Pride of Scotts History
In 1987, a group of community-minded Scotts residents banded together as the Pride of Scotts and proceeded to look for ways to improve life in the village of Scotts. They started cleaning the streets, planting flowers, helping those who needed assistance, and asking citizens what improvements they would like to see happen.
In response to repeated comments of how the old Union Hall was missed, plans were drawn up to erect a new community center on the vacant lot where the hall had stood. Pleas went out for donations, and support came rolling in. An additional lot located just north was given to the organization. With better drainage and potential access to the land behind it for parking, the decision was made to build on this new site. Groundbreaking ceremonies were held in the Fall of 1988, with excavation labor donated. The next spring everyone rolled up their sleeves to begin carpentry work, cement work, painting, landscaping, laying floor tile and doing general cleaning. In November of that year, the property behind the site was acquired to be used for parking.
The Pride of Scotts Community Center opened in April 1989 and has been in constant use cost-free by community groups like 4-H, Boy Scouts, Garden Club, Tractor Club, combined churches Halloween party, senior activities, citizens meetings, funeral dinners, etc. The facility has been used as an information forum for voters and a voting precinct. In addition, the building provides a low-cost setting for weddings and wedding receptions, showers, anniversaries, birthday parties, graduation celebrations, alumni parties, community gatherings and other special events.
South County Summer Youth Program has been operated in the center for several years, giving young people a place to do crafts, study nature, play games, and learn socialization skills.
In addition to various fund raising efforts, grants from the Kalamazoo Foundation, Vicksburg Foundation and Gilmore Foundation, plus the efforts of our hard-working volunteers we have continued to upgrade and expand our property and services. In 2004 and 2005, many repairs and upgrades were made to the building and grounds. We purchased land adjacent to our property in late 2009 and doubled the size of our parking lot in 2010.
Located on the grounds of the Scotts Community Center there once stood the Scotts Union Hall. Built in 1870, it stood for over one hundred years, being torn down in August of 1974 after falling into disrepair. The following information on the Scotts Union Hall was taken from the booklet “A Time to Remember – Revisiting Our Civil War Soldiers – G.A.R. Post 312” written by Robert & Jo Ramsdell, Phyllis J. Simmons, and Jolene White. The hall was home to the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) for nearly 30 years. A monument now stands facing 36th Street near where the Union Hall stood to commemorate the Union Hall and the activities that took place there.
The Scotts Union Hall
Through the many years that have passed since the early construction of the Scotts Union Hall, some documented history has been lost. History does report the building was originally owned by Joseph Boardman, built in 1870. At one time in history, the structure was called an Opera House. Early on a stock company was formed, and in 1895 ownership was transferred to the Union Hall Society. Many of the men that had been active in the building of the structure and now stockholders were Civil War Veterans. That is the time it is believed the structure became known officially as the Union Hall. Civil War Veteran Holland Simmons was president of the Association for several years. For many years, until about 1913, the members of the Walter T. Orr Post 312 held their meetings in the hall and on the second floor one could see their uniforms hanging along the wall and several of their rifles were locked in a closet. Also their flags and ceremonial equipment were on display there.
The Union Hall was noted for having a stage, an orchestra pit, and a maple dance floor which was believed to be one of the finest ballroom floors in the area. Many well known orchestras played there, as well as professional and amateur theatre groups. As time passed the hall became the center of most community activities, ranging from parties, reunions, roller skating, and farm meetings. When Hollywood went coast to coast, the Scotts locals saw their first motion pictures there.
The Scotts School rented the building from the Union Hall Association, where class plays and graduation ceremonies took place, as well as basketball games. In 1930, the Hari White family purchased the hall, and with the help of students, raised money to renovate the structure, before deeding it to the Scotts School System in 1936. The Union Hall continued to be the hub of most school and community activities for many years and the laughter and excitement lingered in the walls of the old hall until it was sold in 1959, by the school system. Under new ownership, due to deterioration, the structure was town down. While the Union Hall and the G.A.R. members of the Walter T. Orr Post 312 have vanished from sight, let us never forget the history of both nor the spirit of those by gone days.
The School Bell
Bell Had Been Owned By Larkin Family Near Three Rivers Since 1951
Although it was many years ago, Beverlee Jekins and Ron White, both of Scotts, can still hear the old Scotts school bell ringing in their minds, reminding students school was about to start.
Unlike today when electronic bells are activated by programmed timers, the old Scotts School that housed Kindergarten through 12th grade students, was rung by a custodian who grabbed a long rope to ring the bell before school, following noon recess and after school.
When the old Scotts School was torn down in 1951, many thought the bell probably was lost in the demolition process, but that wasn't the case. The old cast iron bell has returned to Scotts thanks to some diligent work by White and the willingness to turn the bell over by the family who had it in its possession for 55 years.
