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Exploring local history without modern conveniences

A glimpse into the olden days

Sparta — After a quick lesson, Delaney Bjork and Jaxson Babcock concentrated together as they rang the bell at the old schoolhouse in Sparta.

Retired teacher and Myers School Museum docent Larry Carter showed them how it was done as they took the ropes.

“Okay, you guys can pull on it together, you got to have some rhythm to it,” he said. “Watch this. Listen for it (the bell). Okay, got it? See the rhythm. Okay, plug into the rhythm together. Nice. Keep it going.”

Delaney, Jaxson and the rest of the fifth-graders at Appleview Elementary recently connected with local history in a field trip to the museum, and also to the T.S. & M. Railroad Depot museum, a relic of the former Toledo, Saginaw and Muskegon Railway. 

“Local is cool and cool is local,” said Carter, who took students around inside the schoolhouse explaining the difference between local and national history.

Other docents talked about an old windmill on the schoolhouse site and an old caboose and train station at the depot site. Students also blew off some steam in a spirited wheelbarrow race, a recess activity in days without playground equipment.

Sparta fifth-graders take part in an old-fashioned wheelbarrow race during a trip to the schoolhouse museum

Lots of Cool Old Stuff 

There was much to look at inside the schoolhouse including sports trophies, music uniforms, farming and carpentry tools, and photographs of Sparta graduating classes.

Students had their favorites. 

“I liked the (organ),” said fifth-grader Weston Larson, who plays piano “a little bit.” Weston also thought the old windmill outside was cool. “I thought it was bigger,” he noted, comparing it to more modern windmills. 

Bentley Monroe liked that the windmill is “100 years old.” Maci Momber liked the old Coke bottles, and classmate Sawyer Burns, the desks.

The school housed grades kindergarten through eighth grade until 1952. More information on the museums can be found at spartahistory.org.

‘Local is cool, and cool is local.’

— docent Larry Carter

After taking the school bus to the depot, Yahir Macias and his classmates explored a caboose. 

“This is my first time in a train,” Yahir said as he tried out the brake at the end of the train car. “The wheel is a hand brake,” said one docent. “It doesn’t steer the train.”

The docent also explained how the train operated without electronics and Wi-Fi, and how a conductor did paperwork at the desk and kept his lunch in an icebox.

Also at the depot site, students learned about the telegraph and teletype machines and train travel and shipping in an age with no cars or cell phones.

Explore more unique video stories of students learning, interesting school programs and educators working to help all children succeed.

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Jane Lally
Jane Lally
Jane Lally is a reporter covering Sparta. Recently retired after working in state government and other areas, she found her way back to the journalism field again. She graduated from Central Michigan University and spent most of her career in writing, editing, graphic design/print production and broadcast closed captioning. She has written for The Grand Rapids Press, The Morning Sun in Mount Pleasant/Alma, MacDonald Publications in Ithaca, Leader Publications in Niles and The Herald-Palladium in St. Joseph. She strongly believes in the importance of public schools as they bring communities together and make them stronger. She is happy to be able to tell the stories of Sparta schools.


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