Frank H. Beard School/James A. Garfield School

Frank H. Beard School/James A. Garfield School

840 Waterman at the intersection of West Lafayette and near
the Fisher Freeway in southwest Detroit

Much of the area now known as southwest Detroit was formerly Springwells Township before the city of Detroit annexed muchof the township in 1906. In 1860, salt was discovered in Springwells and mining began and continues to the present. The rail lines linking Detroit to Toledo and southern points passed through Springwells. As a result of its geographic amenities—the Detroit River and the rail lines—the area became an industrial center in the late Nineteenth Century. Its population grew rapidly as Americans and immigrants came to fill the job openings.

The residents of Springswells Township invested heavily in public education as evidence by the impressive and highly decorated building that you see. The elaborate brick and slate work convey how strongly the community wished to provide a message about the importance of public education. Note the attractive circular stone arch that children saw as they approached the building. To make the building attractive and important, the architects designed a multi-paned rood and an impressive red brick tower similar to those often found in religious, schools and governmental buildings. This delightful building illustrates the best of late Nineteenth Century elementary school architecture.

When erected, Springwells officials named the school for James A. Garfield. Few if any presidents came from such a humble background since he father died when he was only two forcing him to work as early as he possibly could. He saved his earnings, graduated from Williams College and then took a job as a professor of classics at Hiram College. He served with distinction in the military during the Civil War and then moved on to a political career. After a bitter convention in 1880, he was nominated by the Republicans and defeated his Democratic opponent, Winfield Scott Hancock by fewer than 10,000 votes. Only one president - William Henry Harrison - served a shorter term in the White House. Charles Goiteau, an upset lawyer who had been passed over for a foreign appointment, shot President Garfield at the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Station in Washington on July 2, 1881. President Garfield lingered and, for some time, seemed to be recovering his health but he died on September 19 of the same year.

The Detroit School Board incorporated the schools of Springwells Township in about 1907. At that time, the name was changed to memorialize the man who directed the township school board for 17 years.

Architects for the original building: E. A. Walshe and Sons
Architects for additions or modernization: William Malcomson and William Higginbotham
Date of Construction: 1896
Architectural Style: Victorian Romanesque
City of Detroit Local Historic District: Established: March 16, 1984
State of Michigan Registry of Historic Places; Listed March 20, 1984
National Register of Historic Places: Listed: January 26, 1984. The small black marker indicating the listing of the Frank Beard School on the National Register can be seen on the Waterman front of the building.
Use in 2017: Beard Early Childhood Center
Website for the Beard School:
Photo: Andrew Chandler; June, 2004
Description updated: January, 2017

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