This article explores the origins and evolution of the school system in Richland Township, tracing back to a time before the township’s official organization. Highlighting the establishment of District No. 5 as possibly the oldest school district, it delves into the early educational landscape, marked by rudimentary facilities and a pioneering spirit among settlers. The narrative reveals how education in Richland began with simple, community-driven efforts, reflecting on the challenges of early schooling, from teacher qualifications to the minimal resources available. Through historical records, the piece paints a vivid picture of the township’s commitment to education, offering insights into the humble beginnings of its school system and its gradual development through the 1860s and beyond.
Beginning of the School System in Richland
by Lorenz H. Loesel
The beginning of the school system in Richland Township probably predates the actual formation and organization of the township. At this time, our township was still attached to Thomastown. Since school districts are independent of township and county lines, they become a legal entity under the provision of the state. It was most interesting to find the following record, dated 1860. Since Richland Township was organized in 1862, we find that District No. 5 is probably the oldest district in our township. We find the following record:
“Know all men by these presents that Gustav Winguth of the Township of Thomastown in the County of Saginaw, State of Michigan of the first part, for the consideration here mentioned, does hereby lease unto School District No. 5 in the Township, County, and State aforesaid, party of the second part… to wit: Nine rods East of the west quarter post of Section Twenty-two (22), running six rods North, six rods East, six rods South, and six rods to the place of beginning. With all the… the annual rent of one dollar per year… in testimony whereof the said parties have hereunto set their hands and seals this 3rd day of December, 1860.”Richland Township Records
This refers to the plot of land on which the first schoolhouse was built. This was on the corner where Edwin Pretzer now lives. If we study the early settlements in Richland Township, we can readily see that the bulk of Richland’s population resided in the above-mentioned area. It was this locality where we find the Cones, Coles, Fitings, and other early pioneering families.
It is most difficult to determine the exact date and year when this first school was built. However, we do know that the first township election was held April 7, 1862, in the schoolhouse of District 5, section 22. (1) From this, we may assume that it had been used as a schoolhouse prior to the organization of the township. I believe that this district may have had regular school sessions as early as 1861.
As soon as we approach the year of 1862, we have a clear picture of the gradual development of the following School Districts: Five, Six, and Seven. Permit me to quote from the earliest school meeting recorded in our township record. “School Inspector’s Meeting – Pursuant to Notice Lawfully posted, the school Inspectors of Richland met at the residence of D. L. Cole for the purpose of examining such persons as might wish to become school teachers in this township. There were present for this examination: Elizabeth Monaghan, Webster, and K. Cole which we proceeded to examine in the following branches: …certificates to teach in the schools of this township six months from date. Township of Richland, June 2nd, A.D. 1862.”
D. L. Cole, Chairman, Board of School Inspectors. T. A. Porter, Clerk.
It may seem strange to us that the township board functioned as the examining board for prospective teachers. However, this type of examination was customary and followed the usual procedure. In fact, it substantiates the following statement: “For thirty years after the state was admitted, the licensing of teachers was done by a township board. The reports of the superintendent of public instruction for this period show that in many cases of townships no examinations were held. Everyone who applied for a license received one. Uncultured teachers and unprogressive schools were the natural results of such a system. The township board was required by law to elect one of its members as Visitor of School, and it was his duty to visit each school in his township at least once a term and examine the work of the teacher by testing the students…” (2)
I am in no position to evaluate the type of work that was done in our schools during the early 1860s. Much less am I able to judge the competency of the school boards and their qualifications as such. Reading the school records, township records, and other documents of that period, it is almost incredible to note the accuracy and scholarly work that some of the pioneers evidenced. Since many of these early pioneers had received their schooling in Europe, we do know that the school systems of Europe were demanding and this may account for the accurate work and skill which these early records showed. On the other hand, I am not so sure if our early schools, especially in the rural areas, were as fortunate to have had qualified teachers. We must realize that in those days a school term was of short duration. Books, equipment, and other facilities were at a minimum. We have to be charitable and even admire the attempt that these people made so that their children would receive a minimal education.
The previous paragraphs give us a fair picture of the prevailing condition in the various school districts. Again, we must bear in mind that these are the schools of the 1860s and are not to be compared with the standards of the 1960s.
The following record gives us a very concise and practical portrait of the first schools in our township. Be sure to note the number of students, salary of teachers, amount of money raised by taxes, and the implied humble beginning of the district schools.
Record of School Moneys
School District No. 5, 2 mill tax $16.43. Amount raised $30.00. Apportionment from the unorganized territory, $13.43. Census showing 14 scholars, total for District No. 5, $59.80.
School District No. 6, 2-mill tax $13.02. Amount raised $15.00. Apportionment from unorganized territory $11.52. Census showing 12 scholars, total for District No. 6, $39.54.
School District No. 7, 2 mill tax $27.07. Amount raised $240.00. Apportionment from unorganized territory, $8.64. Census showing 9 scholars, total amount raised for District No. 7, $275.71. (3)
For several years, School District No. 5 had the largest number of students. At this time, District Five was called the Cone School. During the early 1870s, this school was moved to the Bunterbart corner. Many of the people that I interviewed attended this school while it was located on Mr. Bunterbart’s place. After the fifty-year lease had expired, this school was moved to the Lunney Corner where it served District Five for many more years. Within the last ten years, this district was annexed to the Hemlock High School District.
- Richland Township Records
- The County of Saginaw, Michigan, 1896; Imperial Publishing Company.
- Richland Township Records