Albion Interactive History / Schools

Albion Interactive History

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Early School Buildings, built 1837-1849

Little Red Schoolhouse, 1837-1860s, demolished 1912
East Division, 1842-1861, demolished 1869
North Division, 1849-1929, demolished 1929
“Higher Grades” Building, 1867-1869, moved in 1887

In the early days of education in Albion, church and schools were strongly related, and great educational activity was occurring here, distinguishing Albion from other towns of its size.

First classes were held in the stable of Jacob DeVoe, until the Little Red Schoolhouse was opened in the fall of 1837 and classes held there, only in winter months. Constructed with assistance from the Methodist, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, the building was also used for religious services until congregations built structures of their own.

The East Division school district was organized in 1842 and built a frame building on the south-west corner of Michigan Avenue and Clark Street.

Organization of the East Division school district was at nearly the same time that the first students were welcomed to classes at the fledgling Wesleyan Seminary. With only the Central Building and Bell House constructed, the first classes were held on October 27, 1842. Later a Female Collegiate Institute was established, from 1850-1857, and then the Albion Female College, from 1857-1861, until in 1861 the Wesleyan Seminary and Albion Female College were combined to form Albion College, officially founded on February 25, 1861.

The North Division school district was organized in 1849 and built a frame building just north of Crowell Park. Later this building would become home of the Salem Church before being demolished in 1929.

The last of these early Albion school buildings was the “Higher Gradesbuilding. Formerly the frame structure that the Presbyterians built when they first moved from the Little Red Schoolhouse, the school board approved renting this building on October 10, 1867. Finding that it had been sold to the newly organized German Lutheran Church in March 1869, classes were cancelled for the remainder of the year. Before a new building could be constructed, classes were held at the Engine House on S. Superior Street.

Four Ward and Central School, built 1869-1873

South Ward School, 1869-June 1920, demolished 1929
East Ward School, 1869-1927, demolished
North Ward School, 1869-1911, demolished 1911
Central School, 1872-1906, demolished 1906
West Ward School, 1873-1958, demolished 1958

School inspectors of the Albion and Sheridan Townships met in Howard Hall on September 17, 1867 and formally unified the separate school districts into the Albion Union Schools.

Almost immediately, in 1869 the school board ordered the creation of three primary buildings, similar to those built in Marshall. In fact the school board purchased these plans to help construct three nearly identical schools in Albion. All built in 1869, the South Ward was constructed by newly arrived German immigrant Carl L. Schumacher on the site later occupied by the Sheldon Memorial Hospital physical plant; the East Ward School was located on the site of the original East Division School; and the North Ward School was built on the north-west corner of N. Clinton and W. Pine Streets, replacing the North Division school.

The next building to be constructed was the Central School, built on the north side of the 400 block of E. Michigan Avenue by George W. Maher. Classes opened in November 1873. Wings were added in 1885 and 1893.

One final building from this period of school construction was the West Ward School located at the present day Holland Park. Construction of this school was approved by a narrow margin of fifteen votes. Intended for the children of German immigrants who had come to work at the Gale Manufacturing located across the street from the school on the west side of town, construction was completed in the summer of 1873.

West Ward would gain added significance in the racial and industrial history of the town when in January 2, 1918 it became the only all-black school in Albion. World War I curtailed European immigration and forced labor recruiters to find workers to migrate from the south. From 1916 to 1920 the number of black people in Albion jumped from 10 to 620. Of those newly arrived in Albion, they came to live where the first German migrants had lived, work in the same factories, and have their children go to the same schools. Originally the Community Church, or what the school board at the time referred to as the “Colored Church” was rented for black students in September 17, 1917. Later on January 2, 1918 the West Ward School was designated as an all-black school, with Albion’s first black teacher Lena Cable.

Last Locally Built Schools, 1906-1926

High School, 1906-1927
Austin School, 1911-1968, permanently closed 1970
Dalrymple Elementary School, 1917-1982, permanently closed 1982
Washington Gardner School, named 1927

Already with a rich history of educational innovation, two additional milestones during this next period of school building and demolition distinguished Albion as a state and national leader of education.

