The following article about the Schools of Ypsilanti was researched and written by
Dorothy Disbrow, Archivist for the Ypsilanti Historical Museum.
Since the days when Ypsilanti became an established village, the importance of the schools has
been a chief feature of great pride. For instance, it has been said to have graduated from the
Ypsilanti Union Seminary was an honor only second to a similar success at the University of
We know very little about these earliest schools in our pioneer settlement. However, THE
WASHTENAW COUNTY HISTORY for 1881 says: “The first school outside the village was taught by
Catharine Rosencrantz”. Perhaps this is the school mentioned in THE DETROIT GAZETTE for
November 7, 1825:-
Wednesday, the schoolhouse in Woodruff's Grove entirely burned.
We do know that these schools, which were not tax-supported ‘free’ schools were but a
desultory effort to teach children the alphabet. Children were called together and organized into
classes and were taught by a local lady who had the time and some education and was glad to get
paid, small as the salary was, for her services. It soon became obvious that the efforts were not
accomplishing the results sought so a full-time teacher was hired and in 1826 a Miss Hope Johnson
opened a school ‘at the Grove’. About the same time a school was started by Miss Olive
Gorton in Ypsilanti. Miss Gorton married Lyman Graves (1794–1880) and their son, Albert
(1840–1921) fondly wrote of this mother:-
Mrs. Olive Gorton Graves was born in New Lisbon, Otsego Co., New York, Sept. 30,
1804, and died Oct. 29, 1886. In 1825, with her father's family, she crossed Lake Erie in the
schnooer ‘Red Jacket’, Captain Walker, master. After a somewhat perilous voyage of about
two weeks, they reached Detroit, transfered their effects to a barge and plunged into a wilderness,
pulling the barge up the Huron River to Woodruff's Grove on the east bank of the Huron River. At the
age of fifteen she had entered upon the vocation of school teaching, which she followed upon her
arrival here, by opening the first school in Ypsilanti on the west bank of the river. Children were
sent to her school from the east side of the river and were rowed across the river by herself
morning and evening.
After teaching there long enough, at two dollars a week, with the money saved she
purchased her wedding outfit and in August, 1826, she was married to the late Lyman Graves.
During the summer of 1828 a Miss Miriam Brooks took over from Mrs. Graves. In the winter of
1828–29 Mrs. Mark Norris opened part of her home for classrooms. In 1830 a little brick
schoolhouse was built on the east side of the river by William Harwood with a Miss Laura Vail as
teacher. Mr. Harwood owned many acres on the east side of the Huron River. When he came in 1825 all
the lots on the East side in the original plat were in his holdings. He built the small brick
building which stood until 1929 on Babbitt Street in back of the present Woodruff school. This
modest building was really the beginning of the Ypsilanti Public Schools. William Harwood gave the
land for the East Public Square bounded by Lincoln Street to Park Street and from Parsons to Babbitt
Street. The little brick school was on the north edge of the square.
Another brick building begun in 1831, 110 River Street was used by Methodist Congregation until
1835. The building was subsequently bought by the Baptist Society and used until 1847 after which it
was given over to school purposes. Later this building was sold to the Worden Brothers who had to
remove school furnishings before they could establish their factory. About 1857 this school was
united with District #4 on the east side of the river. We have not been able to find out if this
school was kept up until 1866 when a four room brick building was erected on the northeast corner of
East Congress, (Michigan Avenue) and Prospect.
Another school of the early days was ‘The Peck Street Primary’. This school stood on
the property of Joseph and Sophia Churchill Peck who in 1823 came with their five children to this
section from New York state and settled on East Forest near River Street. They first built a small
log cabin and then a commodious farm house. The Peck home was a center of hospitality and a cordial
welcome was given to all new settlers and travellers coming along. Soon this section was known as
‘Peckville’. We do not know the exact date of the brick schoolhouse. The property was
deeded by Joseph Peck to School District #3 for $40 in 1850 and known as the Fourth Ward
Schoolhouse. In 1858 ninety-nine children were enrolled. This school property was later deeded to
Mr. George George, November 17 1866 and a new site for a school was chosen. (The site chosen was on
Oak Street and the school named ‘Prospect’. In 1963 it was renamed ‘Adams’
School in honor of Olive M. Adams who had been principal there for twenty-nine years and who was
retiring that year). The property was later purchased by Mr. Frederick J. Swaine, about 1872 from a
L.C. Wallington. Both Mr. Wallington and Mr. Swaine were ‘malters’. Mr. Wallington had
made the old schoolhouse into a small malt house and Mr. Swaine enlarged it. After the death of
Jessie Swaine, daughter of Frederick, the house was purchased by Mr. and Mrs Robert R.
