RURAL SCHOOLS of Allegan County Michigan
by Aino Geraldine Crane Wooton

This is a project of the Allegan County Historical Society about rural schools.  This happens to be my report in my day of a one room school house.  They are now looking for a 2 room school house, in good condition, in Allegan County. Many of the schools were destroyed when the school districts consolidated.

It’s something interesting for us as older citizens to share and preserve for the next generations. Others who attended the school before or after I did will have more stories to tell.

I didn’t tell about the boys coming in from hunting with damp boots on and as they dried out, the odor from the skunks grease they used on the boots to waterproof them, filled the room.

Then one May 18th we were to have our school picnic at Mt. Baldy.  It got cancelled due to a blizzard.

I recall a time when the boys needed another boy to be on the baseball team for a game against another school.They looked at me, but no, not a girl!  My father had trained us to bat and box.  Finally, the day of the game arrived.  We were losing.  The bases were loaded.  The boys said, “OK Geraldine, go to bat.”  I did.  My father had told me to aim between 2nd and 3rd base and hit hard.  I did and all runners got to home plate and we won!  That was the only time I played but I was grateful to my dad’s coaching and for the opportunity the boys gave me to help our school team in the win that game.

The boys had snow forts and really paced the snowballs to win the battle.

There are so many more stories.  There was high school and Sunday school when I was a teenager.  We had hay rides, skiing behind cars, parties of singing, dancing and playing parlor games.  Then there was radio, movies and basketball, plays, and so much more.

Peachbelt School

The one room rural school house was a little over a half mile from our farm, along a graveled highway-M89. Our family, at that time, was a family of five and I was the oldest child.

The buildings on the school house grounds consisted of a woodshed and a boys and girls toilet.  There was also an outdoor well with a hand pump. We had a good play area. To the east, there was a hill in the orchard, to the west a side road, and then there was a big front yard and a smaller area to the south. In the entrance hall was a cord hanging from the belfry.  It rang a bell used to call the children to come inside. Inside the building were 2 closets, one for the girls and one for the boys.  We could hang our wraps and store our lunch buckets and caps or other head gear. There was a round stove in the back right corner which burned wood that was carried in from the woodshed by the boys.

The orchard hill on the east of the school was used for sledding downhill after we made a snow pack between rows of trees.

After ringing the bell and pupils were in their seats the teacher took roll call and then we stood to Pledge Our Allegiance to the American Flag.  A volunteer would recite a Bible verse or share a current event.

The older pupils studied while the lower grades had classes.  The 1st grade moved to the front of the room, sitting on a long bench to take turns reading.  Upon returning to their seats they had spelling words to copy from the black board as a part of their penmanship.  Then they would go on to study their arithmetic.  They worked on counting, addition and subtraction skills in preparation for multiplication and division the next year.

I recall how afraid I was to walk to school alone, leaving my little sister and brother at home.  I was afraid of all those pupils moving about and the kids I didn’t know.  So, I quit.  I was a drop out in the first
grade.  I returned to school the next year when I felt more comfortable with my sister attending school with me. It was fun to walk to and from school.  We discovered new things along the way as the seasons changed.  There was water running in the ditch as spring approached and the winter snow melted.  There were the early flowers, early and late fruit in the orchards.  Our neighbors were watching out for us as we passed their homes along our way.

I recall one day when the teacher brought a lamb to school. It was like Mary and her little lamb.  “It made the children laugh and play to see the lamb at school”.  The teacher helped us to learn about lambs and sheep, their raising and tending, shearing of wool to be bailed for market and the meat prepared for the markets to sell to families.  Then families used the money they gained from selling their sheep to raise more animals.  Later that year the teacher took us to the farm to watch the shearing of sheep.  That was an enjoyable learning experience.

When the weather was nice we played games during our recess.  Some of the games were, Pompom Pull Away, Ring-Around the Roses, Anti Over (the woodshed), Red Light Green Light.  The boys played ball, tag, or volleyball.  Our ball team played against other rural school teams.  The older children often surprised the younger children in outdoor activities.

We learned to put on programs by using the farmers crates with boards on top for staging.  A wire was strung from one side of the school room to the other to hold a curtain. Someone, usually a taller boy, pulled the curtain.  It was his responsibility.  The stage hands were in charge of the props.  All children in the plays had to memorize their parts.  Many times the younger children were in groups so they could be in it also. The shy and bashful ones were given encouragement.

Going back from Fennville to California many years later, by bus, I met a man who trained actors and actresses and he said, “The ones who made it then, were ones who had learned to act in the rural schools and in Sunday school programs.”  He wanted to know if I knew where Saugatuck and Fennville, MI were.  I said, “Yes! I was  brought up near Fennville and went to the rural school, Peachbelt, on M-89.  He then went on to tell me how he spent summers with a family along the Lake Michigan shore, coming by train from Chicago to Fennville.

Many pupils studied and entered spelling bees with other rural schools. One of my sisters was a good speller and liked the challenge of these spelling bees.

For myself, I had fond memories of the county nurse who came to help the girls with childcare classes. We learned to make layettes for babies.  This was a helpful study to help our mothers at home.  Most of the babies were born at home on the farm and we had eight more born to our family.  This nurse could have had something in her way of compassion and understanding that challenged me to later become an R.N. and through my training, I taught Red Cross Home Nursing and Childcare classes in high school and to lay people in addition to my hospital nursing.  It will soon be 50 years since graduation from nursing school and 57 years from my days at Peachbelt.

To get back to what the rural school had to offer, on inclement weather days, we played records on the wind up phonograph so we could march about the room.  We marched to Sousa’s marches.  Sometimes they were used in games, like musical chairs.  We had no piano at school but did like to sing in rounds and sometimes harmonized when we sang songs from the schools’ knap sack song book.

The boys were let out early in the spring to help their fathers plant crops and in the fall to help with harvest.  There were hunting days also when they went with older brothers or fathers to hunt rabbits, squirrel and pheasant.  As we ate the meat to supplement beef, pork, chicken and fish.  The boys had to learn to be responsible for the family food. You see, farm girls and boys were prepared to marry after the 8th
, 10th or 12th year of schooling and it was important to start agriculture training in the early years so they could manage a farm for themselves.

The hot lunch program during winter months was prepared on a kerosene stove in the entry way of the school building by the older girl students. The teacher supervised.  Sometimes it was a large kettle of stew with meat and vegetables furnished by the parents who had farms in the district.  Sometimes there was chocolate pudding.  All had such a good aroma while cooking during the morning classes.  The girls were responsible for preparation, cooking, and clean-up during the lunch hour.

After the small children were dismissed in the early p.m. it was quiet to finish assignments.  At school we had a large dictionary on a stand, many reference books and some school magazines with articles, stories and current events.  Most farm homes had only a few books, a Bible and some adult farm magazines that parents read and used for information on farming.

We were encouraged to sew, can vegetables and fruit for the County Fair, home and school.  We were encouraged to learn sepsis care for communicable diseases in the home.

The older children were responsible to pump water from the well and fill the water pail with fresh drinking water.

There was a red and green card hanging in the front of the school room.  This was used for bathroom visits.  The toilet was outside and the student would turn the card to green when they left the classroom and then turn it to red upon their return.  Sometimes we tried to fool the teacher so 2 students could go out at one time.  Then we could visit in private.

Sometimes the teacher would assign duties, like putting class work on the blackboards.  There were 3 blackboards, one on each of 3 walls.  Sometimes students helped correct papers, supervised recess, or sat with slower learners to help them individually.