Reviving history: One room schoolhouse on campus gives a glimpse into the past


Courtesy Photo :  The Gerald L. Poor School Museum, Bohannon School sits at the corner of West Campus Drive and West Preston Road. in about 1990, on Central Michigan University's campus. 

Upon entering the one room schoolhouse on campus, people will notice the old wooden desks tattooed with writing from former students. A dunce cap and teacher's desk still sit up front, though the school is no longer used as originally intended.

The Gerald L. Poor School Museum Bohannon School was built in the 1880s in what is now Jasper Township in Midland County. The school was moved to Mount Pleasant in 1970 when the museum studies program decided to use it as a place to tell the origin story of CMU. It now sits on the corner of Preston Street and West campus Drive. 

Museum of Cultural and Natural History Director Jay Martin said building was not only used as a schoolhouse. After the schooling system changed, it became a place for immigrant housing and chicken coops.

The school closed in 1950 due to a drop in enrollment and a lack of funds. The restoration process began shortly after the move to campus in 1970. A team of student volunteers led by Lynn Fauver, the museum director at the time, thought of it as not just a project, but also a learning experience. 

Gary Skory was a freshman when he became a part of the restoration process in the 1970s. The restoration crew replaced rotted ceilings titles, pulled raccoon nests from the attic and refinished the school desks. Skory said he was glad to be a part of the project, even if the ending was bittersweet.

“There is nothing better but to be honest, it can kind of be a letdown,” Skory said. “When you are working on a restoration project, you are working together as a team. And when you work together as a team, you build wonderful friendships. Then all of a sudden, it’s the final day and you are done.” 

The restoration process being finished meant the start of a new museum. Today, it is used to bring history back to life and show people what school was like in the late 1800s.

“From that point forward, the real value of the project takes off and that is, using what we have worked on for years as a teaching tool,” Skory said.  

Skory said seeing kids from different schools around mid-Michigan come and smile as they sit in the desks he helped build is a special reward. 

Today, kids come from schools to learn about the history of CMU and experience what a typical school day was like sitting in those old wooden desks, wearing a dunce cap and playing in the schoolyard with sticks and hoops.

Gladwin senior Alexandra Gamicchia is a student assistant for the museum and helps facilitate programs at the one room schoolhouse.  

“I think my favorite part is when we get to go outside and play games, interact with the kids and have fun with them," Gamicchia said. "The games are so simple, but kids have so much fun with it. They are engaged and they create new ways to play these games.

Skory said power knowledge possesses comes from the past. Skory, along with the museum faculty members, believes in the importance of teaching today’s students about school in the 1880s, because the past and the future are so closely related. The one-room schoolhouse makes that connection more visible to students.