February 12, 2011

Tappan School

Tappan School, n.w. corner of Vermont and Marantette Streets, c. 1882 (Source)
Courtesy of the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

By 1867, the worn out school building on 15th Street could no longer contain the growing student population of Detroit's Ninth Ward. In January of that year, the school board purchased four lots on the west side of Lafferty (now Vermont Street), north of Marantette, from Charles Lafferty for $300.00 each. Lafferty was the grandson of the founders of the Lafferty Farm, where the land was located.

Although some board members questioned whether the construction of such a "large" schoolhouse was warranted, it was decided that the new Ninth Ward School would be a three-story, twelve-room brick structure with a capacity for 800 students. The contract went to the lowest bidder, a company called Dean Brothers owned by James, Edward P. and Richard W. Dean. The building cost $23,915 to build, or over $360,000 in today's money. Soon after completion, it was named for Henry P. Tappan, a popular former President of the University of Michigan.

The surrounding neighborhood in 1885. The X marks the photographer's
approximate location. The Bechstein house is highlighted in red.

Despite the debates over the school's relatively large size, it was immediately filled to capacity when it opened for the school year in September 1868. In January of 1869, it was reported in the Detroit Free Press that, throughout the city, "1,414 children [who] applied for admission to the schools during the year...were excluded for the want of room" (21 Jan 1869).

Apparently there were concerns over the integrity of the structure. The Free Press reported:
Inspector Flanigan, from the Real Estate and Building Committee, reported the result of a visit to the new Ninth Ward school building, in accordance with suggestions made at the last meeting of the Board, in which it was suggested that rumors existed to the effect that the building was not safe, but in danger of failing. The examination made by the committee, accompanied by Mr. Alex Chapoton, revealed not the least sign of weakness or danger, or any settling of walls, or any portion of the building, but they are confident that it is perfectly safe, and that there is no cause for alarm. The teachers employed in the school also inform the committee that they have seen no reason to feel alarm or uneasiness in regard to the building. (2 Feb 1869)
However, later school documents noted, the building "was improved by placing iron columns between the floors of the first and second stories" in the summer of 1872 (Source).

Two additions were made to the original building, in 1886 and in 1902. In 1929, a new Tappan Intermediate School was opened at 11775 American Street. That one was closed in 1990 and demolished in 2001. Today the site of the first Tappan School is a vacant lot known as Muliett Park.

Image courtesy of Google Street View (Source)

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