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The years of the village of Grand Rapids, before the growth of the public schools with the High School at their head, were the palmy times for private schools. In the early days they quite overshadowed the poorly equipped district schools, and kept their hold upon the public confidence until the establishment of the public schools upon a liberal basis made the private schools no longer such a necessity. They might well be called legion--they were a multitude, and no more than an enumeration and brief description of the leading ones, and their teachers, can be given. Certain of the pioneer schools have already been mentioned in connection with the history of the public schools, and the most important of the latter, private and parochial institutions of learning, will be noticed in these succeeding paragraphs.

July 18, 1842, Miss M. Lovell opened a school in a room "over the Kent store," "for the instruction of Young Ladies in the French Language, Drawing and Chinese Painting," as the advertisement had it. The terms were reasonable--$3.00 for French and Painting, and $1.00 extra for drawing--and Miss Lovell's school received a goodly share of the patronage of the young society ladies of the village who wished to acquire the accomplishments furnished therein.


June 6, 1842, Henry Seymour opened a select school, "in the house occupied for worship by the Dutch Reformed," at or near the corner of Fountain and Ottawa streets. All the English branches were taught, together with the rudiments of Greek and Latin, at the rate of $3.50 per quarter. Mr. Seymour continued at the head of this school, and conducted it successfully, until the May, 1843, when he became principal of the Grand Rapids Academy. A movement for the establishment of this Academy began in March, 1843, and Monday, May 6, of the same year, the school was opened in a small building on Prospect Hill. The course of study was that of a good preparatory Academy or High School---and by this latter title the school was commonly known. The price of tuition varied from $3.50 to $5 per term, according to the studies taken--$4 extra being charged for German. The Academy for a time furnished the only facilities in the village for obtaining a higher education, and consequently was soon firmly established, and numbered among its students many who are now prominent and esteemed citizens of the Valley City. By an act of the Legislature passed March 11, 1844 the institution was incorporated, with the following trustees: Daniel Ball, James Ballard, Francis H. Cuming, Jonathan F. Chubb, Charles Shephard, Samuel F. Butler, Amos Rathbone, and Truman H. Lyon. In October, 1844, E. B. Elliott, a graduate of Hamilton College, N.Y., became principal. Mr. Elliott was succeeded in June, 1845, by Addison Ballard, who was aided the following winter by C. P. Hodges, in the capacity of assistant. In October, 1846, Franklin Everett, A. M., became principal; Mrs. Everett had charge of the female department as preciptress, and Miss Elizabeth White and Thomas B. Cuming were assistants. At this time the school occupied the court house building on Court House Square, with an adjoining cottage near the southeast corner of the square, in which the female department was housed. The Academy had been moved to this location from Prospect Hill, Oct. 18, 1844. After the building of the stone school house, and the organization of union schools in the district, the Academy, like Othello, began to find its occupation gone, and April 16, 1851, Prof. Everett announced that the Grand Rapids Academy would close on the second of the following May. This ended the work of the Academy as a corporate institution, but Prof. Everett and his wife maintained in their residence a private academy upward of twenty years longer.

FRANKLIN EVERETT, A. M., was born at Worthington, Mass., January 26, 1812. His youth was passed in humble life. He inherited from his father a love of books, and with but few early school advantages, the while inured to daily toil, the book was his resource for instruction, and, ambitious for self-improvement, he acquired what was then called a good English education, and fitted himself for college with little aid from teachers. At sixteen years of age he began school teaching, and in the following seven years his time was divided between the school house, the farm and the sawmill. At twenty-three he entered Colby University (then Waterville College) in Maine, and there graduated in 1838. He adopted the profession of teaching, which he afterward followed until the weight of years admonished him to give up active labor. He had charge of the Black River Academy in Vermont for a time; afterward of academies at Canajoharie and Cooperstown, N.Y., and then, in 1846, came to Michigan, taking the position of Principal of the Grand Rapids Academy. This soon became an independent school, known as Everett's Academy, and with the exception of brief intervals Professor Everett kept it up until 1874; afterward teaching only a few private pupils in special studies, for which by scholarship he was well fitted. During more than thirty-five years his life was bound up in loving devotion to his profession, and he sought by his labors to make his teaching practical and useful to the students, to fit them for all the requirments of business and the duties of honorable citizenship. In early life he was bred to an orthodox Christian creed; but later he grew to be an independent thinker on religious subjects, with tolerance limited only by the demands of morality and purity of life. Never laboring for popularity, he has done a good work, and now complacently awaits the dropping of the curtain upon the stage of life.


