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
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
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.