The Fifth Ward School

In every town there are places where a building once stood that today may make us question how anything could have been built in that specific location due to how the landscape currently appears.

Right: Formerly located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fremont Street, The Fifth Ward School was constructed in 1890/1891. Left: A map of the school showing where it used to stand on the northside.

Right: Formerly located on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Fremont Street, The Fifth Ward School was constructed in 1890/1891. Left: A map of the school showing where it used to stand on the northside.

The Fifth Ward School, formerly located on the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Fremont Street, is one of those “Really…that used to be there?” queries that can willfully be answered by saying, “Yes it did.”

As evidenced by the 1880 birdseye view map of the City of Manistee, the northside of the city limits was still in its infancy at that time as scattered houses and a few commercial buildings primarily made up the structures of that portion of town.

Over the next decade, the northside of the city grew due to the influx of employment so much so that a new ward (a.k.a. district) of the city was organized and named, the Fifth Ward. Keeping in mind the basic equation, more jobs + more people = more infrastructure, it was decided to construct another school on the northside in addition to the First Ward School that was located on the corner of Washington and Lincoln streets. Because it was located in the Fifth Ward, this new school was to be named, The Fifth Ward School.

By the later portion of 1890, city and school officials announced that the school was to be located on the northwest corner of Fourth Avenue and Fremont Street. Construction soon began on the new building and continued throughout the early spring of the following year. On March 21, 1891, the Manistee Advocate published a lengthy article announcing the completion of the school while detailing the new structure:

“The most credible work that has been done on the contract system in Manistee for years is the new Fifth Ward school building which is now about completed. From the foundation up it is a model of neatness and is solidly and substantially constructed.

map“The contract work for doing stone work and carpenter work was let to F.X. Magnan for $3,400 ad the mason work was sub-let to Gerlach & Stedding. Anyone familiar with stone work can tell at a glance that it is a most substantial wall and built of first class material.

“The building consists of four rooms each 30 feet square and 14 feet in the clear in both stories. A basement room 8 1/2 feet in the clear, has been fitted up and will be found very convenient for and ungraded school, if necessary. The main hallway is 16 x 46 feet is provided with double oak stairs and in case of fire are a most expeditions means of exit as at the foot of each is a double doorway at the front, back and also in the basement.”

“The boiler was built by Messrs. Lezotte & McCulley and the plumbing is the work of C.L. Varney, who secured the job for $500. The work reflects great credit on the skill of Mr. Varney as a workman and will bear close inspection by the most critical observer. There is no rumbling or creaking noise in the pipes that is often the case in some jobs of plumbing and the entire building can be heated on the coldest day without any indication on the steam gage. Robert Johnson, superintendent at large of the city school buildings, says it’s the best heated building in the city, to his knowledge.”

The article continues on with a description of the walls, the carpentry work, and the pride of the new building:

“The work of hard finishing the walls was done by Gerlach & Stedding and is the finest work we have ever had the pleasure of seeing. The walls are of spotless white, hard as a flint and no cracks or streaks to be seen to mar their beauty.

“The carpenter work is well done and is certainly an honest job. A flaw in this class of work can soon be detected. Mr. Magnan’s work has certainly been the best, and although the building has been built on a very close margin and it required some pretty fine figuring, he has done it without slighting anything in the least and has fulfilled all the requirements of his contract.

“The people of the Fifth Ward can certainly feel proud of their new school, and although it may not be of such an imposing appearance as the Central building, we can safely say that it is the best building throughout for the money invested of any in northern Michigan.”

Over the years, the school continued to house elementary school students all while going under the name of The Fifth Ward School. However, by the start of the new school year of 1918, the school board had decided to rename the schools after select U.S. Presidents. In doing so, the Fifth Ward School became known as McKinley School.

In 1934, voters decided to construct a new, brick elementary school on the northside via a Federal Public Works Administration project, thus McKinley School as well as the old Washington School (the former First Ward School) were considered defunct in 1936 when the new Washington School, formerly located on Ford Street, was opened.

However, shortly after, the McKinley School was used as a nursery school for the public school system and it is listed as such through the 1945 Polk’s City Directory. The building was later torn down leaving behind nothing but memories of The Fifth Ward School.



Posted by Mark Fedder

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

Leave a Reply