History of the Onaway School
Written by Donald E. Holmes
Contributed by B.J. Kemme

                      History of the Onaway School

                            A  term paper by

                            Donald E. Holmes

                              July 1969




Education is the process by which a student learns to respect authority and receives a
mental challenge
that enables him to logically be able to cope with and work out of a
given problem or idea, so that he can mentally,
realistically, and physically learn
to depend on himself as an intelligent individual. Education provides for free men
and free minds. It is our duty to prepare and cultivate all kinds. This has been the aim of the people in Onaway, Michigan
since the late 1800’s. CHAPTER I EARLY HISTORY OF THE AREA In order to form a background on which to write a history of the Onaway Schools, let
us turn our imagination to the early days of the village of Adalaska, afterwards
called Onaway, when the first settlers were building a few crude homes. Most of them
came for the purpose of turning into lumber the forest primeval which stood in all its
glory at their very feet. The early history tells of the hard winters, exhausted food
supplies of epidemics with only volunteer nurses to combat them, of fires with only
bucket brigades to fight them, of major conflagrations which wiped out large areas. Picture again the beauty of the country side. Fancy the stillness and
fragrances of the night, the richness of flora and fauna, the song of the birds, some
of which, like the wild pigeon, are now only a tradition, were then in such myriads as
to look like great clouds as they moved on in migration. In this surrounding the early pioneers faced the privations of life in
this new lumber country. But there was a glorious spirit of adventure in it all.
Hopes were high and hearts were young and fortunes remained to be hewn out of the
forest, for the richest white pine in all the United States, according to
conservationists, grew in this Northern Michigan. The Hartwick Pines, near Grayling,
afford the children of today an idea of the grandeur of our forests as our forefathers
found them. Work in the mills and camps attracted many settlers. There were
carpenters, millwrights, sawyers, filers, scalers, blacksmiths, and mechanics. There
were men experienced in operating mill boarding houses, and saloon keepers. Also the
Lobdell Emery factory which manufactured wooden steering wheels was started in 1900
and this brought many people to the area. With the settling of more and more people, the area developed rapidly and
was plotted as a village, August 13, 1888. In December, 1897, the post office was
opened in Onaway and in 1903 Onaway was incorporated as a city. CHAPTER II SCHOOLS FROM 1882-1915 District #2 of Allis Township, Presque Isle County, was organized August
4, 1882, as a primary school district. Thomas E. Shaw was the director, Oscar J.
East, the assessor, and Nathan Morgan, the moderator. There were only six children of
school age in the district. The first school building in Onaway was a one room log school that stood
on Shaw’s corner, which is now the intersection of M33 and M68. It is very easy for
information to become scattered. However, the story of the Onaway School of 1882 is
the story of hundreds of little one room schools all over America at that time. The
noisy slate, the clanging school bell, the wooden water bucket, the wood stove and the
primitive comforts were common to them all. Likewise were the meager funds allotted
to the cause of education. But the fundamentals were the same. The aim was to
provide an education for the children of the district. This, then, was the first
school that the citizens of Onaway sent their children to. Mr. Thomas E. Shaw was the
first teacher and was very instrumental in the growth of education in Onaway. This
school was used from 1882 until 1898. By 1898, the town had shown sufficient growth to warrant the establishment
of a graded school. The primary district of 1882 was reorganized and now included
thirty-three sections. There were 111 children of school age in the district. The
school board consisted of Dr. John Young, director, S. S. Tower, moderator, Merritt
Chandler, assessor, and Clark and McKune as trustees. School was still held in the log school on Shaw’s corner for pupils in
grades 1-7. The Mercantile Building housed the 8th grade. The Old Hose House on
First Street was used as the high school for pupils in grades 9-12. The Friends
Church on State Street was also used for some classes. The following exerpts were
taken from the Onaway Outlook. November 10 - Fathers and mothers are cordially invited to attend chapel in the
high school. Music and reading every morning. Parents will do well by
co-operating with the teachers in seeing that the pupils attendance is regular.
In going over the new work it is very necessary that the pupils miss no recitations.
November 24 - Total enrollment to date 87, of which 7 have been promoted to
the Intermediate Department and 13 have left the village, leaving the number enrolled
67. In 1899 the people realized that the log school was not adequate and that
pupils attending school in several buildings around town was not a good idea.
Therefore, a new building was necessary. In the spring of 1899, the school board set
in motion the plans to build this new building. The building was to contain six
classrooms, three on the lower floor and three on the second floor, also the necessary
closets and wardrobes. It was to be located at the South end of Pine Street, at a
cost of $6,500 with Joseph Bammel, of Alpena, the contractor and builder. The
building was to be ready for the opening of school September, 1900.
Before the building could be completed, however, an additional $2,000 for heat and furnishings
had to be raised. In 1902 there were 605 children of school age in the district. Compared
to the six of 1882, this shows a rapid growth of 599 students in twenty years. In
1901, it was evident that the building completed in 1900 was going to be too small.