The first public school west of the river was taught by Chauncey Joslin, (1813–1889), who
came to Ypsilanti in 1857 and who studied in local law offices and became Judge of Probate in 1852
and Mayor of Ypsilanti in 1858 and who served on the School Board for twenty years. The school in
which he taught was called ‘The White Schoolhouse, District #4’. The building, enlarged
and altered is at 137 N. Washington and was the home of James Westfall and his sister, Mary. The
building was originally a one room building and was used for school purposes up until the time of
the purchase of the of the old Seminary in 1848 when it was no longer used for a school building.
There was no bell on the room and school was opened when the teacher had called the children from
all directions by ringing a large hand bell. From records in our archives we find that there were
only fifteen houses on that side of the river at that time. The pupils brought their dinners in
pails and on pleasant days ate outdoor under the trees, and when the teacher wanted them back in the
schoolroom she rapped on the window with a very long ruler.
The late Mrs. Lorenz Kisor gave an interesting and valuable gift to the Archives which
Re: of Mr. Glover eighty-nine cents in full for State, Town, County and School tax
on S 1/2 of SE 1/4 40 acres for the year 1843
January 31, 1844
(signed) A. Craddock
In 1851 another district south of Congress, (Michigan Ave), united with District #4. The
Ypsilanti City Directory for 1860 lists:-Washington Street Primary School-west side of
Washington between Catherine and Woodward, and a Miss Helen Buck is listed as ‘teacher in the
Washington Street Primary School’ or ‘The Red Brick School’. The building was
struck by lighting and extensively damaged. The site was bought by Dr. Parmenio Davis
(1816–1883) in order to convert the remains of the school building into a dwelling. The
Abstract states that on December 29, 1864, School District #4 gave a Warranty Deed to the Doctor for
lots #51 and #52. The consideration was $1,254.00. Just how much Dr. Davis changed the lines of the
original school building we are unable to determine. On December 4, 1867, Parmenio and Carlista
Showerman Davis, gave a Warranty Deed to William H. Payne for lots #51, #52 and #53, for a
consideration of $3,000.00. Mr. Payne had been hired as Principal of the Ypsilanti Schools in 1866
and served until 1870. The Paynes with their family, were probably the first occupants of the new
dwelling that replaced the old schoolhouse. The new dwelling with Paynes in residence, become a
social and civic center for the community. The orgaizational meeting for the
Ladies' Library Association was held in the library of the Payne home and Mrs. Eva Fort Payne was
one of the original incorporators of the Association in 1869. The Payne family moved away from
Ypsilanti in 1870. The property was most recently owned by Dr. and Mrs. Bradley Harris, 206 S.
The original school stood in an oak grove for an old article on the schools says:-
…‘In my early childhood there still stood in the center of the
sidewalk in front of the house three large oak trees with walks on either side wide enough for two
to walk abreast. They are gone now, victims of our straight sidewalk committee!’
There were other schools and other teachers scattered around the village. The teacher's salary
was so very nominal and in not a few instances districts allowed their houses to be occupied by
whomsoever would undertake to teach and for whatever he could obtain from his patrons. Such was the
state of educational affairs in Ypsilanti from 1836 until 1848–49.
In 1840 a Francis Griffin established a school. He first used the meeting room of the
Presbyterian Church on Pearson Street and later located in the ‘Nunnery’ S.E. corner
Congress and S. Huron. He advertised to teach Latin and Greek and when his pupils inquired about
these courses he advised them to wait for a more convenient time to take them. About the same time a
Mr. Landreth opened his school which was located in the Larzalere Block at the s.w.corner of
Washington and Congress, (Michigan Avenue). He later went to Detroit where he established a very
flourishing school for a year or so when Detroit, in 1842, opened the first tax supported school in
In May 1836 Charles Woodruff and his parents, from Waterloo New York, came and settled at
Carpenter's Corners in Pitts-field Township. Charles went east to Allegheny College in Pennsylvania
graduating in 1841. Upon his return he was hired to teach in Mr. Landreth's school. Soon after he
hired Woodruff Mr. Landreth left for Detroit and Charles Woodruff took over his duties. He offered
opportunity to ‘teachers of district schools to improve themselves in the branches of learning
pertaining to their department of teaching’. It might be reasonable to assume that the
location in Ypsilanti a few years later of the State Normal School may have been influenced by the
beginning in training teachers made by this school.
