Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Scene magazine's Fall 2018 issue. Pick up a free copy at area hotels, visitor's centers, chambers of commerce or at the Record-Eagle building on Front Street. Click here to read GT Scene in its entirety online.
MAPLETON — Old Mission Peninsula’s one-room schoolhouses, some of which predate the Civil War, still stand as icons of the region’s evolution from frontier to destination community. Their legacies are preserved by those living and working where school bells clanged and slate boards were the forerunner to learning technology.
The Michigan One-Room Schoolhouse Association lists 83 one-room schools in Grand Traverse County. Seven of the historic Old Mission Peninsula school buildings remain scattered across the peninsula. Five found new lives as residences.
Steve Cavender purchased Old Mission Peninsula’s first schoolhouse when moving to the area in 2008. Old Mission Standard School built in 1857 closed in 1955. The previous owner converted the building from a place where rural youngsters received the fundamentals of education to a family home.
“It’s a piece of history,” Cavender said. “You’re just living in the 160-year-old school. It’s not yours. In today’s world, that’s mind boggling.”
Its 12-foot ceilings, wood floors and cupola characterize schoolhouse construction of the era. But one thing is missing and Cavender would like to get his hands on it. The cupola’s bell disappeared somewhere along the school’s journey through time. Cavender said the previous owner had no knowledge of where or when it was removed. Only one person had any leads.
About 20 years ago or more the bell fell into the hands of Susan Feiger, owner of Old Barn Antiques, also located on the peninsula. Feiger said she tried without success to interest the school owners of the time in purchasing the bell. She doesn’t recollect who finally purchased it, although she recalls telling the buyer that she would buy it back if they ever wished to sell it. One day they did.
“They called me from downstate,” Feiger said. “For some reason, I couldn’t get there, and it slipped away.”
Bits of the Old Mission schoolhouse memorabilia remain in Feiger’s possession. She said her inventory includes books inscribed with the names of students who attended the school.
Cavender said people occasionally stop by their schoolhouse home with tales of relatives who once attended the school.
“It has a lot of stories,” he said. “I wish we knew them all.”
Down the way along Center Road, the old Maple Grove schoolhouse survives as a winery tasting room. Its bell called students to class between 1896 and 1958. Some say the spirits of former students and one teacher never left.
Maple Grove school’s original bell, windows, floors and slate boards are preserved by Dave and Joan Kroupa. The building sat vacant after Traverse City schools consolidated until an artist adopted it as a studio. The building’s next life was as a home. In 1998 the Kroupas purchased Maple Grove for use as a winery tasting room.
Five generations of Kroupas farmed the area beginning in 1896. Cherry farmers Dave and Joan took their agriculture business to the next level by founding Peninsula Cellars in 1992. The school came up for sale again in 1999. The Kroupas viewed its purchase as a good business opportunity, said company operations manager Caitlin Hammond. The couple relocated the winery tasting room from the Old Mission General Store to the Maple Grove schoolhouse, offering the public the opportunity to visit an original one-room school.
“People are impressed that we maintained a lot of the original features,” Hammond said. “They appreciate the charm and history.”
The schoolhouse attracts the living and possibly the dead, she said. When Hammond came on board six years ago she encountered unexplained occurrences in the building. Lights flashed, a photo of the school’s last graduating class repeatedly fell off the wall, the sound system had a mind of its own, and doors opened and closed without explanation.
Hammond said a medium visited the schoolhouse three years ago. The psychic reported the presence of the happy spirits of many children as well as a young male teacher who apparently held a grudge over his dismissal. Hammond made peace with the spirits who finally decided to live in harmony with the tasting room staff and guests.
The schoolhouse may never have been as much fun as in its life as the tasting room where history rocks with wine labels titled Old School Red, Summer Vacation, Detention and Homework.
Old Mission Peninsula One Room Schools
Old Mission School, now a residence
18328 Old Mission Road
Maple Grove School, converted to a tasting room
11480 Center Road
Bowers Harbor (two-room) School, now a residence
Corner of Neahatawnata and Kroupa Road
McKinley School, now a residence
Northwest corner of Center and McKinley Roads
Ogdensburg School, now a residence
16213 Center Road
Stoney Beach School, now a residence
9160 Montague Road
Hessler Log House, converted to a museum
Built 1856, served several uses including as a school
The Original Schooner Madeline
Anchored in Bowers Harbor, held classes onboard for five students