History: Public education in Mason County, epilogue.

September 25, 2019

Sherman Township School District No. 7, Fountain

History: Public education in Mason County, epilogue.

MC History Spotlight is a regular column brought to you by Ludington Woods Assisted Living and Memory Care. Each week this column features a story from our county’s past.

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief.


I have begun the ambitious effort of researching and writing about the history of the public schools in Mason County. A lot of this information already exists at the Mason County Historical Society and the Mason County District Library. I do know that at one time there was even a committee at the historical society tasked with compiling information on the one-room school houses. That information has been and continues to be very useful as I do my research. I’m hoping to put the seasoning on this by interviewing some of the people who have first-hand accounts of the history of our schools, this includes the modern schools as well. This effort is currently a living document, but at some point my final goal is to publish a book. In the meantime, I am going to start introducing my work, beginning with today’s prologue.

If you have information, a story or an antidote you would like to share, please feel free to contact me at editor@masoncountypress.com, call at 231-757-3202. If you are old school (no pun intended), you may send me a letter at PO Box 21, Scottville, MI 49454.

Fourth Ward School, Ludington (Pere Marquette)


Public education in Mason County today looks much different than it did in the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. In the mid- to late-1800s, transportation and roads in Mason County were much different than they are now. Schools were built in the center of populated areas, with the intention that children wouldn’t have to walk more than 2 miles to get there. Essentially, each rural school building was its own district with each having a three-person school board.

The first records of public schools in Mason County date back to when the county was organized in 1855. Some of the first schools were established in modern Pere Marquette Township, Custer Township, and Victory Township. Keep in mind that Ludington, Scottville, Custer, Free Soil and Fountain did not exist back then.

By the late 19th century, the county had 69 separate school districts with 74 buildings.

In the early 1900s transportation and roads improved while populations shifted and consolidation of the rural schools started taking place, a process that continued for almost 70 years.

After World War II, the emphasis of a high school education was a priority for the nation. The State of Michigan began putting pressure on elementary school districts to annex into high school districts. In 1950, the superintendents of the four high school districts met with the superintendent of county schools and formed the School Area Study; those individuals included Elna Hansen, superintendent of county schools; Oliver J. DeJonge, superintendent of Ludington Schools; Arnold O. Carlson, superintendent of Scottville School; Charles Harley, superintendent of Custer School, and Max Carey, superintendent of Free Soil Community School (editor’s note, as part of this project, I would like to have biographies of each of these individuals).

Riverton Township School District No. 2, West (Butler).

The committee eventually included representation of the 49 county school districts that still existed. It was charged to come up with a plan in two years. In 1953, the committee was recommending the creation of seven districts, which would have been Free Soil, Hamlin, Ludington, Riverton, Scottville, Summit, and Victory. However, those districts still were not all aligned with a high school.

In 1955, several of the rural districts annexed into the high schools. That year Scottville School (Amber District No. 6) changed its name to Mason County Central and Free Soil School became Free Soil Community School. In 1957, Custer Public School (Custer District No. 5) changed its name to Mason County Eastern. During that time Ludington Schools also changed its name to Ludington Area School District.

By 1966 all the rural districts had finally consolidated into the four high school districts.

Today, there are three public school districts in Mason County along with a public charter academy.

Next chapter: Amber Township

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