End of An Era
County’s Oldest School Bows Out
BY MABLE AIKENS
The door of Alpena County’s oldest school, Spratt school, closed Friday after 82 years. Records in county school Commissioner Roland McNeil’s office go no further than 1889 when the Greenwoods school in Long Rapids opened.
But an elderly Spratt native, Andrew Menary, dates the school from the year his father arrived here from Canada in 1879.
Evidence of the Spratt school’s years of use are everywhere:
- the multitude of initials carved inside the building and out
- the floor worn smooth from the use of countless feet
- the well-worn paths to outbuildings and
- saw marks on outside frame walls where a 12 foot addition was built during The Depression.
The pump which quenched the thirst of hard-playing youngsters for many years shows the effect of many repairs and is now still.
Silent too is the bell and neighbors will miss its familiar ring.
Above, great-grandchildren of one of Spratt’s earliest residents watch while teacher, Mrs. Josephine Wicks, of Hillman, locks the school door for the last time.
They are Joe, Millard, and Alonzo, the sons of Alfred Allen. His father Alonzo and his grandfather, Alfred, left their marks on the community.
Grandfather Alfred pioneered the early development of Spratt and was instrumental in building the school.
His son Alonzo and grandson Alfred were taught there.
Mrs. Wicks will be the principal of the new multi-room Green-twp school where the Allen boys and other students from five other one-room Green-twp schools resume studies Monday.
With completion of the new school, a mile south of M-32 and a quarter mile east of M-65, students Monday move into a completely modern building that replaces other such venerable one-room institutions as Doyle, Dent, Green, Cedar schools and the comparatively newer Alfalfa elementary.
All of their ages are on a par with the Spratt school.
There were times in the past when it seemed Spratt school was doomed to oblivion, but with an influx of new generations, the old school wheezed and coughed a little maybe, but always got going again. Now, it’s official.
No Tears Shed
When the time came to close books for the last time at the venerable old building Friday, not a tear was shed. The happy students bid a glad adieu to the ramshackle old drafty, worn, scarred and memory-filled building.
They were glad to leave its worn floors, wind-swept "annex" and huge bell whose peal called them from play.
The bell has clanged and the teacher has assembled her classes for the last time. There are nothing but memories left behind. Perhaps even they will be picked up at another time, in another year, when memories become one of the better times of life.
What memories one can conjure just by the name Spratt … The Deacon, from whom the school and the community takes its name. There were his sons … Clay, who died many years ago leaving his wife, Eliza Fensom Spratt (one of the school’s early teachers), and her little brood of youngsters…Ralph, his brother, who lies in Arlington National Cemetery (he was a Spanish War veteran) … and Winfield, the only surviving brother, who resides now in Ames, Iowa.
"Deacon" (M.B.) Spratt was a pillar of the Baptist church in Alpena. The name was not a nickname, he had earned it. He moved long ago with his family to this sparsely-settled portion of Alpena county.
One day in November, 1879, he hired a new hand, a young Canadian named William Menary (rhymes with canary). A steady worker and industrious, William soon accumulated the means to buy an "80" near the Spratt farm.
There he built a home, and there he took his bride, the aristocratic and fetching little school teacher, Sara Turnbull. There Andrew was born in May 1887 … and there on that same "80", Andrew resides today, within a stone’s throw of the school built the year his father came from Canada.
In First Class
A Miss Mills was the first teacher.
One of her first pupils was Aime Chabot jr (about nine).
At another school in Spratt this week , a little tow-headed six-year old will pack up her pencils and books. She is Linda Chabot, whose antecedents in Spratt are her father, Bill; grandfather, Ernest;great-grandfather Archie (who now lives in Detroit and claims to be the oldest living Spratt native)and back to great-great-grandfather, Aime.
Thus she is the fifth generation taught in a Spratt school. If construction of the new school had been put off for a year or two, she would have trod the same worn floor, put her books on the same desks and answered the clang of the same bell that summoned her forbears to their classes.
