Scottville/MCC school district was built by those who wanted a better future

April 8, 2023

Scottville School as it was built in 1888.

Scottville school district was built by those who wanted a better future

By Rob Alway, Editor-in-Chief

SCOTTVILLE — In 1877 the concerned citizens of Sweetland (now known as Scottville) met on a woodpile at what is now the southwest corner of Main and State streets. The group included Harry Melsom, C.W. Jones, J.C. Mustard, James Sweetland, John Winters, Andrew Neil, John Mack, and Herman Schulte. Their purpose was to establish a school in the town. Until that point, children in the new village had to walk over a mile west of town to Amber Township School District No. 2 School, also known as the Jones School, located at the corner of what is now Johnson and Gordon roads. (Editor’s note, Mr. Schulte’s great-grandson, Jim Schulte, is now the president of the Mason County Central Board of Education). 

These men knew the importance of education for their children. They devoted their own money to establish the school district that, at that time, was known as Amber Township School District No. 6 (Scottville didn’t become an incorporated village until 1889, and didn’t become an incorporated city until 1907. Prior, it was split between Amber and Custer townships). The first school was set up in various homes until a building was dedicated for school use at the corner of James and Thomas streets. 

Scottville School following additions

Ten years later, those same citizens recognized that their investment into education needed to be continual, due to the constant evolution of technology and due to the need to compete. For this reason, the citizens of Scottville voted to fund a new schoolhouse which would include both primary and secondary grades.

In 1888, a new two-story wooden structure was built at the intersection of North Main and James streets. In 1893 the school held its first eighth grade graduation. Graduates included Effie Tracy, William Freedy, Johnny Greenway, Joseph Snell, and Ruth Bishop (later Ruth Falconer). In 1903, the school held its first 12th grade graduation. The first graduates of Scottville High School included Nora Cranley (later Clay), Pearl Shelley (later Henry), Ethel Fortune (later Sloan), Ray Trucks, Julia Landon, Frank Ponko, and Sherman Clay.

In those days, Scottville High School was only funded by the citizens of the town of Scottville. Students who lived in the rural districts outside of the town chose which local high school they would attend (if they even chose to attend high school – many leave school after sixth or eighth grade). The rural students would pay tuition to attend one of the four high schools in Mason County (Scottville, Ludington, Custer and Free Soil). Kids who lived further north would most likely attend Manistee High School.

In the first decade of the 20th century the citizens of Scottville again recognized the need for improvements and changes in the facility. They knew in order to build a strong, successful community they needed to provide an education system that taught children to become successful and productive citizens. For this reason, the school building was expanded in 1911 to include east and west wings. 

Those same citizens knew that while the most important part of education was teaching writing, reading and math, the school was also a place to develop social and leadership skills. Athletics and the arts develop those skills and teach children about working together to achieve a common goal — all tasks important in adulthood. For this reason, the town stepped up and built a gymnasium in 1927. The gymnasium included a small stage on one end. This also helped establish the school as a central part of creating a sense of community. The Scottville Spartans were formed! 

The United States entered World War I in 1916 as a fairly isolated, agrarian society. In this same era, manufacturing began to change with the increase in popularity of the automobile and aviation. The nation was no longer an island and the world was changing. Education also needed to change and a push was made for children to receive a secondary education (extending beyond the sixth grade). 

Amber District No. 2, Jones School

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the citizens of many rural school districts began to question if the old way of education was the best way. Mason County was established in 1855 and from that time forward, rural school districts were established. Schools were established in the center of populated areas, with the intention that children wouldn’t have to walk more than two miles to get there. Essentially, each rural school building was its own district with each having a three-person school board. By the early 20th century, there were 69 separate school districts in Mason County with 74 buildings (Ludington Union School District included a high school and four elementary buildings).

In 1927, Scottville School hired a recent college graduate from Newaygo County named Arnold O. Carlson to work as a teacher/principal. In 1934, A.O. Carlson became superintendent (a role he served until 1966). Carlson recognized the need for education to evolve and change with the times. 

(Editor’s Note: Since 1934, the Scottville/Mason County Central has only had six superintendents: A.O. Carlson, Richard Weaver, Robert Redmond, Bruce Smith, Charles Sandro, and Jeff Mount)

In 1941, Carlson was a graduate student at University of Michigan and submitted his master’s thesis titled “A Study of School Organization in Mason County, Michigan.” In that master’s thesis he wrote about the need to consolidate the county’s school districts in order to meet the ever-changing demands of improving education. The old one-room school houses were no longer “good enough.” Just because they worked for the previous generation didn’t mean they worked for the present and future generations. 

