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Second Friday of the month (third Friday in five-week months) at 6:45 am, 8:45 am and 5:44 pm. Why's That? explores the things in Southwest Michigan – people, places, names – that spark your curiosity. We want to know what makes you wonder when you're out and about. Share your question in the Google Form embedded in the story below!

Is That an Old Schoolhouse on Stadium Drive?

Picture a nineteenth-century school, and what do you see? Simple design, tall windows, somewhere to put a bell? That’s a fair description of a building on Stadium Drive near 9th Street that caught Sue Grossman’s eye.

“I’ve been driving by it all my life because I grew up in this town,” Sue says as we study the front of the building while traffic zips by on Stadium. 

Sue had guessed that this might be a school, and records show she’s right. She spots a plaque over the door.

“It says, Number 10 1870s, so it must be school number 10 in whatever district.”

It was Number 10 in Oshtemo, back when the township had its own schools. In a moment we’ll find out more about what’s in store for the building. First we’ll explore the history of Number 10, which was one of at least 11 schools in Oshtemo. They were scattered throughout the township.

“Yes, yes they were, because the people were scattered all around and there was not transportation,” says Ilah Henderson of the Oshtemo Historical Society.

“So every few miles, the fathers, the mothers would need a school.”

Number 10 on what’s now Stadium Drive had about an 80-year run, from 1870 to the 1950s. Henderson interviewed a former student, Mary Jane Sowles, birth name Anderson, who studied there in the 1920s and 30s.

What in Southwest Michigan would you like to know more about?

Mary Jane told Henderson about the classroom setup, “With a picture of George Washington on the wall and if they had a map, a map. If they didn’t they sometimes drew one.”

And even it if wasn’t uphill both ways, Henderson says Mary Jane did have to climb to the top of Eighth Street to get to school.

“She said in the winter she took her sled, so then she could slide down the hill and not have to walk.”

Henderson says Mary Jane and her sister packed their lunch,“Which was usually a bean sandwich or potatoes with a little vinegar and sugar on them, but on Mondays they usually had chicken because Sunday was chicken dinner day.”

And Mary Jane told Henderson that students had two hooks in the cloak room: one for their coats and one for their tin water cups.

That was in the 1920s and 30s. Henderson says a few decades later, the school no longer made the grade on building codes.

“The way it closed was a little at a time. First the upstairs, and then a couple rooms downstairs and last of all when Chime was built they still used one room downstairs for kindergarten,” she says.

The Chime Street School opened in 1953. In 1965, the Oshtemo district was annexed by Kalamazoo Public Schools.

So, what’s happened to Number 10 since the students left? That’s what Sue and I have come to find out. We meet the building’s owner Richard Spigelmyer, around the side.

Spigelmyer and his parents bought the former school at an auction in the mid-1970s, outbidding people who wanted to tear it down.

“That’s when we decided to start bidding. Because I wanted to save the building. It’s an integral part of Oshtemo,” he says.

Historic restoration is Spigelmyer’s profession. The east part of the number 10 school didn’t go on until the 1920s. Spigelmyer notes the careful matching of the dimensions of the windows and the overhang of the roof.

“The old theory was that you matched as closely as you could the existing building for continuity. And for generally appearance and they did a beautiful job here,” he says.

The students liked the addition too, one of them told Spigelmyer years ago, because it came with an indoor bathroom.

In recent years Spigelmyer has used Number 10 as a warehouse. He says it’s full of tripping hazards, so we don’t go inside. But from the porch he points through the front door.

“Right through here you'll see a cabinet. And that’s where the rope is, it’s still there to ring the bell,” he tells Sue and me.

"The bell isn't there although when we bought the building, we were at an auction and bought a bell that we could put in here but we never got it up there. With the restoration that will go in probably."

Spigelmyer says he’s already restored the windows and plans to start work on the rest of the building soon. He says the roof needs the most repair. When it’s done, Spigelmyer says, the former school could host any number of businesses.

He says a brewpub has inquired, and an insurance agent. Sue, who wanted to know more about the building, thinks it would make a nice bed and breakfast.

“I’m really excited to see what happens to it,” Sue says.

Why’s That wants to know what in Southwest Michigan makes you curious.

Sehvilla Mann joined WMUK’s news team in January 2014 as a reporter on the local government and education beats. Before that she covered a variety of topics, including environmental issues, for Bloomington, Indiana NPR and PBS affiliates WFIU and WTIU. She’s also written and produced stories for the Pacifica Network and WYSO Public Radio in Yellow Springs, Ohio. Sehvilla holds a B.A. in French from Earlham College and an M.A. in journalism from Indiana University.
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