In November, 1844, Miss Sarah P. Stevens opened a school for young ladies in upper rooms of the dwelling of C. P. Calkins, corner of Justice (now Ottawa) and Fountain streets. She continued it for a second term in rooms on Monroe street, "opposite the Rathbone Buildings."

During the same winter H. H. Philbrick conducted, in the Dutch Reformed Church, a "Science of Music,: or as unscientific minds termed it, "a singin' school."

In the winters between 1847 and 1851, W. K. Wheeler kept a dancing school in the National Hotel, to which the young men and maidens resorted in goodly numbers in order to perfect themselves in that graceful accomplishment.

Mrs. A. F. Jennison, in 1848 and 1849, kept a select school for Young Ladies on Prospect Hill.

A prosperous school of the early period was kept for some years by Mrs. Streeter, in a building on Barclay street, south of Fountain. This was for both sexes, and was well attended, numbering among its pupils Miss Adelaide Winsor (afterward Mrs. Henderson), Mary Sheldon (now Mrs. Armstrong), the two Page boys, Aaron and Abel T., Miss Hinsdill (now Mrs. Marian L. Withey), and many others.

For some time prior to 1846, a Miss Janes kept a young ladies' school on Monroe street, near Ottawa. Miss Janes was a natural instructor, and left her impress on the the minds and hearts of her pupils. There are even at the day matrons of the Valley City who gratefully recall this teacher of their girlhood days, and remember the loss they felt when she resigned her school to become the wife of William Parks.

In the fall of 1848, Mrs. E. T. Moore had a "school for young ladies and Misses," at her residence, south side of Monroe street, above Waterloo.

In 1853 Mrs. Moore kept a children's school on Lagrave street.

August 1, 1854, Miss H. S. De Pew opened a "cottage school" in  a building opposite John Ball's residence on East Fulton street. This was a small but vigorous school, and had an existence of some three years.

In December, 1856, a "School for Painting" was kept in Collins Hall, at the corner of Canal and Erie streets. It was short-lived.

From 1855 to 1857, inclusive, the Rev. O. H. Staples conducted a select school for young ladies. In the beginning it was kept in rather cramped quarters, as may be judged from the following which appeared in the Daily Eagle, in July, 1856, in  a description of the commencement exercises at the close of a term:

The parents generally of the pupils were present, and the young ladies acquitted themselves it is said, remarkably well, considering that the thermometer was 100 degrees during the day, the school room seven feet high, and hoops 3 1/2 in diameter.

The school opened March 2, 1857, in more commodious quarters, at the corner of Bostwick and Lyon streets, in a gravel-cement house which still stands there. Mr. Staples was assisted during the first two years of his school by Miss Laura Prentiss, and during the later year by Mrs. Mary E. Bryan. The course of study embraced the branches usual in High Schools.

Miss Prentiss, after her retirement from Mr. Staples' Academy, with Mrs. D. Ives, of Detroit, opened "A New Select School for Young Ladies and Misses"  in rooms over J. W. Peirce's store on Canal street, in which instruction was given in the common English branches, together with vocal and instrumental music.

For some twelve years prior to 1882, the Misses Bacon kept a training school and kindergarten in the Winsor stone house at the corner of Jefferson avenue and Washington street.

The Rev. Isaac Powell is teacher of an excellent private school at his residence on North Collage avenue.

The "writing school," the forerunner of the commercial college, flourished almost from the beginning of the settlement, but not until the community had grown to considerable proportions came its more ambitious development. In June, 1851, William and Garret Barry opened a "Mercantile Academy" in McConnell's block, for the teaching of book-keeping, mathematics, penmanship, and the other commercial branches of learning.

In 1852, Joseph J. Watson opened a small private school at the corner of Monroe and Ionia streets, for the teaching of architectural drawing and drafting, which was well patronized for some time by young mechanics.

In the spring of 1857, Prof. M. P. Clark conducted writing classes in the Union schools on the east and west sides, and a special class in "Ladies Epistolary Writing."

In the fall of 1859 a course in book-keeping was added to the curriculum of the East Side Union School, and Prof. Charles J. Dietrich was chosen to teach that branch of study. In addition to his work in the public school, he, in 1860, taught "Dietrich's Mercantile Institute" in Luce's Block on Monroe street.