Delos Fall was elected as the State Superintendent of Education in 1899 by the highest margin of any person to that time. He was re-elected in 1901, for another two year term. During his administration the state legislature passed enabling legislation for the centralization and consolidation of public schools. This would have a profound impact on the Albion school system, and smaller rural schools in the surrounding area. Having arrived at Albion College in 1878 to accept a professorship in natural sciences, after his tenure at the state level, he returned to Albion and resumed teaching of chemistry until 1919.

A second notable milestone in educational history occurred in Albion at this time. Floyd Starr founded his commonwealth for delinquent boys on October 3, 1913, at his new campus three miles west of town. For the next 54 years he served as president, watching the campus grow, serving thousands of boys. Starr retired in 1967 though remained actively involved with his school until his death on August 27, 1980. The work of Starr Commonwealth continues to this day.

When added with the expanding reputation of Albion College, under the leadership of Samuel Dickie, professor of mathematics and astronomy since 1877, and the college’s 7th president from 1901-1921, city and college had a strong reputation for educational excellence.

Amidst this milieu of educational innovation, economic growth and prosperity of industry and city abounded. This was expressed strongly in the next wave of school construction and demolition.

As ever greater numbers of people came to work in Albion’s expanding factories, this demanded ever greater room to provide their children with a quality education.

The original Central Building was demolished in June 1906 and a new high school was constructed on the site with a central tower and classrooms on both sides. Opened in September 1907, lack of room forced certain high school subjects to be discontinued in 1921. Only July 14, 1921, George E. Dean, president of the school board and president of Union Steel Products, recommended plans for building a new high school. The board approved issuing bonds at a special meeting on December 12, 1921, and acquisition of the remaining residents on the block advanced immediately. The building contract was awarded to an outside firm, the DeRight Brothers of Kalamazoo for $114,408.

A new west wing was constructed in 1922-23 and dedicated on May 9, 1923. On May 17, 1926 the school board proposed bonding for building a new grade school wing on the east side of the Central School. Fred W. Schumacher was awarded a contract on October 2, 1926 for $119,435. Fire destroyed part of the 1906 Central School building on December 30, 1926. Responding to concerns about safety of the 1906 wood frame structure, the school board voted on January 5, 1927 to abandon and demolish the 1906 built Central School.

On February 2, 1927 the school board decided to name the new building after Washington Gardner, prominent Albion minister, Civil War veteran, and United States Senator. The school was dedicated on February 8, 1928. Because of illness Gardner was not able to attend the dedication, though he was expressed appreciation for being honored. Seven weeks later he died.

The ward schools were determined to be deficient. North Ward School was demolished in 1911 and the Charles F. Austin School built on its place by local contractor Fred W. Schumacher. The facility was opened for classes in January 1912, with elementary students moving here from the Central School. Soon work commenced on theDalrymple Elementary School to serve residents living on the south side of town. Construction began in September 1916, again by local contractor Frederick W. Schumacher, not being completed until the end of 1917. Dalrymple was opened for classes in 1918 and nearly immediately controversy emerged about admitting students of different races to the school. This was resolved, at least temporarily, by sending students to the West Ward School.

At the end of the 1926-1927 school year, East Ward School was closed. Used by community groups in the years to follow, the property was deeded to the city of Albion and school building demolished. Today the Gold Star Park occupies this site of the former East Ward School.

West Ward, Discrimination and Demolition
With demolition of the East Ward School, this left the West Ward school as the last of the ward schools, from the second wave of building construction, begun immediately after the Albion school districts were united. That three of the ward schools and the Central School were demolished is problematic, for any of these buildings today would be cherished for their historic and architectural significance. Even if they did not meet changing standards for school buildings at the time, some other use could have been found for them. Regrettably these buildings were lost, along with our connection to this unique and important time in Albion’s history.

That the West Ward School continued to operate 30 years longer than any of the other schools is problematic as well. The rationale for replacing the other ward school buildings was that they did not meet changing standards for school buildings. Educational professionals identified the need for large open windows, space for recreation, modernized heating and circulation systems, and dining areas for students. A two room addition was built onto the West Ward in 1919, but no other changes were made. West Ward continued to be segregated until its closure in late 1953. For years black parents had been dissatisfied with the substandard education and poor facilities at the school.

