THE

PEACHBELT  STUDIO

GALLERY

THE

PEACHBELT  STUDIO

GALLERY

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the schoolhouse


The little red schoolhouse is a powerful cultural symbol to many Americans. Its simple unified architecture easily evokes feelings of affection and nostalgia. They are typically small cottage-sized buildings with a bell tower and are often isolated in a natural setting.



The Peachbelt Schoolhouse, on the Michigan Registry of Historic Sites, was built in 1867 on the corner of a rural crossroad just two miles inland from the shore of Lake Michigan. The name Peachbelt dates back to the mid 1800’s when fruit-growers discovered that peach trees flourished in the temperate climate along Lake Michigan. “Peaches orchards were up and down this road at one time” . . . . offered a local resident. They were planted, harvested and transported by ship and rail to the summer streets of Chicago where they sold “like fleshy gold-nuggets”. The name chosen for a country school often reflected a description of the locale, like Peachbelt. They were also named for important beliefs and values of the community (such as Harmony or Hope), as well as the names of states, cities, prominent people and animals. The identity of a rural community became inextricably linked with their school. Schools were named after communities and communities were named after schools.

                 

From the beginning of the 1700’s to the middle of the 1900’s country schools were a citadel for education, community and opportunity, but most importantly they represented the new ideals of democracy. Thomas Jefferson, our 3rd president, decided that only an educated electorate would be able to substantiate his belief that “the government that governs least, governs best”.  He believed in        the ability of the common man to determine our country’s direction and that free public education was imperative for a strong democracy. He established and passed the Northwest Ordinances of 1785 and 1787 which provided a legal framework for public education in the untamed Northwest Territory (which would become the states of Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) and later, all the western states. However, much of the allotted land was sold to settlers or speculators, the proceeds squandered and in many communities the only reliable source of funding for schools was the parents themselves. As a result, the quality of a rural school often reflected the wealth and/or commitment of it’s community, yet the spirit of national progress was beginning to take hold and by 1860 the unique concept of a “free non-sectarian public education” became a new American ideal. Country schools eventually became an integral part of country life. The buildings often doubled as a community center for town meetings, voting , fund raisers, cultural events and worship.

The advent of the industrialism, automobiles (school buses) and mechanized farming techniques paralleled the closing of county schools and the decline of the rural farm community, but not without resistance. In 1908 President Theodore Roosevelt advocated the “solution” for the rural school problems of inadequate supervision, desperate financial needs and below-standard curriculums. The issue of rural school consolidation became a topic of bitter debate throughout the United States. It was not as simple as increased taxes and better schooling for children. Parents realized that the loss of their school would shatter the spirit of the community and signify the beginning of the end of rural farm life as they had known it

We now realize that what country schools practiced out of necessity for more than a century is what the most sophisticated educational systems now encourage –smaller classrooms, programs which allow students to progress at their own rate and students who help each other learn. This completely contradicts the myth that implies that country schools were the poor stepchildren of American education. Many former country school teachers and students share the belief of Ellis Ford Hartford, who wrote in 1977, “It may be found that there was more to the little schoolhouse and the neighborhood surrounding it than is suggested by mere nostalgic recollection and remembrances of former pupils . . . Perhaps it is pertinent to suggest that Americans might well seek some of the same strengths and values in their diverse patterns of communities.”

The Peachbelt Schoolhouse (Ganges District No. 1) served it’s community for 100 years before closing in 1968. It is one of the oldest and best restored existing one room schoolhouse in Allegan county Michigan that was never moved or changed in size after its construction.


- portions paraphrased from "America's Country Schools" 1984  Andrew Guilford / The Preservation Trust.

 
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Gag postcard from 1909 -courtesy of Saugatuck/Douglas Historical Society