Charles Woodruff wished to move his school away from the commercial portion of the city and
rented a large building, ‘Tecumseh’ built in 1844 as a railroad hotel, and which had
been standing empty for several years. Woodruff wanted the city to buy a building for his school but
they refused, so he rented a portion of the ‘Tecumseh’. He held very successful classes
there until 1845. One day a Reverend Lyman H. Moore, Pastor of the Baptist Church during the
forties, came as a visitor to Woodruff's School and enrolled his son and brother as pupils. Reverend
Moore was a frequent visitor to the school and told Charles Woodruff of his great interest in the
advancement of education.
Soon, Woodruff always claimed that it was without his knowledge, Pastor Moore bought the
‘Tecumseh’ building and opened a school which he called ‘The Ypsilanti
The academic year was divided into two terms of 22 weeks commencing the first Monday of September
and the second Monday in February. The tuition was for $3 and $8 and board and room $14 per quarter
of 11 weeks. William L. Easton and Mary B.F. Brown were Principals and Lyman Moore and Wm. A. Moore,
Proprietors. By act of the State Legislature, approved March 12, 1849, the ‘Ypsilanti
Seminary’ received its full recognition under Board of Education of District #4. In 1851 a
second district was added and soon other districts, including those across the river, united with
District #4 and thus gradually and by common consent the school became known as
‘The Union Seminary’.
Perhaps Charles Woodruff could have stayed on as a teacher in Reverend Moore's school but he was
angered by what he considered Moore's underhand treatment and withdrew from school teaching as an
occupation. However he always remained a champion of good education for all. Indeed when he became
editor of the SENTINEL he wrote many editorials tending to advance the cause of education in
Ypsilanti. Charles Woodruff was born in New York State in 1816 and died in 1896 at the home of his
son, Marcus Tullius Woodruff, at 717 Cross Street. Woodruff School, built in 1901, was named in his
honor and not for Benjamin Woodruff.
In April of 1853 Reverend Joseph Estabrook became Principal of the ‘Union Seminary’.
The school became known as ‘the model’ and much progress was made along intellectual
lines. Rooms were rented to students whose homes were outside of Ypsilanti and to its teachers. For
awhile more students from outside attended the school than from the school district. The first
graduating class received their diplomas in 1852.
In the 1910 December issue of ‘The Ypsi-Sem’, Henry R. Utley, class of 1857 wrote of
what he remembered about the Seminary;-
I first attended Ypsilanti Union Seminary in the early fall of 1852. I was the
bashfullest kind of boy, fresh from the farm, and everything in the town was to me grand and
impressive. The old Seminary building stood on the same lot as it is at present, but was close to
the sidewalk, immediately at the corner. It was originally built for a hotel in the stage coach
days. But the opening of the railroad sidetracked it for hotel purposes. After standing idle for
sometime, it was bought for about $8,000 and in 1849 was opened as a public school and Seminary
under the auspices of the School Board of the consolidated district of Ypsilanti.
It was a two-story brick in the form of a letter ‘L’, the lower wing
running west from the corner and the shorter running north. The latter was extended about 1853 to
meet the demand for more room. Attached to the west wing was a two-story frame building, originally
a dwelling. The ground floor of the entire building was developed to recitation and study rooms. The
second floor, having been guest rooms in the hotel days, was left unchanged and the rooms were
rented as dormitories to non-resident students. The west wing was occupied by the boys, the north by
girls. Professor James Jackson, the Vice Principal, occupied a room in the boys' wing and attended
to the preservation of order. Miss A.C. Rogers, the ‘Preceptress’, had a room in the
girls' wing. The regulation of the dormitories was very strict. A bell in a cupola on the roof gave
signals for rising in the morning, retiring at night, for chapel exercises and for changing classes.
All lights in the rooms were required to be out at 10 o'clock at night. No one was permitted to
leave the building during study hours without a pass.
Professor Joseph Estabrook was the Principal, having been called from Tecumseh to
take charge of the school in the fall of 1852. He remained several years. Miss Rogers, the
Preceptress, resigned at the end of that year to accept a like position at the Normal. She was
succeeded by Miss Harriet M. Cutcheon, who continued as Preceptress many years.
The pupils of the school were mainly boys and girls of the town. But there was a
goodly number of non-residents from neighboring towns. All the dormitories being occupied by them,
while others found quarters in private houses or roomed over stores on Main Street. There were three
male teachers and a like number of women. The teaching staff of that day would certainly compare in
point of character and ability with that of any educational institution, even of this day.
