By Sue Moore
What was once the proud Gourdneck Prairie/Webber country school house had been deteriorating over the years with huge holes in the roof. Its doors and windows had been boarded up to prevent vandalism. That didn’t stop the critters who made it their home during the winter, said Schoolcraft Township Clerk Virginia Mongreig.
The Township became the owner of the building as Monty Mongreig, the supervisor in 1969, purchased it at a cost of $3,010. He wanted to use it as a township museum. The site is part of a township cemetery on Portage Road, just south of V Avenue.
Historical notes from Dr. Millard Roberts indicate the school was built in 1870 and was in Kalamazoo County District 6. He attended this one room brick school from 1915 as a pre-schooler and went there through the eighth grade. Roberts wrote his memoirs and donated them to the Vicksburg Historical Society. In them he said, “We were not supposed to go into the cemetery. This we did anyway as some teachers were quite lenient. We even played hide and seek there.
“Finding enough money in the budget to repair the building and the roof in particular meant that the building was neglected for many years,” Mongreig said. “We had several citizen complaints but could do nothing until this year when Dan Gettle of Vicksburg Roofing and Siding, gave the township a big break on the price of a steel roof. For now, we will try to keep the building winterized and hope to fix it up someday, possibly with some grant money.”
There were 20 one-room school houses in the Vicksburg school district before consolidation in 1947 according to Dr. Arle Schneider’s history of Vicksburg, published by the Vicksburg Historical Society in 2000. Most of them have been demolished or were sold by the school district to get the properties back on the tax rolls. Dr. Roberts went on to study medicine at the University of Michigan after graduating from Vicksburg High School in 1927. He practiced elsewhere and retired in Vicksburg.
“Smoking was tried occasionally by the boys in their outhouse. We would take old dried corn silk, roll it into a cigarette-like object and then smoke it. We would have a strong temptation to do this whenever farmer Cooley would raise corn adjacent to our outhouse. Another thing we would try was “powdered up old dried leaves. However, this was a little too potent for us.
“One time one of the boys brought a can of Prince Albert smoking tobacco. We all eagerly tried it, and this was the best yet! But when we left the outhouse to return to the school, our teacher and the girls were standing as a group in the distance. They knew what we were up to as they could see clouds of smoke rolling up from where we were. We got a severe scolding. The teacher threatened to report us to the school director, a local farmer. I think we stayed after school as punishment.
“Paper we used for rolling cigarettes was most any kind. Generally, it was tablet paper. We would stick it together by wetting it with saliva.” Three of Roberts classmates were Maurice, Victor and Vincent Rawlinson. Vincent worked at the mill for many years as purchasing agent. Maurice was the longest serving president of the Vicksburg village in the 1950s and 60s. He owned Rawlinson’s Appliances.