Only a Trail
Let’s go back for another brief look at Aime as he meandered along the narrow path toward school, through winter snow drifts and spring thaws. As the crow flies, Aime probably had one and half miles to walk, but as anyone knows, a boy and a well-worn path are soon parted.
Sometimes his meanderings led to the pump at the Wentworth place (later brother George Chabot’s) where the water was cool and fresh (while he glanced out the corner of his eye to see if Mrs. Wentworth would notice and invite him in for a cookie or a piece of pie still hot from the oven …
Or maybe he’d stop at the Bates place … (Myrtle Bates became Mrs. Fred Collins, her son, Dick, is now Alpena’s prosecutor) … or he’d watch the sawdust rise from the Soper mill (which Adam Cripps dubbed "Pumpkin Center" … a name which stuck). Then with the clang of the school bell he’d race the last quarter mile to the tiny one-room school.
The years have dimmed the luster of the white paint, a few changes were made to accommodate an expanding population, but through the years teachers have been confronted with the same tribulations.
They were their own janitors, getting to school in the dark on winter mornings to get the room warm.
The teachers who were lucky enough to find lodging with the neighboring Menarys were a little better off than most. They were close to work and the little Menary boy could always be bribed to do errands, and multitudinous were the times no bribe was necessary.
Some of the teachers recalled by Andrew Menary in addition to Mrs. Mills were the Misses Beale, Smith, Hattie, McLennan, Aube, and Ina Davis (daughter of Charles), Elizabeth Wentworth (who became Mrs. Dr. W.E. Carr of Alpena, Maggie Spicer, Minnie Fowler, Pease Turner … the list could go on and on.
Andrew’s apt description of the road hazards during that time come second hand from the words of his father, who boasted "there’s just one hole between here and Alpena. It starts at the road and ends at Bay shore."
Modern demons of the road would probably consider the description as "the understatement of the year."
Next week when book-laden children pile into the shiny new bus to the new school, we doubt they will be plagued by any remorse or sentimental longing for the old. But we’ve a hunch, the school will remain inhabited by the ghosts of former scholars and former times.
We like to think of them as being happy ghosts, for their memories will have the warmth of love and affection to keep them in long cold winter, and if we listen with ear tuned to the ghostly chatter, the chuckles must surely merit an answering smile in our memories.
This story appeared in the Alpena News on Saturday, Februrary 11, 1961. Unfortunately, the low-rent methods I use to make this site don’t permit me to be able to set it up in the newspaper-style format of the original. Mrs. Aikens was the wife of Gordon Aikens, and they owned the Spratt Tavern for many years. The tavern still stands at the corner of the Werth Road and M-65, about a quarter of a mile from my mother and father’s place. Their son Steve was a good friend of mine during our grade-school days.
The bell that is mentioned so often fell into my hands when my father, Elden Herron, purchased the school. A couple of friends and I managed to break it banging it at an Alpena High football game in 1963, I think it was. Too bad, when I think about it now, not a big deal at the time. The lot was eventually sold and the old school was razed because it had fallen into too much disrepair to be salvaged
Andrew Menary died a bachelor sometime in the 1970’s. I will get the date on a later trip to Alpena. He was one of the nicest guys I have ever known. An honest, pleasant, and unassuming guy as can only grow up in a simple straightforward environment like Spratt in the 1890’s. When he died several of my relatives helped clean out his house as he had no known relatives at that time. They found a record book that he and his brother had kept for many years, and it contained every transaction for every penny they ever carried out. In today’s world of cash turnover based economies, it is almost impossible to imagine two adults maintaining their entire economic record of ten or more years in a single ledger book. Andrew used to maintain the same tradition of starting the fire by going across the street to the old Spratt Methodist Church to start the fire almost every Sunday morning for the twenty-some years that I really lived in Spratt.