Nottawa Stone School: A One-Room Schoolhouse

Imagine being a school teacher and having to teach five grades or more at one time. One-room schoolhouses were common in rural areas of the United States all the way into the 1960s, some even later. Earlier this year we visited the Nottawa Stone School in Nottawa, Michigan, a one-room schoolhouse that served grades one through five, which has been restored for historical purposes.

Nottawa Stone SchoolExperiencing a one-room school

Not only did we visit the Nottawa Stone School; we experienced it as schoolmarm Priscilla Hoopengardner stood at the front of the class and we sat in the desks as students. The teacher warned us to behave or we’d have to sit on the dunce stool and wear a dunce hat. Worse, instead of sitting, you might have to face the chalkboard with your nose placed inside the circle she’d draw with chalk.

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There is no running water in the building, nor was there any when the building was used as a school. Each morning the teacher would bring in a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal. The coal went into the coal stove, which was used to heat the building. She might put a kettle of soup in the stove, too, which would be ready by lunchtime. The water was used both for drinking and washing.

water bucketTwo privies were behind the building, one for boys and one for girls.

outhouseMs. Hoopengardner showed us some of the tools and books used in the school, like a stereoscope, a device in which two photos of the same subject are viewed together, creating a 3D effect.

stereoscope

The building’s history

The Nottawa Stone School was built in 1870. By 1940 enrollment had outgrown the school, and an addition was built. Eventually the addition was converted to a general store. The last classes in the school were held in 1961.

Five years later the building was slated for demolition. Two area men who had attended other one-room schools found out about the demolition plan and pulled together a team to save and restore the building. The original part of the building was restored to a one-room schoolhouse, and the addition was restored to a general store museum.

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The general store

After our school lesson, Ms. Hoopengardner took us on a tour of the general store, pointing our various objects that may have been sold there, everything from tools to musical instruments. A display case holds Dr. Denton’s, which were popular one-piece pajamas were made in nearby Centreville.

general storeDr. Denton'sOther objects that our “teacher” pointed out were a glass egg that was put under a hen that stopped laying eggs to remind her what she was supposed to do, and an egg scale, which determined the grade of an egg.

egg scaleToday the school is owned and funded by the St. Joseph County Intermediate School District, but a non-profit corporation is responsible for upkeep. The school is a popular field trip for students of nearby schools.

If you go:

Group tours of the Nottawa Stone School, located at 26456 M86 in Nottawa, Michigan, are available by appointment. (Call (269) 467-5348.) You can view the outside of the school on a self-guided historical tour, documented on the River Country Tourism web site.

Disclosure: Our visit to the Nottawa Stone School was hosted by the River Country Tourism Council of Greater St. Joseph County. However, all opinions in this article are my own.

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15 thoughts on “Nottawa Stone School: A One-Room Schoolhouse

  • September 5, 2015 at 8:40 pm
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    Another great read from a very interesting area Connie. Thank you for sharing with us at #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  • September 5, 2015 at 11:43 pm
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    Wow, such a fascinating experience to be able to sit in and gain some kind of appreciation of what education was like back then in the late 1800’s. I would love to visit, so adding this to my bucketlist. I do feel sorry for the kids who would have to run out and use the privies though if it was pouring with rain 😀 Those kind of little things which I think we take for granted in our schools these days lol!

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:26 pm
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      Not just using the privies in the pouring rain, but in the snow and freezing cold, too. Brr…

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  • September 6, 2015 at 2:16 am
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    I AM a teacher, and that sounds so tough. Although, it is a cute place to work!!

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:27 pm
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      Teachers weren’t allowed to marry then or even date. If they were caught doing so, that was the end of their teaching career. That had to be the toughest part.

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  • September 6, 2015 at 10:59 am
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    Wow what an amazing experience. Sounds like an interesting if scary day out – the teacher would terrify me a little bit! The general store items look fascinating.

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:28 pm
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      This teacher was very soft spoken. Maybe that’s just now that she’s 90ish. I hope I’m still that active when I’m 90, if I’m lucky enough to live that long.

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  • September 6, 2015 at 11:25 am
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    What a cool idea for a museum. That’s one of the coolest history lessons I’ve ever heard of. Also, the place looks like from some Western movie.

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:29 pm
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      It does look like something from a western movie, but that’s what they all looked like in rural areas back then. I’ve seen some similar not far from Chicago.

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  • September 6, 2015 at 2:56 pm
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    Fascinating place and story, it looks like a set from an old movie. There were so many things in that general store room, I bet each one had an interesting tale. Which object did you like the most?

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:33 pm
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      There were so many gadgets in the museum, but the most interesting object to me was one of the simplest. It was the glass egg that they put under a hen that wasn’t laying eggs to “remind her” what she was supposed to do. Our teacher/guide said she had an Amish girl on a tour one time who said they still do the same thing, but instead of glass, they use a plastic egg. The girl seemed to think it really works.

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  • September 7, 2015 at 1:52 am
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    Great article to take you back in history! Thanks for sharing. I especially liked the detail about the glass egg, what a good (and non obtrusive) way to remind the hens to lay eggs!

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    • September 9, 2015 at 8:34 pm
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      The glass egg apparently worked.

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  • November 24, 2019 at 10:39 pm
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    I started school in the stone school house in 1954.

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    • November 25, 2019 at 9:38 pm
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      Oh wow, how cool, Connie. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply

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