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History Lives Here Text

General History of Educationand Schools, 1610-1867


Excerpts from a history of education in Michigan, western AlleganCounty, and especially early schoolsin Douglas, presented by Nancy Budd at arecent local history meeting.A bibliography follows the main text.)


1610 First European explorerenters Michigan.


Under French rule ... education was the function of the church and anumber of priests tried to get schools started in various locations. Most wereshort lived and inferior in character. The Indians were nomads and notinterested in formal education. For the most part the French and the Britishwere not interested. It was the Americans who brought the zeal to settlecommunities, with the first agenda being schools and churches. (Thomas, p. 507; Vol. VII, p. 42 and Vol. XIV p. 284.)


1785 A billsuggested by President Thomas Jefferson providing for the survey and terms ofsale of the land west of Pennsylvania andnorth of the Ohio River was adopted. Thisincluded a clause making the reservation of lands for the support of schools.The territory was to be divided into townships six miles square and eachtownship into tracts one mile square and "there shall be reserved fromsale the lot No. 16 of every township for the maintenance of public schoolswithin said township." (Vol. VII, p. 18)


1787 In Julythe famous Ordinance of the Government of the Northwest Territory was passed. Among the provisions is the well knownclause, "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to the goodgovernment and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of educationshall forever be encouraged." The 1 6th section of each township became aprincipal source of the State Primary Fund. (Vol. VII, p.18; Tattle, p. 590 andThomas, p. 507)


1805 The Territoryof Michigan was organized and therights and acts of the Northwest Territory were conferred to the Territory of Michigan.


Thomas writes that the early settlers were from New York and New England where theschool was the first institution in a community. It preceded the church. When ahalf a dozen families lived within a two or three-mile radius a school housewas built with paths blazed through the forest trees so the children could findtheir way. The school house was the focal point of pioneer life, and its importancecannot be too strongly emphasized. When the settlers came from the east many ofthem brought along a few school books such as their parents had used."(Thomas p. 510, 511)


1827"Four years after the organization of the Legislative Council, an act waspassed providing that every township containing fifty inhabitants shouldprovide themselves with a schoolmaster of good morals to give instruction inreading, writing, arithmetic, orthography [spelling], the English and Frenchlanguages, as well as decent behavior, for such terms as should beequivalent to six months in the year" or pay a fine. (Vol.I, p. 452).


1835 Byact of the Michigan Territorial Legislature, Allegan Countywas established.


In May a convention was called to form a State constitution and applyto Congress for admission into the Union.Delegates to the convention agreed that education should be a distinct branchof the government and the proceeds of the sale of Section 16 wasto go to the State and not the township. This was done. No other States haddone this. (Vol. I, p.38; Vol. VII, p.21) In so doing, "Worthless land fell upon the State atlarge and benefits accrued to all alike." (Tattle, p.598).


1836 Fred N.Plummer, son of early settler, Benjamin Plummer wrote, "Miss Mary Peckham taught the first school in Saugatuck township in aroom in our house just west of the Plummer mill, on a farm owned by my fatherin about 1836. I think she taught three months and she boarded at our house atthe time."

(Hutchins, p. 11)

"The first school of which there appears to be any presentrecollection was taught on section 4, upon the east bank of the river, and notfar from Singapore...There was, after that, a private school in Saugatuck, taught by Miss JanePowers, but touching that as well as other early schools in the township butlittle can be said, since the early school records were burned many yearsago." (Ensign, p.333)


1837 InJanuary after Michiganfinally became a state, the first State Superintendent of Public Instruction,John D. Pierce, presented a code of school laws which were adopted. Thetownship was the unit. Each township had three inspectors to organize schooldistricts, examine teachers and grant certificates. One of them was to visitschools two times a year and make annual reports to the county clerk. (Thomas p. 511; Vol. I, p. 38)


The first report does not include Newark."It is probable that in Newarktownship no district was legally organized the firstyear, though the children at the mouth of the river must have been providedwith some private-school instruction." (Thomas p. 516)


1838 FredPlummer continues, "The Singapore school house was built about 1838(Heath, p. 42 says 1837) two or three years after [Mary Elizabeth Peckham] began at our place, after which she taught severalterms, I think until she got married." (Hutchins, p. 11)