Beside class studies, literary exercises were required of all. Every Friday
evening was given to public affairs, in which, following a literary program, special pleasurers
afforded free opportunity for boys and girls to meet and mingle. I feel sure that every one of the
students of my day have preserved throughout their lives the most delightful recollections of their
teachers and of those with whom they studied and recited in the old Ypsilanti Seminary.
Joseph Estabrook, Principal of the Seminary from 1852 to 1865 was born in Bath, New Hampshire in
1820 and died in Olivet, Michigan in 1894. His family settled near Clinton, Michigan about 1835. He
graduated from Oberlin College in 1847. When he left college he taught at various district schools
near Clinton and Tecumseh and came to Ypsilanti in 1853. In 1865 he became Superintendent of Schools
in East Saginaw and in 1871 was appointed ‘Principal’ of the Normal School in Ypsilanti.
He was also a Regent of the University of Michigan, State Superintendent of Education and an
ordained Minister. Professor Estabrook was a much loved citizen of our town. In THE HISTORY OF
MICHIGAN STATE NORMAL COLLEGE (pub. 1899), the author, Daniel Putnam, says of his friend and
No teacher ever connected with the school was more loved, was remembered with
kindlier feelings, or greeted wherever he went, with warmer or more sincere words of personal
Eastabrook School, 1555 W. Cross was named in honor of Joseph Estabrook. In 1880 Reverend
Estabrook went to Olivet College to teach and remained there until his death.
No history of the Seminary would be complete without mentioning the Cutcheon brothers and sisters
who came here from Pembroke, New Hampshire. There were ten children of James and Hannah Tripp
McCutcheon, which is how the name was spelt in the New England area. The first to come was Dr. Lewis
Cutcheon was was a co-author of a textbook on physiology and who traveled lecturing on the subject.
In In 1849 under the auspices of the Superintendent of Public Instruction he gave lectures to
teachers and students of the Seminary. Many times his lectures were so well attended that the
assembly room of the school was too small and a larger room at one of the local churches was
Early in 1853 when Miss Rogers, the Preceptress resigned, he called the attention of the Board to
his sister, Harriet, then teaching at East Bloomfield, New York, and she was appointed to the
Harriet, (1817–1908), attended the local academy in her home town of Pembroke, taught in a
district school there and graduated from Mt. Holyoke Seminary in 1851. She came to the Ypsilanti
Seminary shortly after Joseph Estabrook. She left Ypsilanti in 1860 and was Preceptress of Monroe
High School and Monroe Female Academy, head of the Women's Department at the University of Wisconsin
and Preceptress of Flint High School. She returned to Ypsilanti to help take care of the family of
one of her brothers and spent the remaining years of her life as an honored resident of Ypsilanti
doing valuable volunteer work.
Anna (1840–1921) attended the school in Pembroke and in 1854 joined her older sister in
Ypsilanti and graduated from the Seminary in 1857. She taught schools in Michigan, Tennessee and
Illinois and taught for eight years in the Department of Literature at the Normal School and for
thirteen years was the senior Principal of the Detroit Seminary. In the summer it was her habit to
take young ladies to Europe touring Great Britain and the Continent. She, too, returned to Ypsilanti
and for the Seminary Semi-Centennial celebration in 1899 she gave the first of the series of
addresses by the Alumni and was Secretary of the Alumni Library Committee.
Sullivan Cutcheon (1833–1900) and Byron Cutcheon (1836–1908) obviously impressed by
what they heard from their sisters about the Seminary and Ypsilanti followed them here. Sullivan
graduated from Dartmouth College in 1856 and the same year he became Principal of the Seminary and
took charge of the boys' dormitory. After two years of successful work as a teacher he accepted the
position as Superintendent of schools in Springfield, Illinois. While here he put into operation the
first public school system in the State of Illinois. He also met and was a friend of young Abraham
Lincoln and the two of them liked to play a form of hand-ball together-sometimes wacking their heads
together in the excitement of the game. While in Springfield he gained admission to the Bar. In 1859
he returned to Ypsilanti and married Louise Moore (Seminary-class of 1858) daughter of Charles Moore
who bult the house at 110 Woodward later the home of the late Mr. and Mrs. Lorenz Kisor. He and his
wife moved to Detroit where Sullivan had a large and lucrative law practice. He was interested in
banking and was President of the Dime Savings Bank of Detroit from 1884 and of the Ypsilanti Savings
Bank from 1892, until his death. He was twice a member of the Legislature and was Speaker of the
House in 1863.
