GTPulse: Local Schoolhouse Turned Business Sparks Back-To-School Nostalgia

The new school year is quickly approaching and parents everywhere are purchasing back to school supplies for their kids. School supplies today are mostly bought in big box stores like Staples and Walmart, but it wasn’t always that way. A recent post in local Facebook community group: I Grew Up In Traverse City sparked a chain of nostalgic comments about an old school supply store that used to take residence in what is now East Bay Chiropractic. Curious about the store, I took a suggestion from the post and headed to Roy’s General Store for more information.

Ben Hentschel and his brothers run Roy’s General Store and he was kind enough to tell me a bit about the history of the school supply store, which came second to telling me about the initial purpose of the building as a one room schoolhouse.

“My oldest brother went there when it was still a school. It was a one room schoolhouse, I think it went up to sixth grade.”

Ben directed me to Rosie Vreeland-Flickinger, the co-manager of East Bay Library, who also had a wealth of knowledge on the little red building.

The school was built in 1893 and was called The Black School, which later sparked lore and speculation about it being a segregated school. The name had nothing to do with segregation and came from the man who started the school, Edwin Black. The story goes that either he or his father fought in the civil war and received some farmland on a land-grant. At the time the closest school was the Potter School and Edwin didn’t want his children to have to walk that far to get to school. The Black School was built and a teacher was hired. The teacher didn’t last too long, however, because Edwin took a liking to her and they ended up getting married. Female schoolteachers were not allowed to be married at the time, so she settled down with Edwin and they had six children.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse Area District Library

When vets got home from World War II is when the school’s end became imminent.

“There was the baby boom and the school was overflowing. Once they built Cherry Knoll all of these schoolhouses went into disuse,” Rosie said.

The schoolhouse became an array of other businesses after its years as a school. Commenters on the post talked about the school being used for sewing classes, a camera shop, book shop as well as an office for the State Highway Department in the late 60s and early 70s. Ben remembered the office for the State Highway Department.

“They used it as a field office, then it closed and it sat empty for a couple years. The people that opened the school supply store, I would think….that was in the 80s that they opened that. They were retired schoolteachers.”

The store, called The Country Schoolhouse Store was open for a time between the 80s and 90s before the retired schoolteachers retired from selling school supplies. Comments on the post reminisced about scented or Gumby shaped erasers and homeschool curriculum, and how the memories of the store were vivid and magical childhood memories.

“I started working here in ’91 and it was a school supply store a good five to ten years after that. She was a retired teacher from downstate and after her husband died she wanted to get out of it, so she sold the business to someone took all of the materials an opened up a school supply store over on Eighth Street,” Rosie said.

Photo Courtesy of Traverse Area District Library

Rosie and the Hentschel’s care about the area and don’t want to let a precious piece of history like the schoolhouse be bought up and plowed down by some faceless company that doesn’t know or appreciate the story of the sweet schoolhouse.

After the school supply store shut down, the building was bought by the Hentschel’s and it still stands there today looking pretty darn good for a building built in the 1800s.

Back to school shopping is always the most exciting part of going back to school. New pens, new folders and a new backpack are always somehow better than last year’s supplies, and as the school supply post on The Country Schoolhouse Store demonstrated…buying supplies can be a powerful memory.


Categories: GTPulse