Judy Powell reported in her Ethnic History of Albion:

Several attempts, including boycotts, were made over the years to close down the West Ward School, and to integrate the children into the other elementary schools. These attempts failed because of the lack of substantial support from all Black parents.

Following the retirement of long time West Ward teacher and administrator Lena Holmes in June 1953, Rev. Marion Wheeler and Robert Johnson, Sr., and others staged a boycott of classes beginning in September 1953 and lasting for 45 days. 

After first refusing to close the West Ward School at its October 20, 1953 meeting, the board reversed its indecision on the matter and passed the following resolution:

The board, after consideration of several proposals, acted as follows: Moved by Smith, supported by Cartwright, that the Superintendent of Schools be authorized to proceed with the transfer of the twenty-six children remaining on the West Ward School rolls, in accordance with the wishes of their parents; said transfers to be made on the bases recommended by a group of parents from the Dalrymple School district; such individual transfers to be made on the basis recommended by a group of parents from the Dalrymple School District; such individual transfers to be made on the basis of enrollment in the particular grade of the school or schools involved. Five members of the board voted in favor of the motion. One opposed. The motion carried. (Powell, Ethnic History, 22-23)

After the West Ward school was closed it was used as a storage facility for the recreation department. There were offers by two black churches to purchase the property in 1956 and 1957 but these were turned down. The Macedonia Baptist Church had offered $8,000 for the building and site in August 1957. The board opted to demolish the school, which commenced March 1958 by the B&B Wrecking Company. The district retained possession of the property for many years before transferring it to the City of Albion for $1 on February 11, 1969. The site was developed into Holland Park, named after Robert Holland, Sr.

Buildings Since 1950

North School, 1950-
Crowell School, 1955-1980, and 1982-present
Harrington School, 1957
Albion Senior High School, 1967-present

Closure of West Ward School in 1953 and its demolition five years later marked an important turning point in the history of education in Albion. From this point on Albion’s schools would be integrated and all students would be provided with a similar quality of education in similar facilities that met standards for school buildings at that time.

Demolition of West Ward school marked destruction of the oldest remaining school building in Albion, one that went back to near the start of the Albion Union Schools in 1867. This seemingly great accomplishment also came with a great price. From this point no school building in Albion was locally constructed. Changing standards for school buildings resulted in escalating prices. Albion increasingly became dependent on architects, builders, and contractors outside of the city. This precipitated a trend of loss of local control, and flight of wealth and power from the city that persists to present day.

Schools built since 1950 have entirely replaced all of the schools that came before.

North School was built in 1950 from funds raised from passage of a bond on April 20, 1950 to build an addition toDalrymple School and construct a new building on the north side of town. A site was purchased at 1100 N. Berrien Street in April 1952. Classes opened September 4 of that year. Architect was the Warren S. Holmes Company of Lansing, general contractor was the North-Moller Company of Jackson. A north wing was added in 1954 with classes opening there on February 21, 1955. Renamed Caldwell School in the 1970s, after Frances Caldwell who had served as principal of the school since its opening in 1952.

Crowell School was the first new school building to be opened after the closure of West Ward in 1953. A bind issue was approved on November 10, 1953 for construction of Crowell School, then called “Northwest” elementary. Construction began on February 8, 1954 and was completed in the fall of 1955. Classes were opened on January 3, 1956, relieving overcrowding in the Austin School.

A third school was added in 1957 with the construction of the Harrington Elementary School. Construction began on the site of the former Albion City Dump and was funded by $600,000 in bonds that the City Bank and Trust Company had purchased.

Caldwell School, 1950

Crowell School, 1955

Harrington School, 1957


This was one of the first transactions of the City Bank & Trust Company, created from the merger of the Commercial and Savings Bank of Albion with the Jackson City Bank & Trust Company on March 1, 1955. The Commercial and Savings Bank had been formed by prominent area citizens on September 30, 1893, and from 1931 to 1955 was the only bank in Albion, locally owned and operated. To have the City Bank and Trust Company finance construction of Harrington Elementary School, symbolized loss of local control of wealth, and increasing dependency on people outside of Albion, who had a weak interest in the development of the city at best.

The building contract for Harrington Elementary was awarded to the Miller-Davis company of Kalamazoo on June 19, 1956, also signaling loss of local control, with classes opening on September 5, 1957.

