Holcomb kids
Holcomb students

When construction began on Holcomb Elementary School in 1925, it sat within the boundaries of Redford Township. Before it opened in 1926, however, it became part of Detroit Schools.

The school was named for Samuel Drayton Holcomb, who was born in North Pelham, Ontario in 1857. Samuel married Annie Winn Lackie in 1880, and around that same time or shortly after, the couple moved to Michigan. They had one daughter, Ina M., born in 1882. Ina later married into the Houghten family. Annie’s death date is unknown, but it was presumably before 1894, when Samuel married Martha M. Chapman. Martha and Samuel had two sons, Drayton Frazier Holcomb (1895-1965) and Clayton E. Holcomb (1897-1979).

Samuel attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland, and Cleveland Medical College, graduating in 1884. He practiced medicine in Southfield and later was one of the first physicians in Redford. His career spanned 38 years. Samuel’s son Clayton followed his father’s footsteps and became a doctor as well, though he lost his license in 1958 following malpractice charges.

Newspaper article on Holcomb Elementary’s 20th Anniversary. Mrs. Pansy Wilander, the first principal, is pictured with the school in the background.

Samuel was active in community organizations as a member of the Masons, Mystic Shrine of Detroit, Redford Blue Lodge, and the Northville Commandery of the Knights Templar. He died in 1917. His influence on the community must have been significant since it was nine years after his death that a school was named in his honor.

The school celebrated its 60th anniversary in 1986. Upon the occasion, Senator Carl Levin wrote to the school:

Letter from Senator Carl Levin

“Your past achievements are well known: your contributions to our country during World War II, your continuing efforts to involve both parents and students in the educational process, your commitment to giving kids a sense of values as well as giving them a valuable education – all have been hallmarks of Holcomb’s history.”

The original building consisted of 12 classrooms. The school gained an addition in 1929, along with temporary “portable” buildings, and another addition in 1946.

The Parent-Teacher Association organized in 1924, before the school even opened, and remained active. The Commission has several PTA scrapbooks containing photographs and news articles.

Holcomb scrapbook
Holcomb PTA scrapbook page

In the 1940s and 1950s, the Detroit Public Schools Radio Station, WDTR, broadcast a series called “Honor the Name” in which students performed dramatic programs about the schools’ namesakes. On December 5, 1955, the episode “Dr. Samuel D. Holcomb” aired. A transcript is available at the Walter P. Reuther Library. The character of Beverly, Samuel’s younger sister, narrated the radio play about the family’s life growing up in Canada, and Samuel becoming a doctor and moving to Michigan. He is characterized as a kind older brother who is a good student, and has an affinity for horses. When he grows up, Beverly describes him as a selfless doctor.

Samuel Holcomb portrait

Samuel Holcomb’s sons donated a portrait of him when the school opened, which hung in the library. Commission members found it forgotten, behind the curtains on stage in the school auditorium after it closed in 2010.

Our Holcomb collection includes several PTA scrapbooks, most dating to the 1950s and 1960s. Note that many of them are very fragile – please use care when viewing and turning pages! We also have compiled research on individual Holcomb family members and the Samuel Holcomb portrait.

This post was written by Stefanie Caloia, a member of the Redford Township Historical Commission from 2014 to 2019.


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