Historically speaking

Tracing the roots of the Negaunee High School

The old Negaunee High School is seen. (Photo courtesy of the Negaunee Historical Society)

NEGAUNEE — In 1865, there was a demand for iron and it was in this period of history that Negaunee gained prosperity, and the village was platted.

At one time the city had a population of approximately 8,500 people. Negaunee was the headquarters for the Cleveland Cliffs land and timber offices. The building is on the corner of Pioneer Avenue and Main Street. It currently serves as the Administration Offices of the Negaunee Public Schools.

Negaunee’s first high school was built on Case Street, and it soon became overcrowded. A new high high school was built and in June of 1909, a long needed building was completed at a cost of $120,000. It was considered to be one of the most modern and pleasing structures in the Upper Peninsula.

Its site took up an entire half block, with the front facing Peck Street and having Teal Lake Avenue as an east entrance and Pioneer Avenue as a west entrance. The gymnasium was 62×71 feet in size with a hardwood floor. There was a running track formed by a circular balcony that was twenty-two laps per mile. At either end of the gym were the boys and girls bathrooms, lockers and dressing rooms.

Showers and tub baths, with hot and cold water was available, making it as complete as modern sanitary science could be. In fact the gymnasium was considered one of the finest and largest in the Upper Peninsula. It could also be used as a reception hall for school events.

On the second floor, in the center of the building, on the south side was the assembly room. It was designed for 250 students but was arranged in such a way that the capacity could be doubled.

At the east end of the room was a balcony. In the early years the assembly room had rows of desks from front to back. They were later replaced with an auditorium style seat with a fold down armrest that made it suitable to do school work as the assembly room served as a study hall.

The new seating made it comfortable for presentations as this room met the needs of any medium sized theater. It was designed to be used for entertainment with a stage and a sloping floor. In the ceiling were stained glass panels that were removed and put to use in the ceiling of the new school cafeteria. One of the features of the assembly room was the “monster clock,” which was to the right of the stage and in full view of all students. This clock was electrically connected with gongs in every classroom.

The class periods were governed right to the last minute. This clock is displayed in the Negaunee museum. Another feature of the assembly room was a gift from the class of 1929, it was a seven foot tall statue of Abraham Lincoln. If “Abe” could talk there may be many stories about him. It has been said that the classes of 1952 and 1957, removed his head and placed it elsewhere. One of the classes, (52) put it in the girl’s bathroom. He is now displayed at the museum and well taken care of. There was not a detail forgotten in this school, and it was evident by the bulletin board, upon which typewritten or other notices were fastened with thumb tacks.

There was no intercom. On the west end of the second floor, facing Pioneer Avenue was the superintendent’s office and a meeting room for the board of education. The principal’s office was located on the east end over the Teal Lake Avenue entrance. There was an adjoining room for the teacher’s lounge, a cozy rest place, and a similar room provided for the high school girls.

The building was connected to the middle school with a tunnel on the Pioneer Avenue side,which was off limits to students. But there were some who found it intriguing to use and maybe even a bit scary. It isn’t just the building that brings memories, but the staff that left memories as well. Mr. Walter Daly, who taught both band and an all girl orchestra, Mr. Wassberg, typing and bookkeeping, “don’t be a windshield wiper typer” and make sure your balance sheet balances.

Mr. Heidman, Michigan History, “you can eat candy in this class on Friday the thirteenth.” ( I assure you this doesn’t happen often) Mr. Peter Chevrette will be forever remembered for his drawing of the old Negaunee Miner logo. “Ranger Bob” Carlson, chemistry, sang, “Mairzy Doats” to the seniors on the last day of school, was it because he was happy that the year was over? Miss Ranta, named and talked to the mannequin in sewing class.

Was it Abigail or Emilia that frightened the girls when they opened the closet door? Maybe it was years of stitching aprons with teenage girls that made her do it. Mr. Paul Meli, U.S. Government, assured his classes that no one would fail his mandatory class. “If I held back everyone that deserved to be held back, your parents would still be here.” And for certain, you did not want to take a trip to the principal’s office.

After reporting to Mr. George Collins, you knew your parents would be notified and there would be consequences from the administrator and your parents. Of course there are many others who could be mentioned here, but that is for another time. Every student and every teacher has their story to tell. The old school had endured several renovations during its years of service.

It was determined that updating the school would cost as much as tearing it down and renovating the offices of the Mather B mine. Making the new school more barrier free. It was a sentimental journey for many alumni as they watched the demolition of the high school, in August 1986.

The middle school gymnasium, parking lot and playground now occupy this spot.


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