I spent this past weekend visiting family in Brighton and came across this lovely old schoolhouse while out for a run Sunday afternoon (side note – I hate that it was warm enough for an outdoor run 3 days ago but today I woke up to snow). Fortunately, I had my phone on me so I stopped to take some pictures and then jumped on a computer to do some research when I got home. I was really excited to come across this building as it is a very out of the way site that I probably wouldn’t have known to visit. Random historical site run-ins are the best!
Here’s the text of the historical marker on the site, which provides some basic information about the school:
“In 1842 pioneer settler Richard Lyons donated land for the first school in Brighton Township’s District No. 8. Area Methodists worshipped in the log school until 1874. In 1885 the log building was replaced with this one-room clapboard structure. Classes were held here until area schools consolidated in 1956. The building then served as the Brighton Township Hall. In 1984 it was restored for use as a museum.”
Richard Lyons came to Michigan in 1835 from New York City to buy land for a number of members of his artist’s guild. New York was experiencing a terrible cholera outbreak at the time and people were looking to move west. Lyons traveled to Michigan to make purchases twice, eventually purchasing 20,000 acres of land in the area then known as Upper Green Oak before finally bringing his family out and settling on one parcel in 1837.
The Lyons family traveled in a group of 12 guild members to their new home. When they arrived, they all crowded into one small log cabin built by William Valentine, a guild member who had come west earlier but had given up on making a living in the wilderness and returned to the city. When another two families arrived soon after, the crowd in the cabin swelled to 22. The settlers quickly went to work building more homes and each family had their own house within a year. As they came from the city, these guild members had very little farming experience and struggled initially, but most eventually prospered. A log schoolhouse, built a few years later in 1842, was the first non-residential structure the settlers built. It served as both a schoolhouse and as a general community gathering point for the next 40 years.
As the marker states, in 1885 the current frame structure replaced the original cabin. The one room schoolhouse had a wood stove for heating the building, a well and outhouses outside and oil lamps for lighting the inside. The community was still small and only around 20 students attended the school.
The small schoolhouse continued to be used into the 20th century, finally adding electricity and indoor bathrooms in 1940. However, after WWII, Brighton experienced a rapid increase in population as the construction of freeways made travel to nearby Detroit and Ann Arbor easier. This growth caused the city to outgrow its one room schoolhouses. Additionally, educators around the country pushed for bigger schools, claiming they would provide a more standardized education. The rise of the automobile, which allowed the creation of the school bus to transport students longer distances, also contributed to the decline of one room schoolhouses (source). Nonetheless, this one room schoolhouse lasted longer than most. Although school consolidation in the United States began in the 1920s and 1930s, Brighton schools didn’t consolidated until 1956.
The building was used as the Brighton Township Hall for many years until it became too small for that function as well. According to the Brighton Area Historical Society, it now serves as their headquarters and has been fully restored for use as a museum. However, there is no information about when/if the public can visit the museum, which is a shame as I would love to see the inside. The BAHS does state that it can be used for school field trips and even has a third grade curriculum that can be used to show students what education was like in the early 20th century. So apparently I just need to impersonate a teacher and find a group of random kids to get inside…..bad idea?
What I really like about this schoolhouse is the setting. It is tucked away down a dirt road and largely surrounded by trees. Although there are a number of houses in the area, it still feels fairly rural and thus does a better job of replicating the feel of a 19th/early 20th century schoolhouse than buildings relocated to historic parks, such as in Greenfield Village or Troy Historic Village. The National Register of Historic Places call this relationship between a property and its surroundings “integrity of setting.” I love sites like these because they can really take you back in time mentally. As I stood there, I could imagine schoolchildren walking down the road to get to class, playing in the schoolyard, dipping their feet in the nearby creek after class.
Sadly, that image was quickly blown away by the site of a car driving past, and I was drawn back into the modern world. Nonetheless, it made for a fun historical break on my run. Now if only all my runs took me past unexpected historical sites, I might enjoy running more!