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Historic Comfort Schoolhouse has stories of Henry Ford visit and Christmas Trees

By
JACKIE KOCH

Five minutes from downtown Tecumseh, where Centennial Road ends at Rogers Highway, sits a yellow brick building with stories to tell. For more than 65 years the structure held countless children learning reading, writing, and arithmetic, known as the three R’s, the most important subjects in a one-room schoolhouse. Many of those children left their mark, with their initials scratched in the brick no more than five feet high.

The triple-brick structure in Raisin Township was built in 1872 and named after the Comfort family, early settlers in Tecumseh who arrived in the area in 1840. Current owner Rob Lucarelli said the Comfort family had purchased the mill in Tecumseh and the school was built because there were nine families who needed a place to educate their children. The schoolhouse was in School District Number 10.

Originally from Metamora, Ohio, in 2015 he came across the building for sale. The schoolhouse had been converted to a residence in the 1940s and the brick covered with siding some time later. Being curious about its history, Lucarelli went to the library and found a photograph taken in the mid-1930s of the school, showing large arched windows with corbels and other decorative moulding. “It had a really cool look to it,” he said. “It was a one-room schoolhouse, how much work could that be?” he recalls thinking to himself.

He made an offer on the property and was told that someone else had already agreed to purchase it, but two months later he was notified that the sale had fallen through. Because of his love of history, he decided to pursue the project of renovating it back to its original glory. It took at least a year before he felt he’d made the place ready for him to move in, however.

“I bought it based on that picture I found in the library, not knowing if any of that stuff was still beneath it,” he said. “Fast-forward a few years, not only was the brick behind the siding, which I tore off, but inside the plaster drop ceiling covered up the original tin ceiling, which I restored.”

The one-acre property is surrounded by Nature Conservancy land, and Lucarelli said that the icing on the cake was that the school was connected to Henry Ford.

The Comfort School operated from 1872 to 1938. “There’s some very interesting history between 1931 and 1938, because that period of time was when Henry Ford adopted the school,” said Lucarelli.

“Henry Ford purchased the surrounding farmland in 1931 to grow soybeans for the purpose of making the knobs on Model A cars, and he purchased the mill in Tecumseh and they would process the soybeans,” he said. Ford purchased a number of mills and adopted several schoolhouses between Dearborn and Adrian, and the reason he chose this area was because he owned mills along the River Raisin, as well as 10,000 to 12,000 acres in Lenawee County. His wife, Clara, also had a sister who lived in Adrian, so the couple frequently traveled to the county and made unannounced visits to area schoolhouses, including the Comfort school.

“They would have a Christmas tree delivered compliments of Henry Ford,” said Lucarelli of the school. “A Christmas tree, a radio, schoolyard gardens, textbooks, all compliments of Henry Ford. The kids would write to The Herald, ‘Today Mr. and Mrs. Henry Ford came and brought us a Christmas tree.’”
Although it took a lot of work, the schoolhouse now shines as an example of one-room schoolhouses and of the sturdy construction and decorative details of the late 1800s. “There were a lot of one-room schoolhouses back in the day, there aren’t so many left,” he said. “It’s twice as much work as you might think, but it’s very unique property.”

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