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“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”

Gay in Keweenaw County, Michigan — The American Midwest (Great Lakes)
 

Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum

 
 
Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 2, 2017
1. Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum Marker
Inscription.  
A Part of Local History
A few workers from Hebbard Lumber and Stone Company established a small lumbering community in the early 1880s. Nestled into the protected east shore of Keweenaw Peninsula, its population remained low, and by 1898, the settlement nearly faded into history, as local lumber milling diminished. However, instead of abandonment, the character of the settlement changed.

Mohawk Mining Company decided to locate a copper-ore stamping mill at this ideal location. The site had a nearby railroad and dock that could transport resources to and from the site. By 1901, the mining company began building a stamp mill and other support structures, as well as the first houses for employees and their families.

With the influx of families to this remote location, the mining company realized the need for a school. It constructed a frame building in 1902 to house a school on the ground level and a meeting hall on the second level. The schoolhouse served the community well until the 1920s, when it became overcrowded.

The community neared its peak of prosperity in 1906 with 1,500 people, 117 houses, the schoolhouse,
Marker detail: Old Gay School, Class Picture, 1912 image. Click for full size.
2. Marker detail: Old Gay School, Class Picture, 1912
Historical photo of schoolhouse and students, before extensive renovation.
businesses, and churches to serve the population associated with two stamp mills. Once a small settlement, the bustling twentieth-century town took the surname of the Mohawk Mining and Wolverine Copper Mining Companies' president, Joseph E. Gay, and that name has persisted to the present.

The Rise and Demise of a Schoolhouse
The original building with its two entrances and large staircase had new hardwood floors and a ventilation system installed in 1921. It also boasted indoor plumbing, electricity, and an outdoor play yard. These amenities made the Gay Schoolhouse one of the best in the region, but overcrowding remained a problem.

The companies studied the prospects of building a new schoolhouse, but determined that they could expand the current building economically. They built a two-story addition to the existing structure in 1927 to create the building as you see it today. The schoolhouse contained six classrooms to accommodate 250 pupils between first and tenth grades.

When the copper mills closed in 1932, families moved away from Gay. By 1959, only 25 children remained in eight grades within one classroom. Finally, the school closed in 1961. Some of the students from the last classes in this building still live in the area.

Eventually, a local business owner purchased the property with intention of repurposing it as a home and guest
Marker detail: The schoolhouse remained empty for years image. Click for full size.
3. Marker detail: The schoolhouse remained empty for years
The schoolhouse remained empty for many years with windows broken and deteriorating roof. No one had the funds to restore this icon of historical Gay, Michigan.
rooms. That owner stripped many of the original features of the well-appointed building before relinquishing title to Sherman Township for back taxes in the 1980s.

Sherman Township had no use for the building, nor did it have funds to maintain the schoolhouse properly, and the structure became derelict. The township proposed demolition for safety reasons, but could not afford to undertake the task. Finally, the Keweenaw County Historical Society (KCHS), having long recognized the value of the building to the Keweenaw story, purchased the school and a portion of the schoolyard for $10,000 in 2007. The township retained the rest of the schoolyard for a community park and picnic pavilion.

KCHS Gay Schoolhouse
The KCHS developed a seven-year restoration plan for the schoolhouse, and began repairing the roof and windows to stay further deterioration. The KCHS held its first MusicFest and silent auction in 2009 to generate funds earmarked for schoolhouse renovation. After completing several projects to make the building safe for visitors, KCHS held the official opening of the foyer and first floor classroom for visitors, during the third annual MusicFest.

Over the years, many people, who had acquired items and mementoes original to the schoolhouse, donated those items to KCHS for display. The KCHS purchased some classroom items locally and acquired others
Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum Marker image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 2, 2017
4. Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum Marker
(marker is mounted on back side of this sign)
through donations.

Today, visitors enjoy an authentic classroom setting and a meeting/library space on the first floor, and the loom-room and a museum room with displays from the local Catholic church upstairs.

The loom-room suggests the story of the Gay Fire Department Auxiliary. Organized in 1971, the auxiliary made and sold rag rugs at its bazaar in support of the fire department and renovation of the historical Community Hall, located across the street. Several of these looms are in working order and once again contribute to supporting local historical renovation.
 
Topics. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Charity & Public WorkEducationIndustry & CommerceSettlements & Settlers.
 
Location. 47° 13.625′ N, 88° 9.789′ W. Marker is in Gay, Michigan, in Keweenaw County. Marker is on 2nd Street (Gay Lac La Belle Road) east of Lake Street, on the left when traveling east. Marker is located near the pull-out and parking area on the south side of the Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Lake Linden MI 49945, United States of America. Touch for directions.
 
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 15 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Historic Town of Gay (a few steps from this marker); New Snowfall Record 390.4 Inches (approx. 11.2 miles away); The Delaware Mine
Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum image. Click for full size.
By Cosmos Mariner, August 2, 2017
5. Gay Schoolhouse Historical Museum
(approx. 14 miles away); Eagle River (approx. 14.3 miles away); Douglass Houghton (approx. 14.3 miles away); Joseph Blight, Sr. (approx. 14.3 miles away); a different marker also named Douglass Houghton (approx. 14.3 miles away); Lake Shore Drive Bridge / Eagle River (approx. 14.3 miles away).
 
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. The Historic School at Gay, Michigan
 
Also see . . .  The Historic School at Gay. The first school in Gay was built in 1902 to meet the needs of the families working at the mills. It became overcrowded and a new, six room, two story building was built in 1927. It served students from grades one through 10. Students attending school past grade 10 went to Calumet. The school was a center of community life until the mills closed in 1932. (Submitted on July 20, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.) 
 
 
Credits. This page was last revised on July 20, 2020. It was originally submitted on July 20, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida. This page has been viewed 51 times since then and 9 times this year. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4, 5. submitted on July 20, 2020, by Cosmos Mariner of Cape Canaveral, Florida.
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Mar. 4, 2021