Although simple buildings, one-room school houses developed a
distinctive architectural appearance. Almost invariably the first
"school house" in a rural district consisted of a log cabin. The log
cabin schools, while minimally functional, really were not very well
adopted to the needs of the students or teachers. As time passed new
school buildings became similar to houses in their construction. The
gabled vestibules and bell towers of frame schools also showed the
influences of church architecture. To help local school districts
construct adequate buildings, by the 1890's, the state was issuing
"standard" plans for rural schools.
1914 the Michigan Department of Public Instruction asked that standard
rural schools conform to various specifications. The buildings should
rest on at least one-half acre of land, with trees and shrubs
"tastefully arranged" about the building. Two "widely separated"
outhouses or "indoor sanitary closets" should be provided for the
student's use. The building should have a room heater and ventilator or
basement furnace. The floors should be of hardwood and lighting should
be so arranged so that neither the teacher nor the students should have
to face into windows while doing their work. The state also called for
"good blackboards, some suitable for small children," and "attractive
In the 1930's the federal government used Work Projects
Administration (WPA) funds to make improvements in all "standard"
one-room schools. These improvements included the installation of a
furnace to replace room heaters, inside chemical toilets to replace
those outhouses that remained, and windows on at least one wall of the
building, usually situated so that the light would come in over the
students left shoulders. The WPA standards of the 1930's remained more
or less the standard for one-room school houses when they slowly began
to close in the 1950's.