Back to Previous Page

History Lives Here Text

The 1866 Old School House

130 Center Street, Douglas, MI 49406
In downtown Douglas across from the Library.
Limited fall hours, please call or email for availability.

Photo of Old Schoolhouse
Douglas School circa 1915

History and Learning

The 1866 Old School House (built as the Douglas Union School), is a community landmark recognized 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 Registers 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 residents and visitors to the community can learn about and experience the area's rich history and culture by sight, sound, touch, and smell.

Current Old School House site attractions include:
Shipwreck and Surfboat Exhibit & Back-In-Time Garden
• Signature Exhibits: Stories of Summer: Community History at the Lakeshore 1950-1970 and Cody's World: Cora Bliss Taylor Artist and Teacher
• Interactive Supermap and Rotating Thematic Exhibits
• History Center Archives and Research Center (ARC)
• Local Art Collection and rotating Art Gallery exhibits
Meeting & Event Rental Space

Douglas School Yard Kids circa 1946

Douglas School - August 1903

Douglas School Class 1948-1949

Restored as the Old School House today

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 then-Historical 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, 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 welcome area offers introductions to the greater Saugatuck-Douglas area and to the activities and resources within the Old School House. The current exhibit "Pieces of our Past" focuses on several unique artifacts large and small from the History Center collection.

The Back-In-Time School Experience - A row of recreated school lockers contain "OK to touch" artifacts of school life from different points of time across the decades. A great intergenerational learning activity!

SuperMap and the Map Room Exhibit - Maps help people learn what surrounds them.  SuperMap is a visitor participatory experience utilizing a 12’x8’ wall map of the area and linking local sites shown with historical images and text via computer. SuperMap is enhanced by over a dozen other local-area maps on exhibit for close-up examination and study.

Art Gallery - Portions of the History Center’s 200+ piece collection of local area artworks are regularly on exhibit helping to showcase this wonderful aspect of the area’s creative past. Art Gallery exhibitions change twice each year.

Popular Programming - Most of the History Center’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.

Research and Learning: A Resource for the Community

Archive and Research Center Open - In 2018, the SDHC undertook a collections move and expansion into a new Archive & Research Center (ARC), consolidating collections storage and research space into a single larger and more professional facility.