To Professor C. G. Swensberg is due the credit of giving the city her first permanent commercial college founded January 25, 1866. He infused into this school the sterling integrity and straightforward business methods which have placed him in the front rank among the business men of the city---and these qualities soon gave the Grand Rapids Business College a place among the best educational institutions of the West. The college offices and schoolroom are in the Ledyard Block. The institution is now under the management of A. S. Parrish, who became proprietor recently, upon the retirement of Prof. Swensberg. For many years this college was without a rival in the city, but lately three similar institutions-----The Valley City Business College on South Division street, J. U. Lean's Business College and Shorthand Institute, and Prof. J. W. Welton's College, in the Shepard-Hartman building--have been established, and are in a prosperous condition.

CONRAD G. SWENSBERG was born near Cassel, Germany, September 20, 1835; the son of George C. and Elizabeth (Baxteine) Swensberg, whose only other child was Mary, now the wife of the Rev. J. Kolb, of St. Paul, Minn. The Swensberg ancestry were prominent in military and civil circles among the people of their Province. When the boy was eleven years of age, the family came to America, and settled at Linnwood Grove, Erie county, Ohio, where he followed the routine of farm life until, in 1857, they moved to Muscatine, Iowa. There, having lost most of their property in the memorable financial revulsion of that period, his parents died in the following year, and thus the two children were left to depend upon their own resources. Deciding to abandon farm life, the boy secured employment in the Iowa State Survey. While thus engaged he was a close student, and labored assiduously to acquire useful knowledge. We next find him a clerk on a Mississippi river steamer for a time; after which he entered upon a regular course of study at Obelin College. When President Lincoln issued his call for volunteers, though then suffering from illness, he sought enlistment in the Seventh Ohio Infantry, but, owing to the feeble state of his health, was not accepted. Recovering, after being confined for some months to his bed, he enlisted and was assigned to the 127th Ohio Infantry; was soon Assistant Adjutant of Camp Cleveland, then Commissary Sergeant of his regiment, and in this capacity served until near the close of the war. Mr. Swensberg came to Grand Rapids in January, 1866, and on the 25th of that month opened the institute known as the Grand Rapids Commercial College, which for nearly twenty-five years has been recognized as among the most prominent educational institutions in the country. Its graduates, numbering thousands, may be found occupying responsible and profitable positions in all parts of the Union. Hundreds of prominent business men in this and other States credit their success to the thorough training received at the hands of Prof. Swensberg and his assistants. After a quarter of a century of successful work as an instructor, he reited from the active management of the college, to devote more attention to numerous other commercial and industrial interests with which he has for many years been financially connected. Prominent among these was that of the publishing company of the Telegram-Herald, a daily morning newspaper, of which corporation he was one of the organizers, and is now President and principal owner, the paper having in a short time taken rank among the foremost in daily journalism. As a writer he wields a vigorous and always earnest pen. He is President of the Valley City Milling Company, who are proprietors of the Grand Rapids Roller Mills and the Globe Roller Mills; was one of the founders of the Phoenix Furniture Company, is now one of its Directors and heaviest stockholders; and was also one of the founders and the first President of the Aldine Manufacturing Company. Besides the above, he is a Director in the Grand Rapids Savings Bank, and in the Grand Rapids Safety Deposit Company; a stockholder in the Grand Rapids National and Fourth National Banks; a Director and Vice-President of the Grand Rapids Street Railway Company, and financially interested in several other industrial and mercantile enterprises. he has been instrumental in the establishment of several that are among the foremost of their kind in the world; such as the Bissell Carpet Sweeper Company, the majority of his associates in that being graduates of his College. Every laudable infant industry has found a warm friend in Prof. Swensberg. He has been identified, also, with movements for the mental improvement of Grand Rapids, and in this field took the initiative in establishing a free library, giving it much attention. He was one of the organizers of the Y. M. C. A., and to that work gave much time and energy; and in that connection opening a free reading room which for many years was regarded as a public benefaction. In the Y.M.C.A. he has held the offices of Secretary, Treasurer and Vice-President. he is a regular attendant of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, has been for many years a member, and was for some time a vestryman. In politics Prof. Swensberg has been an ardent Republican from the organization of that party; was an election-return Delegate to the State Capital of Iowa after the election of Abraham Lincoln for President; but has never has any aspirations for office, preferring to devote his energies to his profession, his college and his various business connections. Prof. Swensberg, August 5, 1875, married Hattie M., daughter of Abraham and Phoebe (Moffit) Drake, of Howland, Trumbull county, Ohio. She was born at Howland, July 20, 1845. Her father dying when she was four years of age, she was placed under the guardianship of Judge John Ratliff, and, he testifies, developed intellectual faculties of rare excellence as she grew to womanhood. She reside in Grand Rapids for a short period of time some years before her marriage, and here had many dear friends. She was a most tender, loving and lovable person, kind, generous and forgiving, with much strength of character and firmness of mind, and a devout Christian lady. Mrs. Swensberg died at Grand Rapids Nov. 11, 1878, leaving motherless a daughter but twenty-one months old, and a wide circle of loving friends to mourn her departure. Letters from General James A. Garfield, and others; memorial resolutions and tributes to her memory by the Ladies' Literary Club and Drake Relative Association, and expressions from the college and other school circles where she had been known, all speak in terms of affection, and in high praise of the character and talents of Mrs. Swensberg. Before her marriage she had been several years a teacher in the public schools and Central High School of Cleveland, also one year at Olivet College. In Grand Rapids she won loving and abiding friendships. She was here a regular attendant in St. Mark's Church, and was elected an honorary life member of the Ladies' Literary Club, to which she contributed many interesting papers, and in the development of which she was an earnest worker. The only child of Prof. and Mrs. Swensberg is Bertha Melita, born at Grand Rapids, Jan. 25, 1877; the one above referred to as left motherless in early infancy. She possesses many of her mother's traits and accomplishments, and, with life and health, has a bright prospect. Studiously ambitious, she is rapidly acquiring knowledge and talent, and wins loving friends by her gracefulness and amiability. Early in life she was taught lessons of thrift and perseverance, and at six years of age won first and second prizes on fine needle work at the West Michigan Fair, and the McHenry County Fair of Illinois. That Prof. Swensberg has won flattering success in business life, is evident from the wide range of his financial interests. That he has won warm-hearted and steadfast friends is also apparent. One of these in Ohio enthusiastically remarks as follows:

