Thursday, July 4, 2013

A Look Back at Begole School in Ypsilanti

Happy July 4th! 

In honor of Independence Day, I thought a history post would be in order.

From a USGS 1:24,000 Topographic Map, Ypsilanti West Quad
I got this email in my inbox the other day: 
Ruth, I happened upon your school musings blog regarding early schools. The pictures of the tiny buildings reminded me of my old school. I grew up in Ypsi in the 60’s and went to Begole school before we moved to Detroit. Couldn’t tell you exactly where it was, but we lived on Gouchner road at the time. It seems it was just kindergarten and 1st grade at the time (possibly K-2), but us kindergarteners met in the basement each day. I’m sure they’ve torn down or re-purposed the building in the last 45 years as the town has grown, but it was pretty rural setting back then. Good memories. 
Anyway, thanks again for the article. Best regards always, Ken Kurtz

Of course, this piqued my interest, and I set out to see what I could find about Begole Grade School! (And by the way, the post that caught his eye was this one, about the beginnings of public schools in our country.)

Ken Kurtz sent me this picture. He wasn't sure it was Begole School, or even
who took it, but the picture looks just like one that the Ypsilanti Historical Society archives has,
except the archives picture doesn't have the school bus. I love,
love, love the bus in the front. If you click on the picture you will see it says
"Ypsilanti Public Schools" on the side and "School Bus" on the front.

In looking for information I found a great resource--the Ypsilanti Historical Society Archives. I guess I sort of knew about them from Laura Bien's Dusty Diary, but I'd never ventured into 220 N. Huron in Ypsilanti before. They are really helpful there! I hope to go back soon.

Here is what I found:

Begole School was located at the southwest corner of Ellsworth & Hewitt (on Hewitt). The land was originally given by the Begole family, who had land and farms in several locations, including where the Ann Arbor Airport is today. Frank Begole (Mac Begole's father) donated the land, and it appears that is how the school got named. The family was originally from France.

View Larger Map

I didn't find the date the school opened, although I found a woodcut print (at the bottom of this post) saying that it was built "before 1864." (I will update this if I find a more precise date). In any case, Begole School--a three-room schoolhouse--was closed in June 1971, with the opening of Ardis Elementary. That means that this school lived, and served, over 107 years' worth of students. Even though it was a small school, this school touched thousands of children.

(Ken went there from 1967-1968, and his sister Kris from 1966-1968, so they were not in the last classes.)

After the school was closed, it was leased the following year to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District. Later, it was used by the National Bank of Ypsilanti. The building existed for many years after that (it still shows up on some maps!)

It turns out that there were Begoles scattered across southeastern Michigan, and in fact there was a  Josiah Begole who was a U.S. Representative and was also the 19th Michigan governor. I couldn't find a direct connection, but there may be one.

This is the earliest item I found about Begole School. 
YPSILANTI TOWNSHIP Begole School In 1890 Phil Watling was the only student. His teacher would come to the corner of Michigan Avenue and Ellsworth roads, and if Phil were not in sight she would go home. In later years, when there was a lot of water across Ellsworth Road in the spring, Phil Watling carried the other children across because he was the biggest.
Taken from Washtenaw Impressions: Records of Meetings of the Washtenaw Historical Society, 1943, No. 4. Contents: Development in Rural Education in Washtenaw County by Julius Haab, County Commissioner of Schools. Found online at:

Here is a picture from 1910.

The photo shows students posing at a Halloween party at Begole grade school in the 1910s. Courtesy of the Ypsilanti Historical Society. Found online at
Next, I'll share a skit, published in the August 2000 edition of Ypsilanti Gleanings (the Ypsilanti Historical Society newsletter), that was performed at Begole School in the 1930s. It gives you a good sense of the humor of the era, and I particularly enjoyed the reference to marijuana! (I didn't think marijuana had much of a presence here in the 1930s...)
This article was a skit that was played at Begole School in the early 30's.
Judge: It has been a great pleasure and as you will see later, a rather sad session for me to be here. I have been requested to put before the people of this community the wonderful advantages which all of you have here, in the Begole School, you have one of the best of Rural Schools in Washtenaw County, as Miss Haas states. “We are noted for our cooperative spirit, and a smooth running school district is a striking example of the broad mindedness with a slice of educated people who are alive to the growing needs of the times.
Read the rest here
By the way, some Ypsilanti Historical Society documents are found at the Ann Arbor District Library (at least, online). However, more can be found in the archives of the Ypsilanti Historical Society. I encourage you to visit it! You can learn more about the Ypsilanti Historical Society and archive at their web site.

This woodcut print by Kathy Tobias was found in the Ypsilanti
Historical Society archives. 


  1. My mother, Kathleen Cummins, taught kindergarten at Begole School, from the late 1960s until it closed, then moved to Adams, then Perry schools. I have many fond memories of visiting that basement kindergarten room. First and second grades were up on the ground floor. I believe the second grade teacher, Ruth Miller, was also the principal.

