Sanilac County, Michigan


Croswell High School
Minden High School
Sandusky High School

Portrait & Biographical Sanilac MI 1884 pgs. 505-507

The educational interest of the county merit special mention, as they have fully kept pace with other matters in the struggle for existence; and, like many other important interests, have come through it all with marked success. If the history of the first schools were all written, it would be a record of toil and zeal upon the part of the pioneer teachers, and of general manifestations of sympathy and encouragement from the hardy, toiling parents. In many instances the settlers' earnest desires for schools, where their children might receive the rudiments of an education, so far exceeded their ability to support the same, that first schools were sometimes held in some family kitchen, slab shanty, or deserted log hut. Some of these buildings were without floors, and destitute of furniture, except the benches made by splitting a log, sticking pegs into the round side and hewing the slivers from the split side. The only desks used were made by sticking pegs into the logs of which the walls were made, and placing on them a slab upon which the more advanced pupils could do their writing. When school-houses were built in the neighborhood of the saw-mills, of which there were many in the early history of the county, lumber was used and better buildings erected; but, as the population then was of a transient character, these schools were not more  prosperous than those which were less fortunate in the matter of building material.

As the lumbering interest disappeared, transient residents moved away; permanent settlers filled their places; agricultural interests took the place of lumber; the county began to show a healthy development, and as a result of this change more school districts were organized every year; new and better school-houses were built here and there, and township and district libraries were established. We regret the fact, however, that many of these libraries have ceased to exist.

The first schools were established in North Lexington and Sanilac Townships. Overs were soon in operation in Buel, Delaware, Elk and Speaker. The log shanties and cabins gradually gave place to larger and more comfortable frame structures; and at the present time there are schools supported in 127 districts, 11 of which are graded and located as follows: 2 in Lexington, 2 in Sanilac, 1 in Buel, 1 in Elk, 1 in Marion, 1 in Delaware, 1 in Marlette, 1 of Bridgehampton, and 1 in Minden.

The largest of these is the Lexington Union School, where a corps of experienced teachers are employed, presided over by Prof. Geo. A. Parker, a teacher and educational worker of large ability and experience, who has been identified with the school growth of the county from the beginning. Next are the Marlette and Sanilac schools, of excellent reputations. In fact, all the graded schools mentioned above are doing good work.

Twice have the school interests in the northern and western townships been sadly interfered with. First, during the great forest fires of 1871, when ten school-houses were burned, located as follows: Delaware 4;  Marion, 2; Austin, 3; Greenleaf, 1. The number of children deprived of school privileges at that time was 300, and the loss of school property nearly $4,000. To the casual reader, or to those living in wealthy communities, or in cities where school buildings are erected at a cost of many thousands of dollars, this statement of valuation may appear small and trifling, but when they consider that the little school-houses were, in many districts, the only places of resort for instruction, amusement and worship, their importance to these settlers maybe better understood. The devastation produced by the fire was so general and wide-spread that the people were unable to build school-houses, and the prospect for them was gloomy in the extreme. At this crisis the State Relief Committee made an appropriation of several thousand dollars for the purpose of helping in rebuilding the school-houses, so that in every district in which the school-house was burned, a new building was erected, and generally much better than the old one.

The second disaster referred to was the "Great Fire" of 1881, in which this county lost 27 schoolhouses, distributed as follows:  Austin, 4; Argyle, 2; Delaware, 2; Elmer, 1; Evergreen, 4; Foster, 1; Greenleaf, 1; Lamotte 3; Maple Valley, 1; Marlette, 1; Marion, 1; Moore, 1; Minden, 1; Washington, 2; Watertown, 3; Fourteen hundred school children were thus deprived of school privileges for an indefinite time, $9,000 of school property destroyed and the country devastated. The people were destitute; they had no means of supplying themselves with those things absolutely necessary so that this loss seemed irreparable, as these schoolhouses were the places in which the children of these stricken people were to receive the greater part of their education. Many districts had been bonded for the payment of the buildings burned. Some had been too poor to build anything better than a log house, and in some instances the small amount of district funds, in hands of the treasurer was destroyed with the rest of the property.

After the more pressing demands and immediate wants of the people had been supplied by a generous public, attention was turned toward the school districts. Mr. Geo. A. Parker, Secretary of the County Board of School Examiners, had labored many weeks in securing the required information from all the unfortunate districts,  and at the proper time forwarded petitions to the State Relief Committee and to the legislature, which had been called in special session by the Governor, to vote relief from the State treasury for the help of the fire sufferers, asking for  an appropriation to help rebuild the school-houses. This was granted, and new buildings have been erected in all those districts. Since that time there has been a steady advance in educational matters, and although the county can not boast of expensive structures, like older and more wealthy counties of the state, immigrants and settlers may locate in any township with the assurance of being within reasonable distance of a school-house. The schools and teachers compare favorably with those of other counties, while the salaries are better than in many other counties.