“The present school district boundaries of Mason County have changed very little since the original district lines were established. In a few instances small parcels have been set over form one district into another on petition of the respective property owners,” Carlson wrote. “No program of change has been planned or attempted to more adequately fit our educational program to the times. On the other hand, a shift in our technological pattern has forced large numbers of our youth out of productive employment.

A.O. Carlson

“In many cases buildings are inadequate and crowded. Graduates of rural eight grade schools find it difficult to obtain a high school education. High school graduates lacking sufficient resources find it impossible to attend college.”

During this same time, the Michigan Legislature began changing state laws allowing for larger school districts and requiring county oversight. 

In 1939, Victory Township was the first to consolidate its districts by creating the Victory Township Unit School District, which combined that township’s seven districts. In 1956, the citizens of Victory Township opened a consolidated primary school (kindergarten through sixth grade) building on North Stiles Road south of Victory Drive. With the exception of East Riverton School District, the citizens of Riverton Township did the same during the same time period and opened a secondary school complex on South Stiles Road south of Hawley Road. 

By the early 1950s it was clear that the red brick schoolhouse in Scottville was too small to accommodate all grade levels. The citizens of Scottville again agreed that it was time to build a new building and in 1951 Scottville Elementary School opened at the corner of Maple and Loomis streets, around the corner from the other school.  

In the 1950s, the superintendents of the county’s four secondary schools — A.O. Carlson of Scottville, Oliver J. DeJonge of Ludington, Max Carey of Free Soil and Charles Hurley of Custer, along with Elna Hansen, the elected county superintendent of schools — began discussing the needs to consolidate the primary school districts. 

In 1955, under A.O. Carlson’s leadership, Mason County Central School District was created. It held its first school year in 1956. The new school district included the annexation of multiple school districts from the townships of Amber, Eden, Custer, Victory, Grant, Riverton, Branch, Sherman, Free Soil, and Logan. 

The new district utilized several of the former rural school houses, scattering elementary and junior high students over the 229 square mile, three county district while high school students attended school in the red brick school house on North Main Street. Busing students to multiple rural one/two-room schools became very inefficient quickly and the downtown school house became overcrowded. 

A.O. Carlson and the MCC Board of Education quickly realized that a new facility was needed. The 68-year-old building on North Main Street was too small and the district was losing students as a result. 

Class of 1960 was the first senior class to attend the new high school for the entire year.

“If additional high school facilities are not provided for this immediate area, we will be forced to go on half day sessions or turn pupils away from high school or adopt both measures,” Carlson stated. 

The times had changed and the old building no longer met the needs of modern education. The small stage at the end of the gymnasium didn’t meet the needs of the growing arts program. The small gym didn’t provide enough space for athletes. Classroom sizes were no longer adequate and the building no longer met the needs of mid-20th century technology. The old red schoolhouse continued to serve as a junior high school for seventh and eighth grades. Sixth graders attended some of the old one-room rural school houses, still owned by the district. 

On April 24, 1957, the voters of the Mason County Central School District overwhelmingly passed a $955,000 bond ($10.2 million, adjusted for inflation in 2023). The bond included construction of a new high school on the west end of Broadway Avenue along with expansions of Scottville and Victory elementary schools. The vote was 601-383. The vast majority of the citizens of the district stepped up because they knew that it was their responsibility to assure that their children received the best education possible and this required a financial investment, just like their parents and grandparents did. 

Scottville Elementary, 1951

The new school included a gymnasium that was much larger than the gym in the old schoolhouse. Like that old gym, the new gym included a stage. When the gym and stage of the old school were built in the 1920s, they were likely the best facilities for the times 27 years previous, just as they were in 1959, 64 years ago. 

(Editor’s Note: When the new high school opened in 1959, the old red brick schoolhouse had served the community for 71 years as a high school. It would continue to serve the community an additional 17 years, a total of 88, as a junior high school until when it was finally closed in 1976. The current high school is now 64 years old and Scottville Elementary is 72 years old). 

After the consolidation of Riverton Township Unit School District in 1966, MCC had three elementary schools that served preschool through sixth grade (Scottville, Riverton and Victory).

The citizens of the school district stepped up again in 1974 by passing a $2.3 million bond ($14 million) adjusted for inflation in 2023) to build a new middle school. It took four tries, beginning in 1971 and the vote was much closer, 812-737. The economy was not the greatest in the early 70s and people were concerned. But, there is never a time to predict the perfect circumstances of the economy. 

The new middle school opened in 1976. The bond also included the addition of a gymnasium/lunchroom and library to Scottville Elementary. A second ballot issue decided the location of the middle school. There were two choices the district was considering. Land north of the high school along Johnson Road, owned by the Anderson family (who owned a large nursery on North Main Street) or land on First Street (as it curves north) owned by the Sorensen family. The voters chose the Anderson property, which became a value decision years later as the campus developed. 

