MANISTEE PUBLIC SCHOOLS
From "Salt City of the Inland Seas"
Published as an Anniversary Number of the
Manistee Daily News
May 1899

The Public Schools
by Edwin Russell

According to the most reliable information obtainable, the first school in Manistee was taught by Mrs. PARSONS in the year 1852 near CANFIELD's Mill at the mouth of the Manistee River. But little can now be learned respecting this pioneer school. It was doubtless a very primitive affair with small attendance and was supported by private contributions. A short time afterwards a school house was built on the northwest corner of Spruce and First streets, where the first public school was established. It was a plain, unpainted, one room building with crude interior furnishings, such as may still be seen in some remote country districts. A row of pine board benches ran along the inner walls with open desks in front. Attached to these was another row of seats without desks, for the smaller children, who were thus always kept within easy annoying distance of the older pupils occupying the back seats. Movable benches without arms or backs were used for recitation purposes. Some of Manistee's well-known citizens taught in this building.

Mrs. T.J. RAMSDELL had charge of the school in 1861 and for her services received the munificent sum of twenty-eight dollars per month. Her sister taught during the following year and it was in the early sixties that T.J. RAMSDELL taught for a short time. The annual school meeting had voted to employ a man teacher. It transpired that Mr. Ramsdell was the only available man in the entire district, so he consented to wield the rod during a three months' term. Miss TIBBITTS, now Mrs. Dr. FAIRFIELD, also taught here. While the building was still used for school purposes, the stumps which had been left underneath when it was built, began to appear above the floor. As stumps do not grow the presumption is that manistee's first public school house had not a very durable foundation. The First Congregational church, which now owns the costliest edifice in the city, was then homeless and held it's Sunday services and week-day prayer meetings in the little school house. As political meetings were also held there, it appears that there was once a time in our history when public education, politics and religion could dwell amicably together under the same roof. But notwithstanding the fact that that a private school had meanwhile been established near the present site of A.O. WHEELER's residence, the little school house at last became inadequate and on May 10th, 1865, a public meeting was held for the purpose of selecting a location for a new building. The present site of the Central school was chosen and a four-room brick building ordered built. The contract for its construction was afterward let to T.J. RAMSDELL, who completed it in 1866.

School opened in a new building in 1867 with D. CARLETON as principal. At that time it was thought that this building would accommodate the children of the entire city for many years, but in 1870 we find its capacity doubled by the addition of four more rooms and supplementary schools established in the first and third wards. A year later a single room building was erected in the fourth ward near the foot of RIETZ's hill. Charles HURD was then superintendent.

My intimate acquaintance with the schools began in 1872 when I assumed the superintendency. They remained in my charge four years, during which time they were thoroughly organized and graded. The first courses of study, a uniform set of text books and regulations for the guidance of teachers and pupils were adopted and printed, and in 1874 the first annual report containing complete and useful statistics was published in pamphlet form and gratuitously distributed among the school patrons. Music, as a district branch of study, was introduced into the schools in 1873. Mrs. D.H. BUTLER was the first special music teacher. This was about the time of the great temperance crusade which resulted in materially increasing the library fund. About five hundred dollars were invested in books which was the beginning of the school library. Frequent additions were made until at the time of its destruction by fire it numbered over 2,000 volumes. High school courses of study were adopted in 1874 and the first pupils graduated in 1879. There were only two in the graduating class, viz. Nora B. BULLIS and Kittie P. EDINGTON. Upon my retirement Charles HURD again became superintendent, retaining the position two years. He was succeeded by David BEMISS, who was followed in 1881 by Webster COOK, who remained four years, then Mr. GILLETT had charge for one year, which takes us to Mr. JENNING's administration.

There are now nearly four times as many pupils and six and one-half times as many teachers as in 1874, and the amount paid the high school teachers alone is greater than the total received by the entire corps of teachers twenty-five years ago. Truly we have grown, but growth has been so quiet and gradual that we only realize its extent when confronted with strong contrasts between periods separated by years of time. Since the erection of the 4-room building in the second ward in 1866 our capacity has increased sixteen-fold. Every new building or addition has seemed to be the last, yet the demand still is for more room. Passing the quarter century in review we are reminded of some critical periods through which our schools have passed. The great temperance movement in the early seventies threatened to invade them, but the god judgment and continued firmness of those in authority preserved their non-partisanship and carried them safely through that memorable struggle. The religious contest of later years seemed still more threatening but was finally settled without materially interfering with the progress of the schools. On the whole the people have reason to rejoice over the past and present prosperity and good management of the schools and should continue to heartily support those having them in charge.

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'School days, school days,
Dear old Golden Rule days,
Readin' and Ritin' and Rithmetick,
Taught to the tune of a hickory stick -

You were my queen in calico,
I was your bashful barefoot beau,
And you wrote on my slate,
I loye you, Joe,
When we were a couple of kids.

Author Unknown