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Old Mission School, 2018 | Jane Boursaw Photo
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Jane’s husband, Tim Boursaw, writes about one special day in the summer of 1956…

It’s 1956 in the village of Old Mission, which sits on the high ground above the west side of Old Mission Harbor and consists of several houses and a general store. In its midst is the Standard School, a stately multi-room school with a large porch entrance and the biggest bell on the Old Mission Peninsula.

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Built in 1857 after a fire destroyed the little school house on the beach (see notes below), it was the crown jewel, so to speak, of the network of one-room schools that serviced the Old Mission Peninsula. The old school house had recently been closed as the new school – Old Mission Peninsula School on Island View Road – had finally opened.

I was headed up to the old school house to meet up with the neighborhood kids. I was four years old, it was midsummer, there was a clear blue sky, and it was so hot the cicadas were busy making their annoying buzzing sounds.

If I remember correctly, my gang that afternoon consisted of three or four kids ranging in age from three and a half to five years old. The old school was the perfect place to play, as the playground equipment, merry-go-round, giant strikes, slides and swing sets had not yet been removed.

As I approached the rear of the school, my house being on the shore behind the school, I noticed the basement door was slightly ajar. Now, that was much more interesting than the playground. I met up with my friends, and we decided to find out what was behind that door.

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Old Mission School, 2018 | Jane Boursaw Photo

We timidly approached the door while we double-dared each other to step inside. We huddled together and slowly explored the large dark, damp basement. As we walked along the wall, dim light could be seen streaming down a stairway at the far end of the room. Immediately, we gravitated to the light like moths to a flame.

Slowly proceeding up the steps, our heads finally popped up through the main floor as a classroom came into view. It seemed the Standard School had two classrooms, and in between them, was an entrance way with huge double doors and a cloak room. In the classrooms, the desks stood in rows facing the blackboards, and the whole scene looked as though class had just let out.

The best adventure of the summer continued. We approached the entrance way and noticed a thick rope hanging down in front of the large doors. We immediately began to swing on it. It was soon discovered that if two or three of us swung on the rope together, we weighed enough to make the rope go up and down and ring the bell. Once the bell got moving on its own, inertia kept the rope going up and down. We all hung onto the rope at once and rode it up and down like a ride at the county fair.

Meanwhile next door, Mrs. (Alberta) Lardie was busy running the post office in Lardie’s Grocery (now the Old Mission General Store) and heard the bell ringing. She had been entrusted with a key to the school in case of an incident such as this – the bell ringing in the abandoned, locked up school.

I will never forget the look on her face as she swung open those big double doors and saw a bunch of little kids clinging to the rope riding up and down while squealing and shouting with glee. Needless to say, we received a scolding and were sent packing back to our homes.

As I approached my house, I knew the party line phones were ringing and all the moms were getting the news at the same time. I braced myself for my second scolding of the day. But, you know, it was worth it. We all have those special memories we carry through our lives. For me, the memory of that day long ago in Old Mission is one.


More Info on the Old Mission School…

From the diary of Louise Pratt, as noted in “A Century of Service,” published by Peninsula Telephone Company, 2008: 

“The little school house on the beach, in which the Dame children and Lewis Miller had been instructed with the Indian children, was destroyed by fire in 1857 and in the same year, the new school house was built. That building forms the grammar room, library and hall of the present building. In 1898, an addition was built which forms the main entrance, two cloakrooms and the primary room. Under both rooms are basements. The building is heated by two furnaces. The Old Mission School is conceded by all to be one of the best equipped and best managed district schools in the whole state, if not in the whole country.” 

From “Reflections of Yesteryear” by Julianne E. Meyer, 1988; interview with Lois Lardie Steffes in 1987: 

In all of the reading and research I have done for this project, I frequently read that the first school established in the region was the one held on board the “Madeline” in 1851. It appears that this was not the first at all, for in the spring of 1840, the log school at Elk Rapids was dismantled and transported across the bay. It was rebuilt along the shore of the Old Mission Harbor area, and on May 10, 1840, the first class was held with 25 pupils present. 

The second school was held on the schooner “Madeline,” which was anchored offshore in Bowers Harbor during the 1851-52 fall and winter. The teacher was S.E. Wait, who was 17 years old at the time. His students were William, Michael and John Fitzgerald, whose descendent, Edmund, would later have a famous ship named for him. Little is known about the fourth student, William Bryce, but we do know that the fifth student, Edward Chambers, was the cook. In that capacity, he was relieved from paying the $20 per month in gold pieces to Wait for instruction. 

The first school to be established on the Old Mission Peninsula was the Old Mission School in 1853 [or more likely, 1857, as Louise Pratt noted above]. Originally, this was a one-room school, but as the area became more developed, a second room was added. Lois Lardie Steffes recalls that about the turn of the century, there were so many enrolled that they had to hold another class. But there was no space, so Philip DeVol offered the use of the upstairs of his home until the addition could be built. 

Also ReadBob Munson’s memories of living on the Old Mission Peninsula in the 1950s, including attending the Old Mission School. 

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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  1. Thank you Tim for your story. We have enjoyed living in this piece of history and to hear many schoolhouse stories. The school bell had disappeared long before we moved in. If anyone has an idea of where it might have ended up we would love to know. It would be great to restore it back to the bell tower if possible.

    • Thanks for the note, Steve! (And sorry for trespassing – we came to the door but no one was around the day we were taking pics :-)). I’ll write up a story and see if we can flush out the school bell from wherever it may be. That would be awesome if we found it and got it back into the bell tower.


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