The next approved infrastructure bond occurred 18 years later, in 1992. The $1.2 million ($2.6 million adjusted for inflation in 2023) bond was defeated twice by voters within a year before passing on April 14, 1992. It included renovations at the high school including expansion of the band room, expanded science labs on the west side of C-Hall, and new classrooms on the east side of C-Hall, along with the addition of the west wing of Scottville Elementary, which moved the first and second graders into the main building (at this point all district fifth graders were being housed at the middle school, which continued until 2007). 

Modern campus of MCC Schools including Spartan Community Field

On June 9, 1997, an additional 2 mills bond of $3.9 million ($7.3 million adjusted for inflation in 2023) was requested that included the construction of Spartan Community Field for $1.7 million, bringing all outdoor athletic facilities to the school campus. Prior to that, outdoor athletics were hosted at the city-owned McPhail Field. The bond also covered an additional science lab in the high school B-Hall. 

On March 24, 2003 voters were asked to approve a bond of $25.4 million ($40 million adjusted for inflation in 2023) that included adding multi-purpose rooms/gymnasiums to each of the district’s buildings including the high school, middle school, Scottville Elementary, Riverton Elementary and Victory Elementary. That proposal was defeated 802-256. A modified proposal was brought back to the voters on June 14, 2004. This time, voters were asked to consider a $19.8 million bond that would have built a new 105,000 square-foot high school and then convert Scottville Elementary into a lower elementary (grades K-2), the present middle school into an upper elementary (grades 3-5) and the existing high school into a middle school. The proposal also called for the closing of Victory and Riverton schools. Again, voters defeated that proposal 1,005 to 818. 

MCC Middle School, opened in 1976

On Feb. 28, 2006 voters finally approved $16.9 million ($23.8 million adjusted for inflation in 2023) 20 year bond, 973-930, that included the construction of the Upper Elementary, which would house grades three through five throughout the district. It also meant closing Victory and Riverton elementary schools with all K-2 students attending Scottville Elementary and pre-K students attending the newly created Victory Early Childhood Center. The bond included major construction at the high school, including a new gymnasium, additional classrooms, renovated cafeteria, a new Central Business Office, and conversion of A.O. Carlson Gymnasium to a multi-purpose facility. New offices were constructed at Scottville Elementary and the middle school, along with other building updates in both buildings. 

It’s now time for the citizens of Mason County Central School District to step up again. The district is seeking a 1.6 mill increase which will generate $31.54 million to improve safety and security in each of the district’s five buildings. Each building will get a new secured entrance that will restrict access by visitors to the school’s office and will include reducing the amount of windows in the buildings. The recent school shooting in Nashville proved how important and urgent this is. 

If passed, the bond will make much needed renovations to the high school, especially the building’s B and C halls, that have seen very little changes since 1959. While the district has tried its best to keep up with technology and repairs, for many years it was unable to afford to make those repairs at the same rate of deterioration and change. 

Safety changes also include new traffic patterns and much needed street repairs. 

MCC Upper Elementary, opened in 2007

The bond proposal also includes the construction of a community event center/auditorium. This is not a luxury item. This facility will not only serve arts students but will serve the entire district and the Scottville community. All other surrounding school districts the size of MCC or larger already have such a facility because their communities understood the need and value. It is statistically proven that centers such as this help improve the economic development of a community. The City of Scottville has struggled for many years as the economic situation of small towns has changed. There is much investment happening in downtown including plans for new eating establishments. A facility such as this, along with the current athletic facilities, provides more opportunity for economic growth in the town. 

As you are reading this, reflect on this: If you attended a public school, someone paid for your education. Adults from a previous generation invested in their community’s children to assure that those children would become success adults who would positively contribute to society. Beginning in 1877, the citizens of Scottville have invested in their children. It’s time that you do the same. 

What will this cost you? Think about this. First, the 1.7 mill increase will bring the school millage to a level that it was just five years ago. If you own a home with a taxable value of $75,000 it will cost you an additional $10 a month or $120 a year. That’s less than the cost of one meal per month. How much is your cell phone bill? How much does a cup of coffee cost? Is $10 a month extra worth building a better future for not only our children but for ourselves? Remember, they will take care of us when we are older. Wouldn’t you want well educated citizens staying in our community creating a better community? Those before us sure did. 

The election is May 2. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. It is imperative that you vote, regardless of your decision. You may also get an absentee ballot from your community’s clerk. Download an application for absentee ballot here.  Complete the form and return it to your clerk’s office.

MCC High School


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