Tour will offer peek into 6 one-room schoolhouses of Ottawa County
By Sheila Mcgrath | smcgrath@MLive.com | Posted May 30, 2019 at 04:35 PM
Photos by Cory Morse | MLive.com
Sandy and Kit Karsten, members of the Olive Township Historical Society, were the driving force behind the tour. Both are retired teachers who have connections to historic schoolhouses.
They estimated there were probably more than 120 rural schoolhouses in Ottawa County at one time. Most of them are either no longer standing, or have been converted to other uses.
The schools remain intriguing for a variety of reasons, the Karstens said. Although most of the buildings hearken back to the late 1800s, many were still in use as recently as the 1950s. That means there are a lot of people in the Baby Boom generation who began their education in a one-room schoolhouse.
When they walk into an old schoolhouse, “their faces light up and they say ‘I remember that!’” Sandy Karsten said. “It’s a way of stepping back in time.”
Sandy Karsten, who taught for 30 years in Hudsonville and Holland, attended the Olive Center school in Holland. There were four children in her class, she said, and after she and her classmates had their lessons, they would eavesdrop on the lessons being given to the older students in the room and learn from them.
In a sense, every child older than a kindergartner was a teacher, Kit Karsten said.
Here is a look at the schools on the tour and how they served their communities.
The Olive Center School was used as a schoolhouse until the Zeeland school system consolidated in 1959. Olive Township then purchased the building and used it for the township offices until 1997.
The New Groningen School was built in 1881 of bricks from the Veneklasen brick yard, which was just half a mile away, Kit Karsten said. The school had two parts – a grammar room and a primary room, which could be opened up into one large room for programs.
The school was the center of community activities for 70 years until 1951, when the present New Groningen School was built. Kit Karsten taught for more than three decades at the current New Groningen school, which sits next to the historic school building. “I looked at that building every day for 35 years,” he said.
Ottawa Station school was built in 1867, and has two doors on its front – one for boys and one for girls. The school building still has the original flooring, chalkboard and cement slab where the wood-burning “pot-belly” stove stood.
The building was owned by the Zeeland school system until consolidation occurred in 1959. It fell into disrepair over the years, but was refurbished by Wanda Sines Hepler, who received the building from her mother, Vida Sines, 20 years ago. Sines had purchased the building from the Zeeland district in 1959.
The Pigeon Creek Schoolhouse was built in 1878 and was a functioning one-room school until 1961, when it was purchased and moved to a different location on Pierce Street.
In 2002, a neighbor, Diane Edward Cole Fahndrich, started the Pigeon Creek Schoolhouse Preservation Society, and the schoolhouse and its original site were donated to the society. The schoolhouse was moved back to its original cornerstones and the bell returned to a recreated belfry. Restoration is still underway at the building.
The school was built in 1891 on land given by the DeWitt and Bosch families. It operated until 1954, when the Ferrysburg district was incorporated.
The building’s exterior was maintained by neighbors at DeWitt Centennial Farm, descendants of the owners who gave the original land.
On July 4, 1976, the nation’s bicentennial, the DeWitt School building was dedicated as a public historic site. Spring Lake Township took control of the building in the 1980s and continues to maintain it. The schoolhouse is open for classroom tours.
South Evergreen School was built in 1867 on its present site on Leonard Road at 88th Avenue. A group of residents began raising funds in 2013 to buy the property and preserve the school as a historic landmark.
South Evergreen School is now owned by Polkton Township, and the preservation committee continues its work to restore the building. They hope to eventually open it up for classroom visits.