A new undertaking by the Greater West Bloomfield Historical Society aims to shed some new light on the history of area schools, and give the children who currently attend those schools "a sense of place."
The first phase of the three-phase "Called by the Peal of the Bell" project is currently underway, said Dennis Zembala, a former director of the Detroit Historical Museum who was hired as project manager earlier this year. A digital database of text and images is being accumulated, complete with stories about the stories of the children living in this area and the history of the school buildings they attended, past and present.
"Kids will be able to download these elements to use in their studies, the way you can use the (Wayne State University) Walter Reuther Library downtown. That’s happening all over the place and we want to bring that here," said Zembala, a Troy resident.
Phase one, scheduled for completion in May, is also expected to include the creation of a pamphlet of personal narratives, information, and photographs from the eras which would be given away free and also available for download. Zembala added that dependant on funding, phase two should include the creation of an exhibit complete with historical artifacts, followed by the third phase which would include moving the exhibit around various schools in the township.
"It all started with the one-room schoolhouse on Green Road, which was very common in the state at the time it was built just before the Civil War," Zembala said. "We think of them as rustic, but at that time, it was the basic structural element of education. There were few urban school systems, but as the population urbanized that changed."
Zembala said it's an interesting project. As an expert in site-based history, he previously helped open the Baltimore Museum of Industry and served as director prior to coming back home in 2000. For this project, he's focused on what people in the West Bloomfield area did to educate their children at a given point in history, as opposed to how the politics and technology changed people.
"History didn’t stop at 8 Mile Road," he said.
Zembala added that in addition to learning about economics and politics from the time period, he hopes that West Bloomfield residents of all ages learn to feel a "sense of place" from his work.
"It's essentially your classic Midwestern motif, of settlers immigrating from the East Coast and finding work from the land before generations to come built a sustainable place to live and play. I think people have a desire to feel connected with the places they were raised," he said.
For more information, visit gwbhs.com.