Byron Cutcheon, too, started his education in Pembroke but came to this city in order to graduate
from the Seminary in 1857. He graduated from the University of Michigan in 1861 and in that fall
became Principal of the school here. In July 1862, under President Lincoln's call for 300,000 men,
he recruited Company B., Twentieth Michigan Volunteers, at Ypsilanti, and was commissioned Captain.
It is interesting to note that every Commissioned officer, four of the five Sergeants, six of the
eight Corporals and a large proportion of the Privates, were pupils of the Seminary. Byron was in
twenty-five battles and engagements and became Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Brevet Colonel of the
20th for gallant service. He became Colonel of the 27th Michigan and was Breveted Brigadier-General
for gallantry at the Battle of the Wilderness and received a Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1863
he married Marie Annie Warner (Seminary-class of 1857) and in 1866 received the degree of LL. B.
from the University of Michigan Law School and M.A. from the Literary Department. In 1867 he moved
his family to Manistee, Michigan and while there he was Congressman from 1883 to 1891. In 1891 Byron
moved to Grand Rapids and there resumed his law practice. Although Byron's active connection with
the Seminary was not a long one, he was, as were his brother and sisters always most loyal to the
school and to the city and he delivered the main address at the Semi-Centennial of the Seminary in
On Sunday morning, March 29th, the original Seminary building was destroyed by fire. Temporary
quarters were found-and perhaps to the students' dismay-school work was hardly interrupted. A new
building was soon erected and it was said that it was the finest school building of its kind.
Dedication Day, August 17, 1853, conincided exactly with the day that gas lights appeared in
Ypsilanti. On January 7, 1859 the famous Horace Greeley lectured at the Seminary-his topic being
In 1859 another school building in Ypsilanti burned. The original building of ‘The
Normal’, found in 1849, burned to the ground.
When he had made his report to the State Board of Education advising them to accept Ypsilanti as
the site for the Normal School John D. Pierce, ‘Father of Public Instruction in
Michigan’ and the first State Superintendent, had said:-
‘… The Village of Ypsilanti is sufficiently large to furnish every
facility for boarding pupils, and the character of its population, and the deep interest manifested
by them upon the subject of education, cannot fail to surround the institution with good
A second fire, December 8, 1877, completely destroyed the second Seminary building. Again the
students were given class work in buildings scattered around the city. The third building was
dedicated in 1879. At that time R.W. Putnam was Superintendent and he stayed until 1891 when he left
to become a professor at Kalamazoc College. The third building, too, was partially destroyed by fire
May 3, 1894 but quickly repaired in a better style.
The following excerpt is taken from an article “An Historical Sketch of Ypsilanti High
School” written by Carolyn Case of the class of 1916 for that year's
The first graduating class received their diplomas in the year 1852, and since
then there has been an annual succession of graduating classes with the exception of 1872 and 1873,
during which years the High School and academic departments of the Normal college were
It is interesting to note that the first graduating class was composed of three
young women. This is rather remarkable in view of that fact that in early years this was about the
only full college preparatory school in the state, and as the University at that time did not admit
women, the alumni of the school were, for the first twelve years, almost exclusively men.
In the late fifties and early sixties there were two sets of graduates. In 1860
and 1861 there are graduation programs bearing date of the last Friday in September. These students
took a six weeks' review after vacation to prepare for their University entrance examination. Those
not going to college were graduated less formally the last of June. The classical section of the
class of 1862 remained in the High School one year after graduation, completing the first year of
their University work there…In 1870 the University opened its doors to women and since then
the portion of young women in the graduating classes has increased until now they number more than
half of the outgoing class.
…Some of the subjects formerly taught are: Elements of Criticism, Moral
Science, Mental Philosophy, Evidences of Christianity, Astronomy, Logic Greek, University Algebra,
Intellectual Philosophy and Ancient Geography.
(*) We have been unable to find this information anywhere else.
No matter how time consuming the class work or how strict the school routine young people have
always found time for school pranks-and the pupils of the Seminary were no different in that
respect. One of the favorite passtimes was to climb up into the old clock tower and be there when
the clock struck even though the escapade was against the school rules. The sound was deafening-but
it was a challenge and something to be done before graduating-at least by the boys! All the
classroom bells were controlled by a clock in the Principal's office and once long ago a group of
boys set the clock a head with the happy result that all classes were dismissed early. We don't know
whether or not the culprits were found out.