"The Singapore school house; the first school established inwestern Allegan County which was built in 1838 stood and still stands at apoint about a mile South and East of the site of Singapore, on the road toSaugatuck, and is still used for school purposes, thoon a road over which there is very little travel at the present time."(Hutchins, p.12)


1843 "Iremember well the first Monday in April 1843 at the close of the hard winter,the voters went to the Singapore school house to town meeting on snow shoesover snow four feet deep." (A. H. Stillsonquoted in Hutchins, p.10)


1846 The firstgraded or union school was built in Flint.The term union school has less to do with combining districts as it did withhaving separate quarters for the grades. The buildings were larger, there weremore children, more teachers, it was more efficientand more economical. (Thomas p. 512)


1848 Jonathan Wade located hisproperty in what was to become Dudleyville [laterpart of Douglas] getting a patent from theState for $193.80. (Search of records by John Pahl)


1850 The report for Allegan County shows there were 44 schools and44 teachers. As the population increased, this became uneconomical and inefficient.(Thomas, p. 512)


1852 A school house was built onthe Singapore Roadat Oak Openings Camp. Then the school house was built in Pine Grove atSaugatuck. Mary Peckham was succeeded by Miss JaneBixby. (Heath, p.42)


1855 The butcher and May families,1 3 in all, moved to the north half of Wade's land.William A. May, who later called himself the "original boy of Douglas"would have been four years old. (Lane)


1857 On March 4,1857, Jonathan Wade and his wife sold to School District No. 3 the property nowacross the street south from the post office, for $15. The deed was recordedMarch 6, 1 (Pahl)


1859 The school Inspector'sreports, available beginning in 1 859 report 24 students at Douglas.


1860 On January 1 the schoolproperty was platted which means it was purchased and attended before it wasplatted. (Pahl)


1864 Jonathan Wade'spatent of 1848 wherein he purchased from the State for $193.80 the PrimarySchool Land represented by Certificate # 2947 was recorded. Why so late, we donot know.



1866 On March24, 1866, Michael B. Spencer and his wife sold to the school trustees the landfor the Douglas Union School.It was built probably that summer ready for occupancy for the school year of1866-1867. The School Inspector's Report of September 2, 1867, stated it was aunion school with a value of $4,500.


1867 The trustees of SchoolDistrict No. 3 sold the former school property to Robert Woodhullfor $500. (Pahl)


However, there mayhave been a school prior to the one on the Wade property. This is part of anarticle William A. May wrote some time around 1920 to 1926, "The first dayschool in Douglas was kept in a small dwellingthem on the ground now called the "square" where baseball games areplayed, A Mrs. Whipple being the first teacher. This lady afterward became Mrs.Robert MacDonald. Then a schoolhouse was built on what is now the cornerdiagonally opposite where the Masonic hall stands, andthe bulling is now the same as when first put up except for a small extensionadded to its front."


The inference is that Mrs. Whipple taught before this schoolhouse wasbuilt, for May speaks of Mrs. Whipple teacher and ",..then a schoolhouse was built.. ," which wouldhave been in 1857 or 1858. Regarding who was the first teacher, we haveseen that William May says it was Mrs. Whipple, and he was there to be taughtby her for perhaps one year before she married Mr. McDonald in 1859. CharlesLorenz says Mrs. Minerva Whipple was Robert's second wife, and says Cordelia Vradenburg McDonald,Robert's first wife, was the first teacher in Douglas.May Heath, p.48, says merely that Robert McDonald'swife was the first teacher, giving no name, but she infers it was Cordelia as she does not mention a second marriage.





[Ensign]History of Allegan and Barry Counties,Michigan (D. W. Ensign & Co.: Philadelphia) 1880. Heath, May Francis EarlyMemories of Saugatuck (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing& Co.) 1947,


Hutchins, Henry Hudson Recollection of the Pioneers of Western AlleganCounty (Pavilion Press: Douglas) 1977,


Lane, Kit Douglas: Village of Friendliness (CommercialRecord: Saugatuck) 1987.


Lorenz, Charles J. The Early History of Saugatuck and Singapore, Michigan, )830-1840(Published by Author) 1983.


Michigan andPioneer Historical Collections Vol. 1-40, 1877-1929.


Thomas, Dr,Henry F, A 20th Century History of Allegan County(Lewis Publishing Co.: Chicago)1907. Tattle, Charles Richard, ed. GeneralHistory of the State of Michigan (Detroit Free Press: Detroit)1873.