In the line of humanity and whole-souled liberality, Mr. Swensberg stands in the van. I have not full opportunity, nor is there space, to eulogize upon the character of one whose hand, heart and mind are active in unostentatious well-directed benevolence. Suffice it that his charities are unmeasured, his courtesies are constant, and he is warmly esteemed in every community where he has lived. On the walls, desks and shelves of his well-appointed offices we see indications of business, of friendship, of taste, of manliness, of good sense, and of large-hearted generosity. In conversation he listens attentively, speaks deliberately and wastes no idle words; while he betrays a high-strung, thoroughly disciplined organization Mr. Swensberg has always taken great pleasure in helping the poor and needy, not publicly, but quietly. He believes that we are on earth to do good--to be humane, philanthropic, benevolent--in a practical way--in intercourse with our fellow-men. He believes in doing good while we live, and not in waiting till after death.

 Another friend who has been intimately connected with him in business and social circles for twenty-five years, says of Prof. Swensberg:

He is exemplary in his habits, and has a quiet, unassuming way that makes for him many stanch friends. His domestic qualities are refined. Few, seeing him in every-day, plain, unobtrusive associations with business men, would realize the force of the pent-up sentiment within. Though unflinching in his exactions of justice, he is yet tender as a child in the exercise of the finer feelings. Mr. Swensberg does not believe it necessary to sink the man in order to make the merchant. We are certainly fortunate in having such men in our midst.

In a material sense the life-work and success of Prof. Swensberg furnish as good example to the youth of what may be accomplished by steadiness of purpose, well-directed energy and unremitting assiduity. By those has he profited and prospered. And undoubtedly hundreds of his pupils have gained good and lasting impulses from his counsels as an instructor.