In 1896 Austin George became the Superintendent of Schools in Ypsilanti. He was born June 15th,
1841 at Litchfield, Michigan and at the age of twelve had lost his right arm in the machinery of a
flouring mill at Jonesville. He came to the Normal and while there in the summer of 1863 he was
instrumental in raising the Normal Company “E” of the 17th Michigan Infantry and he went
to the front as Company Clerk. After the battles of South Mountain and Antiedam
he held the positions of Regimental Postmaster and Clerk of Brigade at Division Headquarters. He
returned to the Normal and graduated in March 1863, and from Kalamazoo College in 1866. He taught at
Kalamazoo College and was superintendent of the schools there. In 1882 he returned to the Normal in
charge of the Practice School and while there the name ‘Practice’ was changed to
‘Training School’ and he also started “The Normal News”.
While he was Superintendent of Schools in Ypsilanti not only did he increase the enrollment of
the Seminary by fifty percent but he was also active in community affairs being a city Alderman and
was active in the development and the building of the city water works and while he was a member of
the Board of Public Works the sewer system of the city was devised and the principal sewers
The 1903 ‘Ypsi-Dixit’ says of him:
Professor George will be remembered in Ypsilanti as a public spirited citizen, one
ready to do his full share of public work without regard to compensation, as a warm personal friend
to a great number of people in the town; but he will be remembered especially by those who during
the years of his Superintendency went out from the schools bearing the impress of his high and
Austin George died in 1903.
Early in 1900 the ‘Union Seminary’ had its name changed to ‘High School’.
But a much loved name is hard to change or be forgotten and many who went there and taught there and
taught there still referred to the High School as ‘The Seminary’. At any rate, the old
building was much too crowded and lacked up to date facilities. As early as 1911 plans were hpefully
made by Superintendent William B. Arbaugh and the members of the School Board for a new building.
After two school bond issues were turned down by the people of Ypsilanti, (City and Township), the
needed amount was approved and in January of 1916 the new school was opened for inspection by the
public. A newspaper article of that month, describing the opening and praising the new school quoted
this short poem sent in by an unnamed citizen of Ypsilanti:-
When I paid my winter taxes I was hot around the neck; When I saw the nice new
building It cooled me off a speck
The Superintendent of Schools of Ypsilanti in 1916 was William B. Arbaugh who came to Ypsilanti
from Ohio in 1896 as Principal and in 1903 became Superintendent. The ‘Ypsi-Dixit’ of
1916 says of him:-
His interest in his work in this city has been a deep-seated one and one that has
accomplished a great deal for our benefit.
Mr. Arbaugh left Ypsilanti in November 1919 to become General Secretary of the Clearing House of
Schools of Wayne County.
The Principal of the High School in 1916 was Stanley Morris a graduate of Oberlin College who
came to the city in 1914. He left in 1918 for war community service under the Army and Navy
Department Commission Training Camp Activities.
The faculty of the Central High School in 1916 were:
Jessie C. Laird-German
DeForest Ross-Physics and Chemistry
Carrie E. McKnight-English
Branson A. Walpole-Science and Agriculture (*)
Daniel Ohlinger-Manual Training
Jessie C. Swaine-Domestic Science
George W. Frasier-Science
Carrie A. Hardy-Science
(*) Ypsilanti High School was one of the first high schools in the state to teach Agriculture
As in other towns and cities all over this country the early parochial schools of our area have
been an extremely important part in our development. Any article on the schools of Ypsilanti would
be lacking if it did not include something of the first years of the St. John Elementary School.
In 1862 Father Edward Van Paemal came as Priest for the St John Baptist Church and stayed until
1871. Father Van Paemel came from Detroit to Ypsilanti but had been born in Belguim and came to
America While still a seminarian. In 1862 the Parish purchased two lots on West Cross Street
adjoining the Church property and there built a parish house. A little frame school house was added
to the Church property in 1867. These were two adjoining lots purchased from Patrick Kelly on
Florence Street. We do not know just what this school looked like. Some say it was simply the Kelly
home remodeled. The education was elementary since the children left school about the age of twelve.
It has been said that all early discipline problems were attended to immediately by Father Van
Paemel's strong right hand. The earliest teachers in this school were ‘lay’
Miss Elizabeth Foy
Miss Maggie Murphy
Miss Bridget Monaghan
Mr. Michael Moren
Mr ? Devlin
The Priest who succeeded Father Van Paemel was Father Patrick Murphy. He, too, was interested in
teaching and spent much of his time in the little school. He loved playing with the children at
recess time but he, too, was quick with discipline.
Father William DeBever took charge of Saint John's Parish in 1876 and one of the problems facing
his pastorate was that he found the first school inadequate as a building and as a center of
learning. With his typical directness he attacked the problems of building a new school. The frame
schoolhouse was torn down and a two story brick structure was built in its place. Sisters of
Providence from Terre Haute, Indiana, were secured as instructors. A square frame house on the lot
adjoining the school property was purchased on November 4, 1880 to be the home of the Sisters.
