Volunteers from the Eastpointe community repaint the historic Halfway Schoolhouse May 15 in preparation for its 150th anniversary next year.

Volunteers from the Eastpointe community repaint the historic Halfway Schoolhouse May 15 in preparation for its 150th anniversary next year.

Photo by Deb Jacques


Volunteers repaint historic schoolhouse in Eastpointe

By: Brendan Losinski | Roseville - Eastpointe Eastsider | Published May 25, 2021

 Niyana Burks, a freshman at Eastpointe High School, is among those helping repaint the historic Halfway Schoolhouse May 15.

Niyana Burks, a freshman at Eastpointe High School, is among those helping repaint the historic Halfway Schoolhouse May 15.

Photo by Deb Jacques

 Eastpointe resident Mike Phillips paints a section that is high off the ground.

Eastpointe resident Mike Phillips paints a section that is high off the ground.

Photo by Deb Jacques

EASTPOINTE — Eastpointe’s beloved Halfway Schoolhouse got a facelift on May 15, thanks to the East Detroit Historical Society and some local volunteers. They spent the day repainting the exterior and doing some basic maintenance on the building.

The schoolhouse was originally built in 1872 and now is situated next to Eastpointe High School. For generations, it has been used by the community for both educational purposes and social events.

Suzanne Pixley, the president of the historical society and former Eastpointe mayor, led the charge on the painting. She said it was in preparation for celebrations next year involving the building.

“Next year is the schoolhouse’s 150th anniversary, so we’re trying to paint the exterior right now so we can bring it back and use it for the ceremony next year,” Pixley explained.

The volunteers included Michael Phillips, who lives next door to the schoolhouse and whose barn is in the process of being named a historic site in the city, as well.

“I live next door so I have my own little island here with the (high) school property behind me, so that’s pretty cool,” Phillips said. “I got involved here when I saw Suzanne working out here with a couple of ladies right outside my window a while back, so I started helping out.”

“We’re working on getting the barn on Mike’s property registered as a historical site, too, because it is very old and has a very unique design,” Pixley added. “The man that built it, Bernard Decker, was a Prussian man who came here in the 1800s. He actually donated the property for the schoolhouse.”

Among those who joined the two of them was Niyana Burks, an Eastpointe High School ninth grader.

“It must be a strong piece of history because the teachers tell us all about it in class,” she said. “My teachers and my mom always say that, when you volunteer for these sorts of things, it looks good on college and job applications. I wanted to pitch in and maybe give myself a little boost. I like volunteering and helping out.”

The schoolhouse hasn’t been renovated or refurbished in more than 15 years — and Pixley said that, the last time, the painting was mishandled.

“It was refurbished completely inside and outside back in 2005,” she said. “The last time, it was painted by professionals and they really screwed it up. They painted it with automatic paintbrushes and it bubbled up the next day because it rained.”

It is one of the few remaining historic schoolhouses in the area.

“Initially, there were a lot of schoolhouses in the area,” Pixley said. “This was the second one in the Erin School District, which was Eastpointe, Roseville and St. Clair Shores, and the No. 1 schoolhouse is no longer standing. There were a number of schoolhouses in Macomb County, but most of them have been demolished or bought by private residents, so this is a rare breed. It has a lot of unique aspects, like the curved Italianate over the windows and door. That kind of effort is rare on a schoolhouse, and we think the residents when it was built had so much pride when they finally got a schoolhouse, because for a long time they lacked the permission to build one until 1872.”

The building is still frequently used by community members, albeit on a limited basis in recent months due to COVID-19 prohibiting many in-person gatherings.

“It’s used for quite a bit,” Pixley said. “The historical society has our meetings here. We have a number of yoga classes and dance instructions that are held here. We have reenactors come by and sell and swap items at least once a year. We’re hoping to do more with it after COVID.”

“I have a friend, Tina, who has a yoga class in here now,” added Phillips. “It’s great that they have yoga and dance classes here. I’ve even seen some weddings here.”

He and several of the other volunteers said they were happy to lend a hand and ensure that one of the city’s most beloved historical sites remains in good condition.

“I work for the city, and I’m about my community, so I like to participate,” he said. “It’s a great place in the community.”