The Fourth Ward School in Manistee

When one delves into a community’s history a topic that is usually the most interesting to research is education; particularly how and when the old schoolhouses were constructed and where they were located.

The Fourth Ward School building in the above photo was originally constructed in 1882 on the southeast corner of Ramsdell and Ninth Street. Over the next 15 years that building was expanded and added on to. In the background of the photo stands the former Mercy Hospital.

The Fourth Ward School building in the above photo was originally constructed in 1882 on the southeast corner of Ramsdell and Ninth Street. Over the next 15 years that building was expanded and added on to. In the background of the photo stands the former Mercy Hospital.

As Manistee continued to grow and expand throughout the late 19th Century and into the 20th Century, there were numerous schools scattered throughout the city and county all with specific tales of various teachers, staff and students that were a part of said school. Among those schools is the story of the city’s Fourth Ward School.

One of the first mentions of a schoolhouse for the city’s Fourth Ward (the area situated to the south and east of the city limits) was published in the Manistee Times and Standard in December 1872. While the very brief article references that a school building was nearing completion in and around the area’s Fourth Ward, no other details were given as to the exact location of it.

As one would imagine this first school house was fairly rudimentary in design however, it served its purposes until it was announced, about eight years later, that plans were put in place by the Board of Education to construct a new schoolhouse on the southeast corner of Ramsdell and Ninth street. Details on the completion of this new school were published in the Manistee Advocate on August 28, 1880:

“The Fourth Ward School House has been completed and accepted by the School Board from the contractors, Gore and Henry Brownrigg. As a school building it is a model of neatness and convenience. It is beautifully situated on an eminence commanding an admirable view of our city and, while it now appears off to one side of our city, the time is not far distant when its position will appear more central than otherwise, owing to the rapid growth of Manistee in that direction.

“The dimensions of the building are 54×68 and two stories high with an excellent stone basement eight feet high. The interior of the edifice is arranged with a view to the utmost convenience, there being a large hall 10 feet wide so divided up as to keep the boys and girls separate. There are four recitation rooms, each 22×28, three of which will be used during the fall term at least. Each room is provided with light and ventilation, having three double windows, ventilating shaft and a ceiling 14 feet high. The second floor is so arranged that the stamping upon it will not be heard by those below. The materials used in the construction of the building are of the best quality throughout.”

Just two years later, the Fourth Ward School House was destroyed by fire on the night of June 7, 1882. Allegedly (according to the Manistee Times and Sentinel) the fire was purposely set although proof of this was never able to be substantiated.

Since the building was insured up to $4,000 plus $500 for the contents, plans were quickly announced by the school board to remove the ruins of the old building and construct a new building on the same grounds.

By September 1882, the building (roughly built of the same design as the previous one) was completed enough so school could begin. Four years later, the building underwent extensive renovations adding two more rooms and more space. Likewise, the building was extended again in 1897 with a $1,927 addition.

As the years passed, the school remained known as the Fourth Ward School. Similarly, other city schools were also named after their specific ward such as First Ward, Second Ward, Third Ward, with the exception of Central and Union School. By the start of the new school year of 1918, the school board decided to rename the schools after various presidents. In doing so, the Fourth Ward School became known as Lincoln School.

As the decades wore on, Lincoln School (as did many of the schools originally constructed in the 1880s), was in dire need of improvements and repair. Superintendent of Public Schools, Dorr Wilde briefly described the state of the Lincoln School building in an article published in the Manistee News Advocate on April 26, 1951:

“For quite some time, it had been commonly known that the old Lincoln School building had served its purpose in the community. It was evident to the patrons of the district that their boys and girls were being deprived of some of the school advantages that other schools were offering.”

To this end, it was decided by the Board of Education to submit to voters of the school district two propositions that would provide the necessary funds for a new school building. Those propositions were: 1) To exceed the 15 mill limitation for a 5-year period and 2) To levy a 5 mill sinking fund for the construction of a new school building. On July 8, 1951 residents voted down the first proposal but passed the second proposal. However, the second proposal was voided because the first one was defeated.

Undeterred, and realizing that voters may have misconstrued the building plans during the first election, the Board of Education decided to hold a special second election on September 16, 1946. This time, residents voted to accept the original first proposition by a vote of 316 to 62 in turn making possible an increase in school tax millage (from 19 to 24) for the next five years. Likewise, all the additional money was to be put in a sinking fund for the construction of the new school.

This, in turn, was both bad and good news for the Board of Education and the residents sending their children to Lincoln School…the bad news is that a new Lincoln School was several years into the future, but the good news was that it would eventually be constructed.

In the coming weeks we will take a look back at the continual efforts for the construction of a new Lincoln School as well as the controversy surrounding the closing of the school 30 years after it opened.

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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