By Sue Kelch

There have been many changes to public schools over the decades, and the Weber Blaess one room schoolhouse in Saline readily provides an open door into this past as a living museum.  Weber Blaess straddles and melds together both past and present, allowing us to appreciate how generations before received an education and contrast it to our modern conveniences.

The Weber Blaess schoolhouse wasn’t always located where it is now on Woodland Drive.  I sat down with Jim and Cheryl Hoeft, two people who helped spearhead the creation of this historical gem in Saline.  States Cheryl, “The advice we received was to place the one room school on school property for convenience and easier usage, rather than remain in the country.”  Jim states that they raised $150,000 for the move in June 2002.

Photo by Sue Kelch

The day of the move, it took four hours to go the first of seven miles.  This was because the school was coming from a narrow, dirt, and gravel country road.  The route that was chosen was also picked to avoid power lines (therefore, Saline Ann Arbor Road was avoided).  Even then, the country road was so narrow they were forced to remove mailboxes along the way.  Cheryl reminisces that since she knew the farmers on the road, they left notes stating that they had to move the mailboxes for the wide load move.

After two years of refurbishing and preparation, the first schoolroom field trip was held on May 18, 2004.  That day, Trina Bell’s 4th grade class was treated to a one room schoolhouse experience.

girl in period costume sitting at old fashioned school desk with a tablet and chalk

Photo by Sue Kelch

Trina Bell has strong ties with the Weber-Blaess School, as her grandfather, Frank Joseph Riggs, was on the Blaess board (Weber was added later) and was instrumental in school consolidation back in the late 1950s.  Along with his wife Shirley Mae (Bock) Riggs, they owned a farm on the corner of Zeeb and Ellsworth, not far from the original location of the Blaess Schoolhouse.

Today, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders visit the schoolhouse for a fun field trip.  The excitement is palpable as the children approach the school while the school bell rings.  Lining up before going inside, they listen to a few welcoming words from the schoolmaster, take a class photo, then take their seats at one of the old-fashioned lift-top desks.  Soon they say the pledge of allegiance with a flag that notably has 37 stars; a replica of the flag from 1867, the year the school was built.

girl in period costume reading an old fashioned school book

Photo by Sue Kelch

The children quickly see that while the basic framework of education is still the same — learning to read and write and having recess for example; the methodology is quite different.

The children can see the types of library books available, including the McGuffey readers, try their hand at using a quill pen, write with chalk on a slate board, and memorize and recite tongue twisters such as “Peter Piper packed a peck of pickled peppers.”

Recess turns into serious activity, as the children learn how to play hopscotch, jacks, game of grace or walk with stilts.  Most of these activities are a new experience for them, and they are delighted even while challenged to try something different.  Polling the children after recess, they were asked which playground activity they liked best.  While stilts won hands down, one child was intrigued with the “game of graces.”

children in period costumes sitting at their desk in a one room school house

Photo by Sue Kelch

The game of graces was a popular game in the 1800s, and consisted of tossing a hoop from dowels to someone while they tried to catch it with their dowel.  The game was called “game of graces”, as it was meant to help young ladies become more graceful, and therefore mostly girls played this game.

Congratulations to all who created this Saline gem of a living museum, and operating it successfully for 20 years.  As a note, there are other activities at the schoolhouse including birthday parties, weddings, showers and meetings.

For further information on the Weber-Blaess Schoolhouse, or how to schedule an event, please contact Saline Community Education 734-401-2080.

The Weber-Blaess School is owned by the Saline Area Schools Historical Preservation Foundation (SASHPF).

All photos by Sue Kelch

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