THREE OAKS – Optimism was in no short supply at the well-attended Sunday, Oct. 6, fundraiser to support the renovation and preservation project for the Spring Creek School building that was hosted by Lynn and Allen Turner at their historic and scenic Spring Creek Farm property.
Allen Turner and Three Oaks Township trustee Chris Mitchell welcomed the attendees and thanked them for helping to support the project that will preserve the historic one-room schoolhouse at the intersection of Three Oak and Donner Roads that played such an important role in the education of children in the community.
Mitchell, who has spearheaded the historic preservation project, was joined at the event by Three Oaks Township Supervisor George Mangold and Clerk Liz Zabel.
Architectural blueprints and renderings of what the building will look like after the project is completed were on display courtesy of architect William O. McCollum of Union Pier-based McCollum Architects & Builders.
Optimism was expressed that, if everything falls into place and all goes well, work on the project could begin later this month and possibly be completed as early as the end of the year.
John Guinness of the Berrien Community Foundation presented a $7,500 William J. Deputy matching grant to help support the project during the fund-raiser.
“A beautiful sunny day like this at this time of year is known as a ‘Michigan Day,’ but I think we should call this one a ‘Berrien County Day,’” Guinness said with a smile. “We like seeing parts of our pasts preserved, much like this historic barn we’re gathered in today.”
The Spring Creek Schoolhouse Restoration Committee was awarded a $10,000 matching grant from the Frederick S. Upton Foundation. Funds from the event will help complete the match. The project also has received a $20,000 grant from The Pokagon Fund, a $25,000 commitment from Three Oaks Township and a $15,000 pledge from township resident Allen Turner.
The first phase of the $164,000 restoration project includes securing the building and adding an accessible entrance. Once restored, the building will be furnished with period pieces and be available for community gatherings and programs of The Region of Three Oaks Museum.
The featured speaker on Oct. 6 was writer and historian Myrna J. Grove, author of “Legacy of One-Room Schools.”
Grove said that the story of one-room schoolhouses began over three centuries ago when the first one was erected in the Massachusetts colony in 1647.
“There were 212,000 one-room schoolhouses in our country a century ago, and 60,000 in the Midwest until just after World War II when the push to consolidate schools began,” she stated. “The early ones were made of logs, and many also served as churches and meeting halls. They had log benches for the schoolchildren, stone fireplaces to provide heating, and most had dirt floors.
“There were few books,” she continued, “and they usually included a Bible, dictionary and a hymnal. Writing was done with quill pens dipped in ink wells. Most were built by farmers who felt that education was an important aspect of their children’s lives,” she added.
She said that after 1880 there was a certification process that teachers had to go through to be able to staff these schoolhouses.
Turner said that the first teacher in the Three Oaks area had a very familiar last name: Elizabeth Warren.
She also shared some of the “Rules for Teachers” circa 1915, and they included: no dressing in bright colors; no dyeing of hair; being at home between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function; and a ban on riding in a carriage or automobile with any man unless he was your father or brother.
Teachers also were responsible for keeping their schoolhouses neat and clean, and to do so they were instructed to sweep the floor at least once daily; scrub the floor at least once a week with hot, soapy water; clean the blackboards at least once a day; and to start the fire at 7 a.m. so the classroom would be warm by 8 a.m.
Classroom furnishings could include a blackboard, erasers, pot belly stoves, kerosene lamps mounted on the walls, and pendulum clocks.
“Students as young as four and as old as 18 would be taught in the same classroom, with their teachers being as young as 16,” Grove explained. “Sometimes as many as 40 separate lesson plans would have to be done to accommodate each individual student, and subjects taught included English, penmanship and arithmetic in the mornings, and maybe grammar, geography and history in the afternoons. Lunches would be eaten outside on nice days, and inside when the weather was bad.
“There were usually three recess periods per day when the students could go outside and play, and water from a well was shared by the use of a common dipper,” she continued. “And most, like the Spring Creek School, had two outhouses to begin with.”
Grove said that another big difference from modern day schooling was that homework assignments were rare.
“It was a predominantly rural society back then, and children were needed to do farm chores before and after their school days,” she explained.
“One-room schools provided wonderful educations for millions of students, and they still have lessons to teach us today,” Grove concluded.
A special guest at the event was Ed Miller who talked about and answered questions pertaining to his days as a student at the Spring Creek Schoolhouse, which was erected in 1886.
“Back in 1938 I was a second-grader at the Spring Creek School,” Miller said. “Our family lived on the Chamberlain Marsh, and I’d walk back and forth to and from the school each weekday.
“My teacher was Katherine Zeiger, and I believe there were about 12 to 15 children in school there at that time,” he continued. “It was a good education, because after I took my lessons I could listen to the teacher giving lessons to the older students in the classroom who went up to the eighth-grade level.”
He said that his school-related adventures included sampling an apple or two from the orchards he traversed going to and from the school, and a raid on a honeybee hive in a tree that resulted in many stings, but also the consumption of many sweet honeycombs.
“I remember that we were always quick to help each other out, just like the farmers in the area were always ready to help each other out,” Miller said. “We had a fun, fun time.”
A donation to the Spring Creek School restoration and preservation project would still be gratefully accepted, and you may do so by writing a check to “Three Oaks Township Restoration” and dropping it off at, or mailing it to: Three Oaks Township Hall, 6810 US Highway 12/P.O. Box 55, Three Oaks, MI 49128.