Abandoned school in Michigan

Durand High School, Durand Michigan
Date added: January 30, 2023 Categories:
South and West facades (2008)

Replacing a school that burned in 1919, the Durand High School (later renamed Arthur Lucas Junior High School) was constructed in 1920 and was designed by the Detroit architecture firm of Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough and Reynolds. Its design and history reflect the statewide trends in education at the time of its construction. The school was the center of education and a community gathering place from 1920 through 1965.

Durand was originally named Vernon Center. Its first settlers came to the area in about 1832. The area's long association with the railroad began in 1856 when the Detroit & Milwaukee (later the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee) Railroad opened a twenty-eight-mile line between Fenton, Vernon Center, Corunna, and Owosso. The town's name was changed to Durand when a post office was established in 1876 and the settlement was named after George H. Durand, the Congressman who lobbied for establishment of the post office. In 1877 the Chicago & Northeastern Railroad planned to run a line through the area, crossing the Detroit & Milwaukee line in Durand, reportedly convinced to do so when nearby land owners paid the person acquiring the railroad land to route the line near their properties. Although the first part of the town was platted in 1876 and a few commercial buildings were constructed near a church and school, the beginning of regular service on the new Toronto-Chicago line in February, 1877, began the community's growth period. Both lines were later purchased by Grand Trunk Western, the Chicago & Northeastern in 1879, and the Detroit, Grand Haven & Milwaukee in 1882. In 1885 a third railroad intersected the other two lines in Durand: the Toledo, Ann Arbor & Northern Michigan Railway connected to Frankfort where in 1892 it operated the first car ferry across Lake Michigan. By the time Durand was incorporated as a village in 1887, twenty-six passenger trains a day passed through Durand, with many pausing for passengers to eat meals at the Downey House hotel and transfer passengers, mail, and freight.

In 1888 the Durand Land Company was formed by the same people who founded the local newspaper, The Durand Express. With their promotion additional subdivisions were platted and residential lots were sold, streets and sewers were constructed and Durand's population reached about 200. The next twenty years saw additional investment by the railroad companies, including roundhouses and a turntable. The Grand Trunk Western two of the three lines serving Durand (excluding the Ann Arbor line) by 1902 and they constructed a new masonry depot designed by Spier and Rohns of Detroit in 1903. When the station burned in 1905 it was replaced with a similar, but larger depot. In 1907 Grand Trunk constructed a forty-stall roundhouse on land purchased by the village. Two events during this period brought Durand national attention, the tragic Wallace Circus train wreck in 1903 when twenty-two people and some animals were killed, and again in 1910 during a railroad strike when 500 state troops were brought in to maintain order.

By 1933 the village contained over 3,000 people and was incorporated as a city. Other than the railroads, there was one major employer, the Simplicity Engineering Company, which moved to Durand in 1925. Through the Depression and World War II passenger rail service declined; however, as Michigan's wartime and post-war automobile manufacturing increased the need for rail freight increased. Railroads continued as Durand's major employer through the 1950s. With the discontinuation of steam engines in 1960 railroad employment declined and the elevated water tanks and roundhouse were demolished. During this period Durand became a focal point for the surrounding township as the location of a new consolidated school district, building a new elementary school and a new high school on the outskirts of town. Business leaders continued to promote Durand, which slowly became more of a bedroom community for people working in Flint, especially with the construction of the I-69 freeway. The community has purchased the historic train depot and continues to celebrate its railroad heritage.

The Durand Public Schools had its start in 1847 when land was acquired for the first one-room schoolhouse in the district. This was followed by a frame school constructed in 1866, and then a four-room brick school building constructed in 1890 that housed grades one through twelve. The building was located on Sycamore Street, in the same location as the existing former Durand High School. Due to the expanding Durand population because of the railroads, a South Side School for grades one through six was constructed in 1912. The South Side School was upgraded and expanded in 1936, and by the 1941 school year it housed 119 students.

The four-room 1890 school received an addition in 1909, but the entire building was destroyed by fire in December, 1919. It was the middle of the 1919-1920 school year, and Durand would be graduating its largest high school class to date of thirty-one students. No lives were lost in the fire, and there was enough time to retrieve materials and equipment from the building. Classes were held throughout Durand, in the Opera House and in various churches, until a new building could be constructed.

