The current Huss School building was built in 1918 after the previous school structure burned down. The facility housed one of the city’s four public elementary schools until the early 1980s when the school board closed Huss to integrate students into the other three districts. The school system re-opened the building to serve a variety of para-educational purposes, including administration, adult education and in-school suspension. In 2006, the services offered at Huss were moved elsewhere and the city sold the building to a private party, who then sold the building to *culture is not optional in 2009.
These details and many others are the facts that can be neatly placed on a timeline, but like most buildings, Huss has an undocumented history that lives in the stories of the townspeople. Located in second district, which encompasses neighborhoods historically occupied by low-income families and people of color, Huss School is a significant symbol for many in the community. It’s the place where they developed formative relationships with their teachers. It’s the place where they learned to share with friends who didn’t have enough to eat. It’s the community institution that the school board stole from their neighborhood. It’s the place to drive out-of-town visitors past because it played such a significant role in personal history. It’s the place to snap a class reunion photo.
Huss School is a needy building that could easily be demolished for the purposes of community aesthetics. However, the emotional investment of the community in that space is something that could never be recovered or rebuilt. The building has practical potential as a solid structure on four acres of land in a residential neighborhood. Perhaps more importantly, it has symbolic potential to tap into the hopes and dreams of a people by giving new life to the artifact of their good memories, and the possibility of reconciliation and renewal for their painful associations.
The following history of the Huss School property was compiled by Jared Renaud, with the help of many resources, including the Three Rivers Commercial-News, the Kalamazoo Gazette, Three Rivers: The Early Years, school board minutes, the Three Rivers Public Library and the Silliman House Museum.
The Murray J. Huss Elementary School has been a prominent feature on the Three Rivers landscape for nearly a century. The school has contributed greatly to Three Rivers development, serving as an educational center for both young and old. Huss School has served as a gathering site for the neighborhood throughout the area’s history, and those connected with the school have encouraged the creation of such a community.
Throughout the history of Three Rivers, the area near the intersection of Broadway and 8th Street has always held a place focusing on the needs of the surrounding community, be it a burial place, educational facility (for young and old), or activity center. Transforming the school building into a community center would continue the established tradition of the Huss site, as a place responding to the neighborhood’s needs.
The Huss School property has been home to several notable structures and monuments previous to the current building’s inception. One of the first cemeteries in Three Rivers is believed to have been located near 8th Street and Broadway. According to sources, this cemetery was used while Three Rivers was still being settled, and most of the bodies that rested there were moved after the creation of Riverside Cemetery. While the cemetery is believed to still hold some bodies, there is a very small amount of recorded information about it, which includes a quote attributed to George Buck, the founder of Second Ward.
Old cemeteries are not the only thing associated with the site. Since Second Ward’s inception as Lockport, the site of Huss School has always been home to a neighborhood-based educational center. After founding Lockport, George Buck maintained a small, one-room cabin for the local children’s education around the spot where Huss now stands. In time, this building expanded to a four-room building, and then to a brick building, called the Union-Lockport School. The Union-Lockport School, so called to differentiate between it and another Three Rivers school named Union, was Huss’ immediate precursor. Union-Lockport was built around 1868. The school, a brick, two-story building, was small compared to Huss, but housed a greater range of students, from kindergarteners through tenth grade. During its existence, the Union-Lockport school had several additions made to accompany the tremendous growth experienced in the school system in the late nineteenth century. Union-Lockport existed as the Second Ward School until January 28, 1918, when a fire originating in the school’s basement burned the school down.
Huss School was designed by Joseph C. Llewellyn, a Chicago based architect who designed countless structures in the Midwest from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Llewellyn’s building designs ranged from banks to schools and manufacturing centers to churches; his designs were everywhere and every type of structure. One of Llewellyn’s more notable buildings was Davenport Hall at the University of Illinois, Llewellyn’s alma mater.
Huss was built for $50,000 in authorized bonds. The building was constructed and opened little more than a year after Union’s burning. Huss officially opened as the new Second Ward elementary school, which included seventh grade students, on May 19, 1919.
During the late 1960s, the Huss building was expanded. The Three Rivers school system experienced tremendous overcrowding issues during this time. To help remedy the problem at Huss, a new gymnasium and library were added on the south end. The old gymnasium room, a small space the size of two classrooms, was far too small for use as a gymnasium by the time the addition was built. While the gym extension is considered small by current standards, it at least offers the needed height for game play. The original school gymnasium was divided into two classrooms after the school extension was completed.
During the Huss School’s construction, the local fire department donated the old fire bell to the school. Cast in 1868, this bell was used at the old fire station at 122 N. Main Street. By the time the bell was donated to Huss School in 1919, it had already been used extensively. The bell was used as a regular school bell for the entirety of Huss’ existence as an elementary school. Being the only bell of its kind in use by a school, the Huss Bell was a source of pride for the local community. Residents of Second Ward appreciated the bell to such a degree that in 1968, when an attempt was made to move the bell to the new city hall building, the neighborhood community demanded the bell stay at Huss, which it did.
Only after Huss closed in 1982 was the bell allowed to be removed. The fire bell was purchased by the local fire department on the request of Sybert Crose, the town’s fire chief, who had served in the fire department since 1937 as a volunteer, and became the fire chief in 1957. After being purchased by the local fire department, the bell was put on display in front of the firehouse, where it stands to this day.
According to sources, Huss Elementary, along with Johnnycake School, closed at the end of the 1981-82 academic year due to dwindling enrollment and rising costs. At the time of its closing, Huss had 280 students. With the closure of Huss School, the Three Rivers school system witnessed tremendous changes. Included in these changes was a redistribution of the school districts and the overall grade system in the Three Rivers school system. Continuing and future Huss students were relocated to several surrounding elementary schools, according to where they lived in Second Ward. Students living west of South Main St. transferred to Lake Section elementary, located in the rural district. Those living between South Main and 8th Street relocated to Andrews School in Third Ward, and those east of 8th and south of Canal went to Barrows, in Fourth Ward. Students living between Canal and the St. Joseph River were bussed to Hoppin Elementary, located in the First Ward school district. On top of all this, sixth grade students, which were the oldest class in elementary at the time, were placed in middle school, with seventh and eighth graders.
Along with Huss’ closure, many of the staff and faculty were reassigned to other locations, but seventeen staff members were laid off entirely. Huss and Johnnycake’s closure is estimated to have saved Three Rivers Community Schools around $250,000. Overall, around 10,000 individual students had walked through the halls of Huss elementary at some point.
The Huss School property was not completely abandoned, however. Shortly after its closure, proposals to utilize the school space were discussed by the school board. After two years of vacancy, Huss was reopened as an adult educational center. At the time, Huss offered the needed day courses for one to complete a GED. Huss continued operation as an adult education center, and then expanded to include children’s after-school programs, making Huss a gathering place for all ages. The use of the Huss School for additional programming continued until 2006, when Huss’ doors were closed again.