Historical Albion Michigan
By Frank Passic

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Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.

AUSTIN SCHOOL FIRST “MODERN” ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Albion Recorder, March 7, 2002, pg. 15

As the Albion School Board continues to make changes regarding its budget and the direction it wants to go in regarding to education in Albion, one thing it will have to address is its abandoned facilities. The biggest of course, Dalrymple School, was sold in December 1993 and the structure has continued to deteriorate. With that as an example of “recent history,” there is another abandoned elementary school in town still owned by the Albion Public Schools that brings back alot of memories in the minds of older Albion residents: Austin School.

Austin School was the first “modern” elementary school built in Albion to replace the original “Ward” schools built in town in the 1870s. The old North Ward elementary school was demolished in 1911, and in its place that same year Austin Elementary School was erected at 709 N. Clinton St. Contractor for the new school was Fred W. Schumacher. This school has a design all its own, and a cornerstone dated 1911 is placed in the right brace of the front porch. The school was named for Charles F. Austin (1836-1899), who served as president of the Albion School Board. Austin had lived across the street, and Austin Avenue was named for him. He was Albion’s first mayor when Albion became a city in 1885.

Austin School opened in January, 1912. The original teachers included: Francis Drew, first grade; Ada Baird, second grade; Emma Meinke Blanchard, third grade; Bessie Waite, fourth grade; and Ruth Mannon, sixth grade. The janitor at the school was Frank Doyle.

Many older Albion residents have memories of Austin School, particularly those who lived on the “west end” of town. Because of its geographic location, the children of various ethnic and minority groups attended Austin School. This included children of Eastern and Southern European immigrants who worked at the Albion Malleable Iron Company. Children of other nationalities were also placed here. For example, the school board minutes of October 16, 1945 reported: “The Superintendent reported 17 Mexican children enrolled at the Austin School, and told of special work being done with them.”

During the 1950s several new modern elementary schools were erected in town (North, Dalrymple addition, Crowell, Harrington). It was observed that the children at Austin School were not receiving the same quality educational opportunities which were available at other schools because the building did not contain adequate facilities: there was neither a gymnasium nor an auditorium. As a result, Austin School was closed at the end of the 1967-68 school year. The school district offices were thereby moved into the Austin facility, and vacant rooms not used for administrative purposes became alternative classrooms for special education and problem students.

In an attempt to save the district money due to millage failures and a reduction in state aid, the school district headquarters were moved to the third floor of the Washington Gardner Junior High School, and the Austin School building was closed permanently in December, 1979. Since that time the building has been used for storage of obsolete books, equipment, and other materials.

The building is 91 years old and has reached the point where decisions will have to be made regarding its future. The shingles on the roof are now past their lifetime, and the lack of normal maintenance is beginning to take its toll. We’ve observed how local entrepreneurs have transformed other functionally obsolete once-productive buildings in Albion into apartments in recent times (i.e. the Parker Inn and Sheldon Memorial Hospital), and we’ve also seen the example of what happened to Dalrymple School. Whether or not Austin School could be utilized as apartments or as community youth center, or some other use, remains to be seen. Any such project would require local support and cooperation, as there would be the usual zoning and political problems one might expect. In the meantime, the building patiently sits empty and continues to deteriorate.

From the Archives this week we present a picture postcard of how Austin Elementary School looked like in the days when it was filled with neighborhood schoolchildren who grew up here in the City of Albion, attending the Albion Public Schools.


Austin Elementary School

Next: N. EATON ST. DEVELOPED IN 1950S


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