The second school opened in 1884 and a pupil of that time, Mrs. Sarah Austin, has written what
she remembered of the opening exercises:-
The children were grouped in a formation to make the figures of ‘5’
and ‘4’, as it was Father DeBever's fifty-fourth birthday. They presented Father with a
fur cap, which I well remember cost $17. As visiting Pastor of the Milan and Whitaker Parishes,
Father DeBever had to take long cold drives in the winter so the fur cap was considered a very
There were six Sisters and instruction was given in elementary and in high school subjects,
algebra, chemistry and geomentry were taught to the upper classes. Music held an important place in
the curriculum for Father DeBever was a student of music and always interested in musical
activities. Botany was taught by Sister Saint Cosmos and her field trips were very popular.
Needlework, with emphasis upon needle work tapestry was stressed. One little girl, working in
needlepoint on “Christ Blessing the Children” caused considerable merriment in her class
when it was being worked on for she was frequently heard to say, “I'm going to do our Lord's
head in chenille”.
This school provided accomodations for boarding pupils. In the Sisters' home was a dormitory with
fourteen beds. Girls from Clinton, Manchester, Wayne and other townships surrounding Ypsilanti
availed themselves of these boarding priviledges. The girls rose at five o'clock and retired at
3:30. They played croquet on the ground between the church and the school and sometimes Father
DeBever took them riding in his carriage.
Father DeBever left Ypsilanti in 1892, returning occasionally to substitute. He was elevated to
the rank of Monsignor in 1906 and died in Dexter April 19, 1919 at the age of 89 years.
About 1896 the school was discontinued. Lack of funds was the principal reason for its closing,
and for a short time after the Sisters left, lay teachers were hired to teach the lower grades.
After the school closed no further use was made of the building for a number of years. During the
pastorate of Father Kennedy about 1910 the Catholic Students' club, with the help of interested
townspeople, reclaimed the old school building and soon the Parish found itself with a pleasant
place for the meeting of Parish organizations. This old school was also used for a while as the
weekly meeting place of the Ypsilanti Rotary Club-from 1917 until 1920. When they moved their
meeting place to the High School they donated to the St John's Club House, silver and linens which
were greatly appreciated.
In 1922 Father Dennis Needham came to Ypsilanti. Plans were formulated for a new church and the
basement was dug and plans were made to open a grade school in the fall of 1925. Dominican Sisters
from Adrian, Michigan, were selected as teachers and the house at 309 N. Hamilton was purchased to
be a home for the Sisters. However, Father Needham died prematurely in 1925 and the Priest who
succeeded him also died in 1931 before the completion of his plans for the church and school
building. It was not until the Pastorate of Father Warren Peck in the 1930s that the St. John the
Baptist Elementary School was completed.
Other churches of Ypsilanti also had early schools connected with them. Many in our City will
remember the Parish School of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church. The following information on this school
was graciously given to us by Miss Edith Lidke, 279 Harris Road. Miss Lidke, herself, did not attend
the school but had relatives and friends who did. Miss Lidke graduated from Ypsilanti Central High
School in 1911 and also taught Latin at the high school.
Emmanuel Lutheran Church established a Parish Day School in the
1830s which all children of the parish were required to attend. Public School
attendance laws did not exist then. In 1834 there were fifty-two families listed on the membership
roll. It seems about this time eight families did not send their children to the Parish School but
to the Academy. The church school board members, the pastor and lay members became quite disturbed
over the situation.
The school first of all aimed to teach Christian faith, but the children could not
read and understand the Bible in the literary German because at home the families spoke ‘low
German’ or ‘Plattdeutsch’. So a great deal of time was spent in teaching
‘high’ or ‘Literary German’. Records show that the Rev Klonka who left the
church in 1890 had his brother come to help him with the classes.
Traditional hearsay gives the impression that attendance at the Parish School was
required for the five school days of the week and for two or three years. This we learned in part
from the late Mrs. Frank Lidke, Sr. Her sister, the late Mrs. Henry Helzermann, nee Minnie Wolter,
and her brother, the late Otto Walter, and Mrs. Lidke all attended the school in the
1880s. Mrs. Lidke used to tell how Mrs. Herbert Hopkins, nee Mary Wallace, used
to go the school and teach the girls crocheting and knitting when she was a young woman and lived
with her parents at the home at the corner of E. Michigan and S. Prospect. On special holidays she
sometimes invited the school children to her home and treated them to goodies. She even sensed when
some children needed clothing and secured some for them. All of this was done by Mrs. Hopkins as a
When the Parish Day School was established the classes met, in the home of a
member, the Esslinger family, who lived at 114 N. River Street where the octagon house now stands.