Two or three incidents are mentioned connected with school supervision and visitation, as related by the County Superintendent of Schools of that time: "On one occasion a gentleman drove 20 miles to see me, to Make application for a legal certificate to permit a certain lady to teach school in his district. As I could not issue a certificate without a personal examination of the qualifications of the candidate for pedagogical honors, I made an appointment to visit the school, inspect the lady's teaching, and remain over night at this gentleman's house. At the time agreed upon, I made my way as fact as I could towards the district to be visited. Forest fires were burning in all directions at the time; the road for the last few miles was so obstructed by fallen trees as to be wholly impassible, and it was with great difficulty that I succeeded in reaching me destination, by driving along  the course of the creek - sometimes in the river-bed, and at others, up its steep banks; now lifting the buggy over logs, then down the banks again; unhitching horse to get him extracted from some difficulty, and so plodding on through the blinding smoke and ashes with which the air was filled, till, just before dark, I arrived at the house of my search. Here was a large clearing, but woods on all sides and no other buildings except this gentleman's in sight.

"After spending a pleasant evening, where I was most hospitality entertained, sleeping soundly after my adventures, and eating a hardy breakfast, I proceeded to the school-house, a log building, a half mile distant. The teacher was not young and pretty, though pretty in one sense she was, but an old lady 70 years old; and as I looked at her sitting behind her desk in her quiet dignity, white cap, spectacles and old-fashioned neckerchief, I felt very much like the other urchins in the room, and as if I was just a likely as they to feel the effects at the long birch switch within ready reach of her hand. Here was this old lady daily toiling in that log shanty among her own grand-children and other youngsters, not for the money, but that they might not grow up in ignorance. I must not forget to mention that the old lady was the gentleman's mother."

"On another occasion I drove several miles over a corduroy road, to visit a school in a certain district; but, upon arriving at the place, I found the school-room occupied by several cattle, school not being in session, one saucy animal standing inthe door as sentry and obstinately refusing to come out or to admit me.

"At another time I was compelled to walk several miles through the woods, on a very hot day, to visit a school in a new township, where the roads were impassible to horses. The heat was oppressive, the mosquitoes and flies terribly annoying, the track to track so obscure as to lead me several times into swamp holes, when I would have to retrace my steps for some distance, and take another tack; and before reaching the clearing a thunder shower came up, without much warning, giving variety to the tramp by wetting the thoroughly, twisting the trees in a mighty unpleasant manner, and making me wish myself some place else. However, the house of the director was finally reached, the school visited, and good results accomplished even here. The people had anticipated my coming, and although their condition was one not to be envied, having no furniture in the house except a rough table, of home manufacture, and benches made from split logs in place of chairs, their kindness, and interest in having their school visited by the
Superintendent, were highly commendable.

"One occasion I had stopped at a grocery inn for dinner, intending to start on foot for a school district three or four miles distant, and which could only be reached at that time by a lumber road. Making inquiry about the direction to go, I found that a lady also waiting dinner was going right there, and agreed to pilot me. I remarked that my time was so limited that I would have to walk fast, and if she would direct me she need not put herself to the inconvenience of trying to keep up with me. She replied that she though she could 'keep up.' We started. After we had pushed through underbrush, dodged limbs, walked logs and waded swamps for about two miles, I was the one trying very hard to keep up. She had led me a worse tramp than any other woman had ever succeeded in doing before.

"One of the most disagreeable incidents connected with this part of my work, was holding a trial over a teacher, who had excited the ire of some of the residents of the district where he was teaching. A petition, signed by several tax-payers and gotten up in legal form, was presented me, requesting a hearing and trial of the teacher. Giving legal notice to teacher and school officers, and appointing a day for the trial, I in due time repaired to the school-house, which I found filled with men, women and children. The principal charge brought against the teacher was, "Unbecoming and improper conduct towards the young ladies of the school." AUpon investigating the matter I found that the substance of the complaint was that he had kissed some of the young ladies. Inasmuch as I was unmarried myself, the young ladies were so handsome, so tempting, and made no complaint themselves, I could not for the life of me find him guilty of the charge preferred against him; neither can I up to the present time!"