In the years 1853 and 1854, Peter G. Koch, a theological student, kept a school for Catholic children at the corner of Monroe and Ionia streets. This "academy" was under the patronage of the church, but it was not until several years later that a regularly equipped parochial school---St. Andrew's Academy---was established. It was chiefly through the efforts of the late Father P. J. McManus, that this was accomplished, and the present well-appointed two-story brick school house was erected in 1871-72 on the corner of Sheldon and Maple streets, at a cost of $20,000. In 1877 the academy was organized under the present system, the instruction being given by the Sisters of Mercy. The Rev. T. L. Whalen is the present Superintendent of the school, which is attended by a large percentage of the Catholic school population of the city. The Academy grants diplomas, and the course of study is extended and comprehensive. It is especially notable on account of the thoroughness of the instruction given in instrumental music. The other Catholic parochial schools of the city are St. Adelbert's (Polish) on the east side of Davis street between Fourth and Fifth streets, conducted by the Felician Sisters, and St. Mary's (German) on the corner of Broadway and First streets, taught by the Sisters de Notre Dame, who also conduct St. James' school on West Bridge street near Michigan, and the recently established school in St. Alphonsus parish, which is under the control of the Redemptorist order.


March 20, 1850, the State Legislature passed an act incorporating an institution of learning in Grand Rapids, under the title of St. Mark's College. The female preparatory department was opened July 3, 1850, in the vestry rooms of St. Mark's church, with Miss J. A. Hollister in charge. The male preparatory department, under D. D. Van Antwerp, was ready for the reception of pupils Sept. 9 of the same year. The Rev. Mr. Taylor was President of the college, which seems to have come into existence before there was a demand for it, never developed far beyond the preparatory stage, and expired after a short life of three years. In St. Mark's Academy, however, established September, 1887, as a parochial school, the old college has a vigorous young successor. The recitation rooms are situated just above the chapel, and are spacious, well-lighted and well ventilated. The departments of study, comprising the Kindergarten, Preparatory, Primary, Intermediate and Academic, are in charge of an efficient corps of teachers, with the Rector, the Rev. Dr. Campbell Fair, at the head as President of the Academy.

The other Protestant denominational schools of the city are the Theological School of the Holland Christian Reformed Church on Williams street between Spring and South Ionia, under Professors G. E. Boer, and Gerrit Hemkes, in connection with which a Holland Protestant school is maintained in charge of Meinhard Van der Meer; the German Lutheran Emanuel schools at 106 East Bridge street, Andrew Beyer, Principal, and at the corner of Second and Pettibone streets, under the principalship of A. Gerlach; and St. John's German Lutheran school, corner of Mt. Vernon and West Bridge streets, conducted by the pastor, Rev. Adolf Schmidt.


There is one school which, although supported by a Christian society, is yet entirely undenominational in it character. Oct. 1, 1888, the Kindergarten Circle of the King's Daughters----
a religious order having a membership in nearly every evangelical Protestant denomination of the city---established a free kindergarten, and creche at 397 Ottawa street. Miss Emma Chamberlain, a professional kindergartner, has charge of the school, which is intended for the children of the poor. Soon after opening it had an attendance of 22 children, the ages ranging from 3 to 7 years, and the colors from white to brown and black. Mrs. Mary Williams assists in the kindergarten work, and has charge of the "creche" or "cradle," a department whose object is caring for babies whose mothers are obligated to work away from home. On her way to work the mother may leave her baby at the creche, where it is cared for and amused until she calls for it in the evening. Although this institution was so recently established, it is doing a  good work, and deserves a long life of usefulness. The Kindergarten Circle of the King's Daughters contains 48 ladies, each of whom contributes time or money toward the work. The circle was organized in July, 1888, with the following officers: President, Mrs. H. M. Joy; Secretary, Mrs. J. H. Campbell; Treasurer, Mrs. A. J. Daniels.

It is estimated that 2,500 children are receiving educational instruction in these private and parochial schools. A considerable number of pupils, however, especially among the Hollanders, attend both classes, going to the private school of their own nationality during the summer, and to the public schools the remainder of the year. This fact partly explains the existence of two smaller private Holland schools; one on Logan near East, and one at the corner of Alpine avenue and Tenth street, in addition to the large Williams street school already mentioned.

Besides the institutions for book learning already enumerated, the city---in a school for mechanical drawing, one for free-hand and artistic drawing; modeling in clay, casting and wood carving; two for oil and water-color painting; two for vocal music; several dancing schools, and a school of elocution---possesses ample facilities for training all the faculties of its children, whether they be of hand or heart; of voice or eye or brain.

Document Source: Baxter, Albert, History of the City of Grand Rapids, New York and Grand Rapids: Munsell & Company, Publishers, 1891. (Name Index)
Location of Original: Various.
Transcribers: Ronnie Aungst
URL: http://kent.migenweb.net/baxter1891/27privateschools.html
Created: 3 September 1999[an error occurred while processing this directive]