Early in 1920 the Detroit architectural firm of Van Leyen, Schilling & Keough was retained by the school board to design a new replacement school. The Durand Express noted that the firm had over a dozen new schools being constructed in Michigan at the time. The office was comprised of Edward C. Van Leyen (1867-1931), Edward A. Schilling (1871-1952), and Henry J. Keough (b. 1884). Van Leyen was a Detroit native who first worked for William Scott & Co. architects until he formed his own firm in 1886. Van Leyen was also president of the Van Leyen Realty Co. Ltd., and a commissioner with the Detroit Department of Parks and Boulevards from 1898 to 1901. In 1902 Schilling joined the firm, working there until 1933. He formed his own practice after Van Leyen's death in 1931. Schilling was president of the Michigan Society of Architects in 1918 and 1919. He was an initial member of the Detroit City Plan Commission from its founding in 1919 until 1940 when he was appointed to the Detroit Zoning Board of Appeals where he served until his death in 1952. In 1940 he was a part of Parkside Architectural Associates that designed the Parkside Homes Addition on the east side of Detroit. Just before he died he designed the Newberry State Hospital, which is noted as being under construction in his obituary. Keough was a native of New York and graduated from the architecture and engineering program at Syracuse University in 1909. He began working at the firm in 1910, becoming a partner in 1914. An architectural engineer, he was a member of both the Michigan Society of Architects and the Detroit Engineering Society.

By the time the plans for the Durand school were completed, the firm name changed to Van Leyen, Schilling, Keough & Reynolds with the addition of Robert A. Reynolds. The partnership lasted until 1924 when the firm name was again listed as Van Leyen, Schilling & Keough in the city directory. Robert Reynolds is listed as a civil engineer, with no employer noted, in the 1925-26 Detroit directory.

The firm had designed the Stevenson School in nearby Flint, where they had a branch office, in 1910 and are credited with the Flint City Hall. They were known for being specialists in Catholic church architecture in the 1920s, and their work included: Holy Family Catholic Church (1910), St. Charles Borromeo rectory and school (1912), and St. Thomas the Apostle Church and rectory (1924-26) in Detroit and St. Peter Cathedral in Marquette (1936-38). Van Leyen & Schilling also designed the 1907 Belle Isle Casino in Detroit, and in 1926 Keough is credited with designing Fordson High School in Dearborn. In 1927 and 1929 Keough designed two other elementary schools in Dearborn, Lowrey and Maples. Other schools designed include the high schools at Monroe, Dowagiac, and Wyandotte. Some of the firm's industrial work included plants for the Huron Milling Company in Harbor Beach, Star Watch Case Company in Ludington, and the Peters Cartridge Company in Kings Mills, Ohio.

The remains of the burned Durand school were cleared away and the new school was constructed in the same location, known as the Hub, on Sycamore Street where four diagonal streets converged just east of downtown Durand. The new school embodied the "colony system" of school building design, which permitted easy expansion of the building later on. The design of the front facade is very similar to a recommended model of a consolidated school building from a 1919 report of the Michigan Superintendent of Public Instruction. The plan varied from the state model because it was E-shaped with the center wing containing the auditorium/gymnasium. Rooms for agriculture and domestic science, both soon to be required courses for rural agricultural districts by the state department of education, along with the chemistry and physics rooms, were located in the raised basement level. Rooms for kindergarten through seventh grade were on the first floor, which also housed the library and school offices. The second floor housed the junior and senior high school rooms. The raised basement allowed three usable floors, but still met the state's requirement that the building be limited to two stories. The building conformed to other state requirements at the time, including having a mechanical ventilating system and space for physical education and a physical director, as Durand anticipated being over 3,000 in population in the 1920 census.

Michigan's rural agricultural districts were authorized by Public Acts 226 and 65 of 1917 and 1919 respectively. The enabling legislation authorized three or more rural districts to unite into one consolidated district and build a high school. The high school curriculum was to include an agricultural component, and schools occupying more than twenty acres of land were required to have agricultural demonstrations. Students attending high schools with less land such as Durand either had to be employed for six months a year with a farmer or raise a crop or animal for one season.

Due to the extraordinary inflation of the immediate post World War I years that caused the cost of the planned building to rise from the estimated $160,000 to something closer to $275,000, only part of the school was initially constructed rather than the entire building as originally designed. To complete even this part, which included the building's front section and west wing, the voters of Durand were asked twice to allow the sale of additional bonds. The first bond issue was approved, but the second vote could not be held until there was action in the state legislature. Because the proposed additional bond issue would increase the district's debt beyond the limit permitted by law, the state legislature had to be asked to pass legislation allowing communities to raise the limit. The legislature authorized school districts to incur bonded debt equal to a maximum of fifteen percent of the total assessed value of property in the district. Durand's voters then approved the second bond issue, the maximum allowed by the new state law. This second sale of bonds allowed the school building to be opened, although not totally completed, for classes in April of 1921, following the spring vacation.