  2. Wait a minute, wait a minute! Marijuana makes you want to do MORE chores?? Now that is some wacky tobacky!


  3. Ruth,
    I went to Begole in 1967-68 when, being new to the district, there wasn't room for me in the 1st grade at Chapelle. I am still close friends with many of the girls I met in that 2-room (plus the basement for kindergarten)building. I have very vivid memories of Begole School!

    Beth Freund Manuel

  4. I love that Beth and Eileen have connections to a school that I had never heard about until I got Ken's email!

    Eileen, Ken was going to ask his sister and mother if they remembered your mom!

  5. I went to Begole with Beth K through 2nd grade. I know of a woman that went there with us that has video's of the school fairs.

    Cindy Shauan

  6. I attended Begole School from 1961 - 1963, Kindergarten through 2nd Grade. Mrs. Thayer taught Kindergarten, Mrs Rosbauck taught 1st and 2nd grade together in the same room, Mrs. Miller taught another 2nd grade class and was the principal. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Thayer were sisters. Mrs. Miller's husband was the school janitor. There were 3 rooms on the main floor. One of the rooms was used as a library / office / storage room. The Kindergkarten in the basement had wonderful murals painted on the walls of Nursery Tales such as Goldie locks and the three bears. There was also a kitchen in the basement. Mrs. Thayer would bake us cookies! They held an Ice Cream Social when the school closed, I was a teenager at the time and it was great to see all of the old teachers.

    John Wadke

    1. I remember attending Begole School in grade 2. Ruth Miller was my teacher. I appreciated her teaching and classroom management. Being one of only two African-American students on the whole school, I appreciated how Mrs. Miller made me feel comfortable and various things she did to make it a learning experience for all children. I remember her with an article from the paper and talking to students about the good Dr. Martin Luther King was doing. I also appreciate parents at the school who encouraged cross-cultural learning in their children. I still remember those students and their families. That was quite a learning experience as a child. Considering the racial climate in the U.S. and specific cities, Mrs.Miller was ahead of the game in cultural competence. Fondly, Julie Lyons (Robinson) Seattle

  7. Well, I came along in 1969 and started kindergarten in 1974. I went to the new Ardis school. I do remember the building. Quite vaguely, but I do remember the bank and the vacant land before the strip mall went in. At some point in the 1970s, they tore it down.

  8. Ruth,

    I lived on McKinley from 1958 thru 61. I attended Kindergarten, 1st and half of 2nd grade at Begole. Kindergartners were in the basement and 1st and 2nd grade was on the ground floor. Our playground was where the Big Lots and Walmart stores are now. It was all fenced and we could run and play as far out as our little feet would carry us. I loved my first school.

  9. This is Gale School in superior township,my current residence. I'm certain of it! I've been looking for photos from before the two wings were added and am glad I stumbled upon this blog. I've got a photo from the 1800s from before the brick was added, but haven't found any photos with a good picture of the cupola. This is a great photo!

  10. We lived at 205 S. Hewitt and I would walk to Begole for K-2 in the late 60's. I remember Ellsworth was a dirt road and the playground on the north side was all pea gravel deep enough to not hurt when you jumped from the swing set. The open field on the southwest corner had a wire fence to keep us from running into the corn fields. I remember, even then, thinking how wonderful it was to go to recess and have corn fields and a dirt road right next to school grounds. I also remember you could see the barns of McAullife's Dairy in the distance to the west. Mrs. Lancore was my first grade teacher and Mrs. Miller for 2d. Each of them were wonderful and I remember they let me work higher levels of reading using the SAE reading system. And, yes, we played with liquid mercury!
    For third and fourth grades, I walked to Ardis since they built it in one of our horse pastures. John Leitch at

  11. I remember your house. It was at the corner of Ellsworth and Hewitt. I knew kids that would throw their apple cores over the fence for the horses. This was in the 70s. I went to Ardis from 1974-81. K-6. Last time I went by there, the house looked abandoned. Was not sure if the land was sold or what happened.

  12. Such fond sentimental memories sprout in my mind about Begole, which I attended 1966 - 1968. I had Mrs. Ungrot for Kindergarten, can still recall graham crackers & milk after naptime down in the basement. I can't recall my first grade teacher, want to call her Mrs. Silver (she had silver hair, I think) but oh what a lovey she was, classy & loving. Mrs. Miller for second grade and I loved her too. The area in back which is now completely developed and mall-ed was once a large joyous playground beyond which were still cornfields. I treasure my time in that quaint brick schoolhouse

  13. I'm actually a Begole, my ancestors were founders of Flint, Midland and other areas. My 3rd great uncle Josiah was governor. I was born overseas to a military family, but my childhood home was in Sanford, Mi. I'm really interested in the history of my family and never knew there was a school named Begole.