In 1886 the congregation built a schoolhouse on the east side of the Church which
stood at that time on the northeast corner of E. Michigan and N. Grove. The Parish School was
discontinued in the early 1890s. Instruction of the children continued on Saturday classes and
sometimes after the public school hours.
The copy of the old Church constitution translated from the German orginal
‘Article 17: The members of the congregation who are minors must
attend Christian instruction’. ‘Article LV. Sec. D’.
says:-‘The School Board members shall be an example to the congregation and especially to the
youth in word and deed…They must care for the school in the best possible manner and carry
out all orders of the congregation in this. They shall see to it that the teacher not only teaches
according to the teaching plan but also practices it; that he begins school on time and holds it
regularly. For this purpose the School Board members shall not only visit classes from time to time
but also attend school public examinations; they especially note that the religious instructions be
taught in the strict belief of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Bible stories. Above all they
shall support the teacher and promote the best for the school as well as see to it that the teacher
receive regularly the salary promised by the congregation. They shall investigate all complaints
made about the teacher and where possible minimize same as well as admonish in love the parents who
send their children to a nonreligious school instead of to the Christian Parish School’.
Most of the time the Pastor was also the teacher of the school.
In 1959 for the Centennial of the Emmanuel Lutheran Church Miss Lidke translated all of the
material from the Church's old constitution for research material for their pageant.
Originally the black children of Ypsilanti attended the old Seminary. However, in 1860 a separate
school was provided for them, in an old shop, at the northeast corner of Adams and Congress Streets
and the first teacher was a John Hall. This building was later moved up on Congress Street, west,
and made into a double house, owned by W.W. Worden. In 1864 the first ward, or Adams Street School
building was erected, a one room affair with one teacher, on east side of Adams south of
It is an historical fact that many of the black men who enlisted to fight in the Civil War came
out of the infant class of this school. Miss Loretta D. Pitkin, mother of Mrs. Shelley Hutchinson,
was the first teacher in this school. In the 1870s a Reverend Isaac Burdine, who died in April of
1896, was the teacher and he was always very proud of the fact that many of his pupils went on to
graduate from the Seminary.
The Ypsilanti Board of Education hired Benjamin Harrison Locke as its first African-American
school principal on Sept. 1, 1914. A brief article in BLACK EXPERIENCES IN MICHIGAN HISTORY by
Reginald Larrie a publication of Michigan Dept. of State in 1975, says:-
Locke was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 14, 1888, and
he had received his bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1912. After graduation he did
additional post-graduate work at Columbia Univ. in New York. Before he finished his studies at
Columbia, Locke moved to Michigan to take a job.
Benjamin H. Locke, like other blacks who are hired to do a job, entered the
Ypsilanti school system with more than the necessary qualifications to handle the task before him.
Locke was assigned to the Adams School which had no plumbing and the building was heated by a
defective stove called ‘Smokie’. Across the street from the Adams School, there was a
two-room portable structure and adult night classes were held there.
By 1919 Benjamin Locke had left Ypsilanti and the faculty at Adams School were: Joseph S. Price,
Ruth Dydes and Bernice Kersey.
In the 1920s the Harriet Street School was built at the s/w corner of Hawkins and Harriet. The
Adams street school at 407 S. Adams was closed and the New Jerusalem Baptist Church is now located
at the Adams Street address.
Lewis M. Lash was an early Principal at the Harriet Street School and early teachers
were:-Mildred Forsberg, Edith M. Bates and Xema Skeels. In 1956 the name of this school was changed
to ‘Perry’ School in honor of Dr. Lawrence C. Perry (1898 Montgomery, Alabama-died
1955-Ypsilanti), a local dentist, community leader and a member of the School Board for many
There were many one room schools in the area. One that has been rebuilt and serves as a home, was
the Thorne School on Textile Road.
It is where our distinguished member, Jay Seaver began his education as had his father before
The recitation given by Jay J. Seaver when age five years and on the last day of school, June
Here I stand
Ragged and dirty,
When the girls
Come to kiss me,
I run like a turkey
That ‘little five year old’ is living in Green Valley, Arizona and celebrated his
94th birthday, January of 1979.
View images of Woodruff School and
the Michigan State Normal School in our
Gleanings image gallery.