- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

CHARLOTTE, Mich. (AP) - A hundred years ago or more, one-room schoolhouses could be found throughout Eaton County.

The simple buildings were evenly spaced so that no child needed to walk more than two miles to class. Some are still standing, even though most have not been used for teaching since the 1960s. Many have been turned into homes and at least one - Strange School outside Grand Ledge - still is open, with a handful of students, according to the Lansing State Journal ( https://on.lsj.com/MFbK8n ).

Unearthing the answers to questions about what happened to the 197 country schools that have existed at one time or another over Eaton County’s 176-year existence takes time and effort. And, that’s where Jan Sedore and her team come in.

The Eaton County Historical Commission member has been working with a group of volunteers for the past year, compiling a history of the one-room schoolhouses. Their findings will be featured in a book that should be published by December.

From the Eaton County Genealogical Society’s office inside the Eaton County Courthouse, built in 1885, Sedore, fellow commissioner JoeAnn Nehmer and genealogy society member Sherry Copenhaver have spent every Thursday for the past year compiling facts, photos and personal memories of the county’s one-room schoolhouses.

While Sedore, 71, believes the topic will appeal to county residents, she also hopes the book will serve as a fundraiser for the Eaton County Historical Commission.

Proceeds from the book will help fund the annual grants the commission awards to efforts that preserve and maintain county history. Past grants have supported the restoration of historical buildings throughout Eaton County and the operation of local history museums.

Sedore’s project is as much personal as it is historical.

“I went to a one-room schoolhouse and absolutely loved it,” she said. “We had one teacher to 30 kids in one room. It went from first grade to sixth. I wanted to do this several years ago and finally moved forward with it.”

Sedore’s school, Grove School in Clinton County, no longer is standing. But the historian says many of Eaton County’s country schools are. Those helping her say they want to tell the story of each one.

Sedore, Nehmer and Coperhaver have spent hours using portable document scanners to collect information and photos, chronicling who attended each school, who taught there and what happened to the buildings. The group also has visited many of the schools, taking pictures that will appear next to historical images.

Copenhaver, 61, said she’s indexed more than 1 million records in the past year, creating a database file that contains all of the group’s research on every country school that existed in the county.

“I call it the working database,” she said. “It has all the records we’ve collected.

“Without that we’d be lost. We’d have a room full of papers.”

Nehmer, 68, who also attended a one-room schoolhouse growing up, said memories are just as important to the book. She said those involved need to gather that, too, in the coming months.

“We want to detail what students did on the last day of the school year, how school boards were elected and what schools taught,” she said. “People want to remember that. It was a simple time.”

The effort is generating buzz among area residents curious about what’s become of what once was a collection of schools dotting the county.

“I was in Sunfield … doing some scanning,” Sedore said. “Another lady was there looking at what I was doing and pointed to a picture, saying. ‘This was my teacher.’

“It’s a time that’s gone. There’s only one schoolhouse left in Eaton County that’s still a one-room schoolhouse.”

The public school teaches kindergarten through fifth grades from a small brick building in rural Eaton County.

It’s a school-of-choice, meaning students do not have to reside in Oneida Township School District Number 3. Strange is the only school in the district.

Other onetime county schools are utilized in other ways now.

Hallenbeck School in Vermontville Township was moved and now is part of Chester Bible Church. Bismark School in Sunfield Township now is used as a community center and Maurer School in Carmel Township recently was converted to a specialty store.

Sedore said 95 percent of the group’s research is complete but those involved are hoping community help from the county’s residents will help them finish.

“What we would like is to detail the history of each school, along with pictures of each school,” she said.

Residents are being asked to contribute information, photos and memories to the project. Much of the information collected will appear in the finished book but what doesn’t might be showcased in a DVD that will be provided with each copy, supplying material that didn’t quite make the cut.

“We hope to have some personal stories and memories of these buildings,” Coperhaver said. “Even if it’s just general recollections, we would take it.”

___

Information from: Lansing State Journal, https://www.lansingstatejournal.com

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