With construction of these three new elementary school buildings, and all the early school buildings closed and demolished, attention now shifted to the Washington Gardner High School, Austin School, and Dalrymple Elementary School, the three oldest school buildings in the city.

The School board announced the plan for a $3.385 million senior high building on July 19, 1960. Bond elections failed on October 17, 1960 and March 6, 1961. Not taking no for an answer, after a particularly bitter campaign, the bond issue was approved on October 4, 1962.

Six concerned taxpayers, however, filed suit claiming the election was invalid. The case was taken to the Michigan Supreme Court who declared the election to be legal. Bonds were promptly sold on August 25, 1964, but delay in construction had caused prices and construction costs to skyrocket. An additional $400,000 for the project had to be approved on November 8, 1965. The construction contract was awarded to Miller-Davis Company of Kalamazoo. Construction began on September 1, 1965 and classes opened on January 9, 1967.

The Albion Senior High School was completed near the apex of Albion’s economic and industrial development. Location of Corning Glass Works in 1950 had caused population and employment to expand. Closure of Gale Manufacturing in 1968, and sale of Union Steel Products in 1969 provided evidence that Albion’s economic fortunes were changing. Escalating racial tension during this time caused community leaders to organize and respond with three programs, Earn, Learn and Play, the Melting Pot, and a recycling program that helped Albion to win the All America City designation in 1973. This was celebrated in 1974, but in 1975 Corning Glass Works was closed, nearly 1,000 jobs were lost and a period of declining employment, population, and tax revenue began that continues to present day.

Declining Population and School Closing
The impact of this change in the economic structure is that with fewer people living and working in the city, there was less tax revenue, and there were fewer students to serve. Building construction since 1950 created surplus space and required that some of this be closed. Further, lack of confidence in the local economy guaranteed that construction of new school buildings would be brought to a halt.

To make matters worse, disciplinary problems, bomb threats, and racial conflict made it even more difficult for administrators to navigate through difficult times of declining economic opportunity. The worst periods of unrest occurred March 1966, March 1970, and April 1975. Incidents in 1970 were at the same time that fires, protest, and unrest were occurring at Albion College as well.

School administrators found it a challenging task indeed to respond to these rapid changes in the social and economic structure.

The new Senior High opened in 1967-68 causing a shuffling of students. Grades 10-12 were moved from the Washington Gardner school to the new Senior High. After the Senior High students moved bomb threats at the Washington Gardner school continued. Sixth grade students from all elementary schools were moved to the Washington Gardner school beginning with the 1967-68 school year.

Administrative headquarters were next moved from the Austin School to the third floor east wing of the Washington Gardner Junior High School in 1970, at which time the Austin School was permanently closed.

Budget shortfalls, caused massive layoff of teachers, custodian, and other personnel in November 1979.

In an effort to save money, and after much controversy, Crowell School was closed for the 1980-81 and 1981-82 school years, but reopened for the 1982-83 school years. To take its place, the Dalrymple Elementary School was permanently closed in 1982. The oldest operating school in Albion, with its closure no school remained on the west side of town.

Schools still open after the closure of Dalrymple Elementary School in order of their date of construction were the Washington Gardner Junior High (1927), Caldwell School (1950), Crowell School (1955), Harrington School (1957), and Senior High School (1967).

St. John’s Elementary School, a Catholic school located along Irwin Street provided an alternative for parents who could afford to send their students there and who did not want to place their children in the Albion Public Schools. Enrollments reached record numbers in the early to mid-1990s but then started to steadily decline. The Catholic diocese wanted at least 60 students if the school was to continue to operate but only 40 were enrolled. Citing declining population in the city, it was no longer feasible to keep the school open, and it was closed in June 2002.

Closure of Albion Malleable, the oldest factory in Albion, responsible for most of the twentieth century development, was closed in 2002, leaving 800 workers including the mayor of the city without employment. Many decided to leave in search of employment elsewhere. Between 2002 and 2003 school enrollment declined by 100 students. With schools receiving state aid on a per pupil basis, this loss of students has created a substantial budget shortfall. Faced with an economic situation similar to that of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s the school board is in a position where it is necessary to close another school.

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