St. Clair County Michigan
The country schools throughout the
West fifty years ago, whether considering the buildings,
teachers or regulations, were generally of a character that
would be denominated exceedingly primitive. The buildings
were usually sorry apologies for a modern tenement, or a
room 12x14, in some incomplete residence. The seats were
slabs of puncheons elevated at a distance from the floor
suggestive of dangerous possibilities to small scholars, who
were required to sit thereon, however painful the
experience. The teacher was ordinarily a man of act, who
regarded all else but his duties as fiction unworthy of his
condescension. As a rule, he occupied an old-fashioned
arm-chair about the center of the room, adjoining a small
round table, which supported, in addition tot he text-books
comprising his limited course, a birch rod of tried
strength, length, breadth and thickness, as the pupils
oft-times had sensible evidence. Which these
surroundings, that would, in this day of superior
educational facilities, be regarded as discomforts not to be
endured, scholars were taught the alphabet, their "abc,"
reading sentences, containing words of two syllables only,
and many other incidents peculiar to school life which, in
that age, inspired the intellectual, but to day proved the
mirthful and cause mental inquiries if such things could be.
But recurrence to those days often engages the reflections
of pioneers, who see no compensation in the labor-saving
apparatus employed to aid the ambitious youth in his ascent
of the hill of knowledge.
Gobbon relates that, during a cruel persecution at Ephesus, seven noble youths concealed themselves in a cave, when they fall into a sleep which was miraculously prolonged for a hundred years. On awakening they found everything so changed, to conform to the advanced age, that they burst into tears and prayed God that they might be permitted to return to their slumbers again. Such are the feelings of many who were scholars half a century ago, regarding with feelings of indignation the neglected facilities of the present, "when fond memory brings the light of other days about them." The school teachers of fifty years ago were earnest in their efforts, and the advanced state of education during these final decades of the nineteenth century are, in a great measure, the result of their labors. The pupil of those times, too, was a character of the day beyond comparison or caricature. He usually appeared at school prompt to the minute, barefoot in summer, his browsers of home manufacture kept in place by a couple of pieces of ticking, to which he appropriated the term "galluses," and his head protected from the penetrating rays of the summer's sun by a chip hat, or cap deftly fashioned by a mother's or sister's hands. Thus embellished, the young man of promise came early, and from his advent upon the scene to his exit there from joined constant issue with tin* teacher with such requests as "Lemme speak to sis," Lemme go out," Lemme have a drink," etc., etc., until the expiration of the day's term, when he is permitted to go home, where, after the chores are done, he slips off this trousers, hangs them on his bed post by the "galluses," and, soon reveling in the dim land of dreams, becomes forgetful of the trials that will be born again with the morrow.
Among the early settlers there were many men of unusual ability; not men of extensive education, bat men who made their marks upon the times, and, had they received the advantages of early training, would have proved themselves giants in intellectual and moral forces. Even with the few advantages which the Western schools of the past age afforded, there were men who went forth from them who did prove equal to all and every emergency which private or public life called upon them to moot. The first American settlers were earnest in everything. They said, 'We are going to make the utmost of the capabilities of this spot," and they did. First they said, "In progress of time, all over this beautiful country will be scattered educational institutions of a high order; the needs of an intelligent people will demand them. What is to hinder us from building a village on this slope which overlooks one of the most lovely landscapes in the world? Nothing is to hinder; let us do it." And it was done. At that time there were a few houses and shanties in the little hamlet of Black River, and the commencement of anything so portentous as a school house in so small a community without a penny of foreign aid would have seemed preposterous to the average mind, but it was done nevertheless, and there stands the schools of the city to-day the chief supporting pillars of the future. Considering all the circumstances - the times, the poverty of the district, the sparseness of the population, the infinitesimal size of the village - the erection of the first school building was a great achievement. It is safe to say that only a few persons or families subscribed four fifths of all the money it cost. True they reckoned that this money or some of it would come back to them in after times; and it did.