White said Bill and Dora Hayward had informed him about 20 years ago the bell was sitting in front of a residence near Three Rivers on Fisher Lake. Don Larkin Jr. thought his father, Don, Sr., a 1927 graduate of Scotts High School, bid for the bell when the school was torn down in July, 1951. Don Larkin Sr. and his wife Phyllis had it mounted on a cement pad in front of their home about a month later where it has stood ever since. After White learned where the bell was, he approached Larkin's widowed wife, Phyllis about the bell. She told White she would like to retain possession of the bell until she passed away, but once she passed away she didn't have a problem giving up the bell, but White would have to get final approval from her son, Don, Jr.
The Larkins, who were originally from Scotts, were both buried in Gilson Cemetary, and it was when White was visiting the cemetery last fall he discovered Phyllis had passed away. White recently contacted Don Jr. inquiring about the bell, but he said the younger Larkin wasn't certain if the family wanted to release the bell. But that all changed quickly.
"Later that day he called back and said we've decided that we wanted that bell to come back home and we want you to have it," said White. "We're excited about it, we've been hoping for a long time and now it's reality."
White and Scotts resident Dale Hayward loaded the bell in White's pickup truck with a Bobcat last Saturday and brought it back to Scotts.
White said immediate plans are for the bell to be sandblasted by Dale Davis, Jr. and then he will have it clearcoated to protect it at Southern Michigan Auto Body. He said the Pride of Scotts plans to mount the bell in front of the Community Center for display with a plaque on or near the bell noting it came from the Larkin family. The bell display will be a perfect compliment to all the pictures of graduates from Scotts High School that are displayed in the Scotts Community Center.
"I think the bell just went home," observed Larkin. "That's what I wanted."
"It's been kind of a long project of mine that I've kind of hound dogged for years," adds White. "A lot of the area people are sure enthused about it."
White, who attended the Scotts School through the 4th grade but enjoys local history, was bubbling with so much enthusiasm when he got the bell back to Scotts, he couldn't wait to show some local residents and former students that attended the old Scotts School. One of his first stops was the home of Beverlee (Swarthout) Jenkins, who was a member of the last graduating class from Scotts High School in 1946.
"She was almost in tears of joy," said White of Jenkins' reaction.
Jenkins, who started school at the Scotts School in Kindergarten and attended through third grade, moved away for a period of time, but resumed attending the school from 8th grade until she graduated. She vividly recalls the bell and the custodian who rang it each day.
"Mr. Shaffer was the custodian in my early years. That bell rang when it was time to be at school, it rang when it was time to come from lunch," said Jenkins, who was a member of the last graduating class at the school in 1946. "The rope hung in a coat room. We're just really pleased to get the bell back."
White is pretty certain the bell was installed when the school was built in what he thought was 1886. He said the Scotts School initially housed students through 10th grade and in 1912 the school was remodeled with an addition and the first graduating class was 1913.
"That's the only thing that we're sure of (is left) that was a part of that school," said White. "There might be somebody that's got a brick or something that was out of it. That's (the bell) the only thing we've got to cling to, other than the pictures, that actually was part of that old school."
"The people that went to that school that are still living, seemed to have a real sentimental attachment to that school, particularly those that graduated from there," adds White.
Although he wasn't certain, White guessed the bell weighs close to 1000 pounds. He said Larkin was also able to retrieve the clapper that rings the bell.
"You ought to see that clapper, how much it's dented in from how many times its dinged on that bell," said White. "The only thing it doesn't have is the rope pulley."
The old Scotts School used to sit between the current elementary school and the tennis courts.
"When I was walking to school I remember hearing it (the bell) and knowing that I better hurry up or I was going to be late," said White, who said he is anxious to hear the bell ring again.
Larkin notes the big wheel that came with the Bell was removed by his late father because he was concerned younger children may get cut on it, but it was never located. He adds his father also removed the clapper because children would ring the bell at all times of the day and he was concerned it would disturb residents in a rental home he had next door.
Larkin's wife, Jerri, notes the bell has been decorated each 4th of July for 55 years.
"We had real mixed feelings about letting it go because that was something that Don's dad was so proud of getting because he did go to that school. After we thought of it, we're the generation that needs to let go of it," adds Jerri Larkin. "Don's mom had lived there for 63 years when she died. Otherwise, who knows where that bell would have ended up? The more we thought about it, it does belong to Scotts."
As word spread that the bell had returned to Scotts, it naturally was an enlightening topic for students who used to attend the school.
"I think it's wonderful. I know they had been wanting it for a long time. I'm glad (the bell was located) because it's history," said Donna Pierce, who attended the school when she was in 8th grade.
Now sitting prominently on the grounds of the Community Center is the bell from the old Scotts School. A prized piece of Scotts history, the bell was used to signal students from the time the school was built in 1886 until its demolition in 1951. The story of the bell is told above, as reported by Bruce Rolfe in the September 15, 2006, edition of The Climax Crescent.