18499 Beech Daly Rd, Redford, MI
Other names: Beech Road School, Redford Union District No. 1
Built: Between 1916-1921
Michigan State Historic Site: March 17, 1994
National Register of Historic Places: March 28, 1997
Three Redford Township District No.5 schools have stood on this property.
A log structure served students from around 1842 until the 1870s, when a wooden-frame school was constructed. The present structure, built sometime between 1916 and 1921, was erected according to stock plans provided free by the State Superintendent of Public Instruction who noted, “The modern rural building is planned to observe both hygienic needs and the conveniences of schoolroom administration.”
Renamed Redford Union School District No.1 in 1923 and known popularly as the Beech Road School, this is a rare surviving example of a school that exhibits every detail of the State Superintendent’s design, including the belfry and the simple decorative brickwork.
Redford Union School District’s oldest standing school is the most recent of Redford Township’s three properties to be designated as a Historic Site. The school is unique to Michigan, and Redford in particular, because of it’s architectural design (“No. 9” of 10) which was featured in the 1915-1916 Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. No. 5 School is one of the only remaining intact examples of early 20th-century rural schools. It was literally built by following every detail of the original plans featured in the 1916 Report. The fact that after all of these years the building has remained virtually unremodeled, makes this building incredibly rare. It even faces east, as the plan recommended.
The interior of the school consists of two classrooms on the main floor and a two-room basement. The bell, that still resides in the belfry, was purchased in 1920 from the Sears Roebuck catalog for about $20. The time period of the school itself has historical significance in that it was built during Redford Township’s urbanization. In fact, from 1917-1920 the number of students attending the school in District 5 increased from 47 to 76 (as reported to the Department of Education, at the time). No. 5 School was built as a result, and opened its doors in 1922.
During the 1920’s, the school housed grades 1st through 8th. In the early stages, it still had no running water or indoor plumbing. But the innovative (futuristic, even) architectural plan allotted for girl and boy washrooms for each of the two rooms. Meanwhile, central heating came to surpass the former use of a large stove at the front of the schoolhouse as the new standard. In 1923, No. 5 became part of the Redford Union School District as the rural Township became more of a suburbs (most of Redford was annexed by the City of Detroit less than three years later).
Classes were held in the two-room schoolhouse until the 1950’s, at which point the housing boom brought an even greater need for schools and education to the Township. In the late 1950’s a seven-classroom annex was built directly behind No. 5 School, which served as an elementary school until 1961. It was then used as the Board of Education headquarters. In 1965 the school housed a program for “disadvantaged students” and in the 70’s became the Redford Union School District’s “instructional material center.” Up until 1982 the original portion of the No. 5 schoolhouse was used as a conference center and offices.
Sybil Raeside, chair of the Redford Township Historical Commission, teamed up with Redford Union historian Dr. Lyle Kinsey and the RU School District to start pursuing and applying for a Historic Marker in 1992. It was Kinsey who initially suggested the idea to Raeside soon after a historical marker went up at No. 9 School (“The Little Red Schoolhouse”) in 1991. Unfortunately, markers can cost upwards of $2,000, so the Historical Commission planned to hold fundraisers to help with the cost. Raeside hoped to erect a marker for No. 5 School by 1994 – she succeeded in achieving that goal.
A formal ceremony was held on September 25, 1994 where the double-sided, Michigan State Historic marker was unveiled. The day of the ceremony, 14 Keeler Elementary students attended a one-hour class on school in the 1900’s. The teacher and all of the students were dressed in period attire. Later in the day, the actual ceremony was attended by a 97-year-old former teacher named Eunice Thorne (Shallenberger) who taught there in the 30’s and 40’s, back when classes consisted of 40-50 students. Thorne taught in the RU School District until the 1960’s when she retired after a 42-year career.
There would be more cause for celebration when the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places three years later in 1997. It took extensive amounts of research and collaboration between the Redford Historical Society and the Redford Union School District to make that happen. As of 2019, No. 5 School is the only building in Redford Township to be listed on the National Register.
A special plaque, selected and ordered by Sybil Raeside, has been affixed to the building to signify this. However, there was never a formal ceremony acknowledging the designation of the marker and National status, all though Sybil Raeside had hoped there would be. (Mrs. Raeside passed away in 2016)
In 1997, Linda Pallas, director of instruction for Redford Union Schools was hoping to turn the No. 5 School into a museum where students could see the way education was in the past (she sited Greenfield Village’s one-room schoolhouse as an inspiration for her idea). This idea was further supported by the Superintendent of Redford Union Schools, Kenneth Johnson. In addition, they had sought to collect memories and stories of people who had gone to school there and had even started doing live video recorded interviews.
In recent years, it has sadly become quite dilapidated (as the bell tower and steeple have started to rot). In the 1990’s once the school achieved both State and National recognition, it became a short-lived tradition to ring the bell on the first and last day of school. Before then, the bell had not been rung in years. Since the 1970’s, No. 5 School is said to but has also, more recently, been designated the John C. Raeside Administration Building.