Durand's student population continued to increase, from twenty-four graduates in the class of 1927 to fifty-eight in the class of 1934, which was also the fiftieth anniversary of Durand's first graduating class of 1884. The smaller than planned size of the building resulted in an immediate shortage of space, but in the mid-1920s the voters of Durand voted down a proposal authorizing the school board to sell bonds for an addition to the high school. A second vote in 1928 approved the sale of bonds, and a two-and-a-half-story east-wing addition was constructed in 1929 following the original plans. The school still housed all of the grades, junior and senior high school classes. In 1934 the Parent Teacher Association along with the High School Citizens League purchased the two lots directly east of the school for additional playground space and in 1936 the two houses on the property were demolished so the work could proceed.

In 1935 WPA funds paid for the exterior of the building to be repainted and the interior to be cleaned. A new fire alarm system was installed that same year along with automatic coal stokers for the boiler. Because of the previous 1920 school fire these were no doubt important improvements to the community. In 1938 the hall floors were replaced, the windows received weather-stripping, and the wood floors of the auditorium and kindergarten were refinished. In 1954 a small, one-story addition to the rear of the west wing was added.

The school also served as a community gathering place. Each fall it hosted a Community Fair that showcased local businesses in addition to student projects. In 1936 the school utilized WPA funds to open the school library to the public and host sewing classes in the cafeteria. These public uses were in addition to the numerous school plays and concerts presented by the students throughout the year. In 1936 the school band was organized, performing often for the community, and in the summer of 1936 the first summer school was held, with courses limited to softball, calisthenics and similar activities open to both boys and girls.

In 1941 students above the seventh-grade level from nearby Bancroft began attending the Durand High School, with a total of 771 students in the building. Similar to other small cities in rural townships, the Durand School accepted more and more students from surrounding school districts for high school education. This led to the creation of a larger consolidated school district called the Durand Area Schools in 1965, and a new high school was constructed just east of Durand at that time. The former Durand High School was converted to a junior high and named the Arthur Lucas Junior High School. The school was closed in 1996 and then was sold by the school district. The building was rehabilitated into housing.

Building Description

The former Durand High School is a three-story, E-shaped, late Gothic Revival school building located northeast of downtown Durand on a square parcel called the "Hub," where four diagonal streets converge. Two-story houses with porches are closely spaced along the diagonal streets and define the local neighborhood. The red-brown brick school fronts south on Sycamore Street, and has a small grassy front lawn and foundation plantings that are in keeping with the surrounding houses. Concrete sidewalks ring the entire site and extend out to the tree-lined streets.

Designed by Van Leyen, Schilling, and Keough, the building was constructed in 1920 with additions in 1929 and 1954. The primary south, east, and west facades of the building are constructed of brick in red and brown hues. The rear north facade of the building is painted common brick devoid of decoration. A single-story masonry addition was made to the west side of the building in 1954. The building's front section displays brick quoins at the building corners, a limestone water table, string course at the second-floor level, and a profiled cornice band at the top of the third-floor windows. The stone parapet cap mimics the stone banding around the building.

The exterior building pattern is established by the repetition of vertically aligned masonry window openings. The openings originally contained a set of two, two-over-two double-hung windows that have since been replaced in the same openings with aluminum windows matching the 1954 addition. The front facade is nine bays wide and is flanked at both ends with stair/entry towers. The towers are identical and have wide low arches clad in limestone over the entrances. Just above each entrance, limestone corbelling forms the base for a three-sided bay window that continues upward for two stories. At the top of the tower there is a single window opening trimmed in limestone. A limestone medallion with an open book carving is set in the parapet at the top of the tower. Set back from the front of the building, the south ends of the east and west wings contain no fenestration and have brick patterns creating rectangular panels with stone trim in the corners.

The three-story east wing is nine bays deep and was constructed in 1929. It increased the size of the school by one-fifth. The shorter west wing is two stories high and six bays deep. The west wing has a one-story addition on the north end. The 1954 one-story addition is located at the northwest corner of the property, adjacent to the east wing.

The interior of the building is arranged primarily along wide corridors following the E-shaped plan and having classrooms on both sides. The rooms originally had oak trim, corkboards, chalkboards, cabinets, and bookshelves, most of which are removed. The wood floors and plaster walls remain but have suffered water damage. Dropped acoustical tile ceilings have been installed throughout the building. Half-light wood doors with transom windows above access the classrooms and allow light into the corridors. The stair towers and first-floor corridor retain their terrazzo floors.

The two-story tall auditorium/gymnasium is located in the center, wing of the building and is five bays deep. The interior walls are of painted brick with a face brick wainscot at the first floor. The simple-profile plaster proscenium arch has suffered water damage. A stepped balcony surrounds the perimeter of the room at the second floor although the south end has been walled off for a teacher's lounge and toilet rooms.