Again the board set in motion the procedure to build another building. The new
building was to be constructed on the same plan as the previous building and was to be
located to the East of
the first building. The district was bonded for the amount of $9,000.
Joseph Bammel, of Alpena was the contractor and builder. The new building
was completed and ready for use in September, 1902. While it would seem from scanning old files that all the time of the
school board was consumed in planning and building of buildings, yet there is much
indication that their attention was also centered on the subject of education proper.
They reviewed the curriculum and made changes to keep it updated. In the grade
school, subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, language, spelling, and geography
were taught. High School students could take courses in English, Latin, German,
French, mathematics, bookkeeping, history, geography, algebra, natural philosophy,
science, and music. Sixteen credits were required for graduation and those were
completed these before graduation were permitted to take subjects not included in
their chosen field. Although the curriculum seems very narrow compared with today’s standards,
the first graduates from the system had a varied and good selection of courses for the
times. It was nearly twelve years after the completion of the second wooden
building in 1902 before the district was again beset with building problems. It was hoped that the establishment of St. Paul’s parochial school, grades
1-8, in 1911, would help to reduce the crowded conditions of the public school. This
was the first time for a duel education system in the community. The parochial school
lasted sixteen years. It was forced to close in June 1927, due to the lack of funds.
The burning of Lobdel Emery factory in the winter of 1927, was the major cause of the
school closing. Sixty percent of the parish moved to other places of employment. The
remaining students were absorbed by the public school. Even with a large number of students attending the parochial school, the
two wooden buildings were too crowded and the district had to lease rooms from the
Colonial Hotel to be used for school purposes. These makeshift classrooms were hard
on teachers and students. The board decided to go ahead with plans for a new high school. The
building was to accommodate 250 pupils. There would be a large assembly room, gym,
office space, chemistry laboratory, library, and seven classrooms. The boiler system
at the back of the building was to heat the two existing buildings as well as the new
brick high school. It would cost approximately $40,000. It is interesting to note that this is the first time there was any
opposition to the building of a school. However, the vote to building a new high
school carried by forty-five votes. The tax issue limited the bond to fifteen years.
It was not to exceed one fifth mill for the tax payer. On July 2, 1914, the contract to build the high school was let. Clark and
Rogers of East Jordan, Michigan, were the contractors. The building was completed in
September, 1915. It would be another twenty years before any further building was
necessary. CHAPTER III THE COUNTY NORMAL The Board of Supervisors of Presque Isle County met August 3, 1915, to
authorize the establishment of a county normal training school for the free
instruction in the principles of education and methods of teaching, to the residents
of Presque Isle County. Students in other counties could attend on a tuition basis.
Application for the normal school, to be located in Onaway, was made by the citizens
of Onaway. The application was approved and the normal school started in September
1915. It was located in one of the class rooms in the new high school building. The expense was taken care of by the state to the extent of $1,000 per
year. Any excess of that amount was to be divided equally between the county and the
school district. Miss Martha Caldwell was elected County School Commissioner in 1915. She
had the distraction of being the first woman to hold a political office in Presque
Isle County and to have won her nomination by the votes of men only. Miss Caldwell
played an important part in the running of the normal school. The school operated
from 1915 until 1958. During its operation 576 students were graduated. CHAPTER IV SCHOOLS DURING THE WAR AND DEPRESSION In the ensuing years, 1916 to 1934, there were no great changes made.
Several factors account for this. The first world war, which the United States
entered in 1917, had its effects on the school. In the early thirties the stock market
crash of 1929, began to show its effect. State funds began to shrink.
Teachers salaries were paid in “script” – the nuisance money of the great depression.
Also the burning of the Lobdell Emery factory in the winter of 1927 caused much
concern. In spite of the conditions that existed from 1916 to 1934, the enrollment
of the school continued to increase. The new high school of 1915 was
not big enough to contain all the students. There are no records telling of the applications for a loan from the
government but the district took advantage of the Emergency Relief Administration Aid
in August of 1933. In order to provide work for idle men, the school was given free
labor and material. The new addition, on the West end of the brick building, provided
six new class rooms. Also, needed repairs on the existing building were made;
sidewalks were constructed; and the front lawn was terraced. The new addition was
completed and ready for use in September of 1935. In 1935, an application for a loan through the Emergency Relief
Administration Aid was made to provide an addition to the East end of the brick high
school. The new addition would house the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades and
provide for a home economics room and a chemistry laboratory. The Federal Government
made an outright grant of forty-five per cent of the cost of the building, about
$11,250. The balance of $14,750 was to be borne by the local school district,