The children of the Canadian French were taught by young men employed in the Black River steam mill. Even in 1821, a missionary school was started at Fort Gratiot, by John S. Hudson, John Hart, their wives, and a Miss Osmer. This Indian school continued in operation three years, when the teachers moved to Mackinaw, together with thirty of forty of their dusky pupils. In that old school, Edward Petit and other children of the French settlers received their first lessons. Instead of slates, the scholars used small boxes of sand, on which the pupils wrote with pointed sticks.
The first schoolhouse was built in 1833 near the corner of Broad and superior streets, in rear of the present Hudson House. It was a 21x20 foot building, eight and one half feet from floor to ceiling. This concern was subsequently known as the Old brown Schoolhouse, not that it was painted brown but turned that color under atmospheric influences. from 1833 to 1912, this was the schoolhouse of Port Huron. In 1842, a new schoolhouse was built in the park south of Black River. In 1841, the union school building was completed. Ten years later, the Park Schoolhouse was destroyed by fire. The city of to-day supports five public schools, all well administered. The schools of St. Stephen's Parish, in connection with the Catholic Church, form a remarkable movement to the eagerness of the congregation.
In July, 1852, a select school was formed by Mr. Magee. The following is the advertisement: "The subscriber begs leave to inform the inhabitants of Port Huron, of his immediate intention of commencing a Select Mathematical and Classical School in this place. Those wishful to favor the above school, will please call at the Rev. Mr. Benton's residence, or at the stores of Messrs. Gillet, Dowling, and Beach, and leave the names of those whom they wish to have instructed. His terms will be reasonable, and he pledges himself, as a teacher, to be swayed by impartiality, devotedness to the interests of his pupils, and the broadest Christian charity.
Port Huron, July 17, 1852."
The German-English School was conducted by O. F. Diehl, in 1803. The schoolroom was in the basement of the old Brockway House, on West Butler street, near the Baptist Church, St. Stephen's School. - The elegant school building known as St. Stephen's was erected in 1879-80 by Rev. E. Van Lauwe. This structure was begun October 2, 1879, and the house finished the following year. The building of the school house was carried out successfully, owing to the liberal spirit in which the congregation and of other religious denominations contributed moneys, as well as to the well-directed energy of the pastor. The schools were opened in 1880 with the Sisters of Providence in charge. The number of pupils in attendance at the opening in September, 1889, was 270.
The Convent School of the Sisters of Providence was established at Port Huron in 1879. The design of this institution is to accommodate parents desiring to have their daughters enjoy all the advantages necessary for acquiring a thorough and polite English education in connection with a knowledge of the line arts, music, painting, and other branches. The method of instruction followed embraces all that goes to form the character of an amiable, useful and accomplished woman. It is the aim of the Sisters to train the hearts of their pupils to the love and practice of virtue, while cultivating their minds and endowing their manners with dignity, simplicity and grace. The government is mild, yet sufficiently vigilant and energetic to secure perfect order. The sole object of the regulations of the house being the welfare of the pupils, they are induced to comply with them rather from a sense of duty than through fear of punishment. They are made to understand that their own improvement and happiness are ultimately connected with the careful observance of discipline. A tender vigilance is exercised over the hearts of the pupils; when one is taken sick, a physician is called in time, and information is given to the parents, who are at liberty to withdraw her. If they leave her in the institution, she receives every attention that kindness can suggest.
The scholastic year consists of four terms, each comprising a period of eleven weeks.
The first term commences on the first Monday in September. Tuition in all the English branches, board, bedding, useful and ornamental needle work with the use of patterns, use of library, clothes of pupils marked for them, are offered at $33.75 per term of eleven weeks, while the following branches of higher education are faithfully taught for an extra charge: French, German, drawing and painting in water colors, oil painting, with use of patterns, piano, organ, or guitar lessons, vocal music, private lessons, use of instruments for practice.
Source: History of St. Clair - Chicago A. T. Andreas & Co 1883