & Back-In-Time Garden
• Interactive Supermap and History Room
• Society Archives and Tech Center
• Local Art Gallery
Meeting & Event Rental Space

Douglas School Yard Kids circa 1946

Douglas School - August 1903

Douglas School Class 1948-1949

The Douglas Union School

The Douglas Union School was built in 1866 and welcomed its first students for the 1866-67 school year.  It was among the first “graded” schools in the area and consolidated several local one-room schoolhouses into a large and modern facility.  Featuring four classrooms, students learned ‘reading, writing and arithmetic’ inside this stately building for 90 years.

A new Douglas elementary school opened in 1957 and the old school was closed.  In 1962, it was renovated into four apartments – one in each classroom – which preserved both the building and the schoolyard property for the next several decades.

In 2006, the owner of the building and apartments contacted the Society about her desire to stop using it as a rental but to see the building preserved long term.  The Society later acquired the property and through an enormous effort of fundraising, planning and creativity, transformed the site into the Old School House History Center, revitalizing it as a center of learning in the community.  See the Old School House Renovation Diary for the visual story of this transformation!

Learn more about the history of Michigan school design and development in An Honor and an Ornament.

A Space for Discovering History and Bringing It Alive

The Old School House serves several functions and has many offerings for visitors:

A Center for Visitors and Heritage Tourism - An attractive visitor center offering introductions to the greater Saugatuck-Douglas area and to the activities and resources within the Old School House.

The Back-In-Time School Experience - A row of school lockers containing artifacts of school life from different points of time since 1866. Supermap and the Map Room Exhibit - Maps help people find what is around them.  Supermap is a visitor participatory experience utilizing a 12’x8’ wall map of the area and linking sites shown with historical images and text. 

Supermap is enhanced with over a dozen other local-area maps on display for close-up examination and study.

Upstairs Art Gallery - Portions of the Society’s 90+ piece collection of local area artworks are regularly on exhibit helping to showcase this wonderful aspect of the area’s creative past.

Old School House 150th Anniversary Exhibit - Starting in August, 2016, trace the history of the Old School House from its construction as one of the first multi-classroom facilities in the area through its transformation into the Old School House History Center. 

Popular Programming - Most of the Society’s 20 annual history and local interest presentations are held at the Old School House, inviting the public to continue to learn and grow in this historic education facility.

School Projects - We work with area teachers in several disciplines to promote the study of the past and provide an exhibition space for student work.  One such recent exhibit was Building A Village and also features a website component.

Learning, Growing, Exploring: Dedicated to the Community

The Historical Society Archives – An organized, climate-controlled home for the Society's ever-expanding collection of historically important objects, documents, memorabilia, artwork, and photographs.

The Historical Society Tech Center - A large and efficient new production space to support and digitize the growing historic information collections.

The Research Learning Center - a place for individuals to gain knowledge and appreciation in working with and doing research in our archives, objects, and image and art collections.