financed by a bond issue over a period of twenty-five years. The issue of the Onaway Outlook of August 12, 1937, stated that the
addition would be completed and ready for use in September. Because of the distance and at this time there were no public
transportation, the district had three ward schools, housing the elementary children.
The Belding School; the Whaley School; and the Porter School. The Belding School is
still standing on the original site and is used as a Grange Hall. The Whaley School
was sold to the Hackett Lake School District and moved there. It is now used as a
hunting camp. The Porter School, later known as the Cryderman School, was sold to the
Seventh Day Adventists and used as an academy until it was destroyed by a tornado.
CHAPTER V THE PRESENT SCHOOL In March of 1961, the State Fire Marshall declared the Onaway School buildings unsafe.
They recommended costly repairs or a complete new building. It was at this time,
also, that the North Central Accreditating Association notified the school board that
the school was not qualified to remain on their accreditation list without a lot of
modification. The school had been on the North Central and the University of Michigan
accreditation list since 1911. The school was also warned by the University of
Michigan that changes would have to be made to keep up with accreditation standards. The board felt that a complete new building would be the best solution and proceeded
in that direction. The board decided that a reorganization of the school district
should be the first step. The proposed new school district would include the
following districts: North Allis-Bearinger, Ocqueoc, Case, Forest, Waverly, and the
present district of Allis. The high school students in these districts were presently
attending the Onaway High School on a tuition basis. Arrangements were made for public meetings in each of the school districts concerned.
The following schedule was published in the Onaway News. May 17 - 8 P.M. Waverly District at the Waverly School
May 18 – 8 P.M. Allis District at the Onaway High School
May 18 – 8 P.M. Case District at the Millersburg School
May 19 – 8 P.M. Forest District at the Tower Community Hall
May 20 – 8 P.M. North Allis-Bearinger District at the North Allis School
Members of the school board and school administration attended these meetings to
answer any questions that the people of the various districts might have had
concerning the annexation of their district to the Allis School District. Special elections were held in the various districts to vote on the issue
of annexation to the Allis School District and the formation of a single K-12 district.
The following is the results of the elections. YES NO Case School District 54 0 North Allis-Bearinger District 65 15 Waverly School District 76 16 Ocqueoc School District 46 40 Forest School District 75 5 The Allis School Districted voted 500 to twenty in favor of annexing the
districts. With the annexation of the five districts, the Onaway District covered 420
square miles. Today it is the third largest school district in the state, according
to square miles. After much discussions concerning the name of the school, it was
decided that to save a lot of problems, the name should The Onaway Area Community
Schools. In February, 1962, plans were made to get the building program under way.
Four possible sites were selected. After such consideration, a ninety-four acre site,
one mile south of the city limits of Onaway, was selected. It was not too far from
the main part of the town and had plenty of space for present needs and for future
growth. Several architectural firms bid for the job of designing the new school. The
firm of Kainlauri, MacMullan, Millman Assocates, Inc. of Ann Arbor were contracted.
Preliminary estimates for the cost of the building program was $1,2000,000. In June of 1962, the Onaway Area Community School District voted on the
following question: Should the Onaway Area Community School District build a new
school and bond the district for $1,200,000? The vote carried by a fifteen to one
margin. Contracts for the new building were let and work began in August of 1962. The elementary wing was completed for the opening of school in the Fall of
1964. The junior high and senior high students moved into the new building in
November of 1964. CONCLUSION Today the Onaway Area Community School system covers 420 square miles with
a school population of 1,351 students in grades K-12. It operates twenty three school
buses that cover over 1,000 miles daily. There are forty-five teachers and five
administrators. Besides the buildings located just outside the city limits of Onaway,
there is a K-5 building at Tower, three miles West of Onaway, and a K-6 building at
Millersburg, nine miles east of Onaway. These facts are a far cry from the one room
log cabin of 1882 with its six students and one teacher. However, today five years
after the completion of the new building, the people of the district are facing the
same problems that the people of 1889, 1900, 1914, and 1937 faced – lack of space.
There is going to have to be another building program to keep pace with the times and
provide a good education for the pupils of the district. BIBLIOGRAPHY Martin, Helen M., They Need Not Vanish, State of Michigan, Department of Conservation,p1942. Onaway City Charter, Sec 1, 1903. Onaway Public School, Minutes of Meetings of the Board of Education, 1882-1962. The Onaway Outlook, November 10, 1889. The Onaway Outlook, November 24, 1889. The Onaway Outlook, August 10, 1933. The Onaway Outlook, September 6, 1935. The Onaway Outlook, August 12, 1937. The Onaway News, May 11, 1961. Michigan Accredited Schools, 1967-1968, University of Michigan, Official Publication,
Ann Arbor, Michigan. William Burns, private interview, Onaway, Michigan, June 21, 1969. Father Robert Smith, private interview, Onaway, Michigan, June 21, 1969. Gerald Hansen, private interview, County Building, Cheboygan, Michigan, June 21, 1969.

Return to Home Page