• The History of Ann Arbor Pioneer High School

    October 5, 1856: The Union School, later renamed Ann Arbor High School opens the corner of State Street and Huron. The original building was designed to serve 200 students and cost $32,000. There were eight teachers including Principal  Theophilus Abbott. Students could study either English or the Classics and special attention was given to those who wanted to teach. Most of those who entered the high school went on to college.


    In 1871 an addition to the high school doubled its original size. Six years later, Principal Judson Pattengill spearheaded the addition of extra-curricular activities. Commercial courses were also added to the curriculum and over time, industrial arts, home economics, physical education, vocational education and cooperative occupational education were included as the growing needs and changing conditions of the community dictated.


    In 1884 the first edition of the Omega yearbook was published. The following year Ann Arbor High fielded its first football team.


    Purple and White became the school colors in 1901. The words from the school alma mater identified purple as "the sign of might" and white as "the sign of truth and honor."


    In 1904 Ann Arbor High School was destroyed by fire. During the next two years, classes met in churches and rented office space in the area (the first portable classrooms). The school was reconstructed on the same site at a cost of $340,000, reopening to students and staff in the fall of 1906. (This building still exists in June of 2005. Known as the Frieze Building, it belongs the University of Michigan. The University is planning to tear it down and put a new dormitory complex on the site.)


    1914: The words to the school song "The Purple and White" were written by Margaret Horton Cooley. Earl W. Moore, Dean emeritus of the School of Music at the University of Michigan, wrote the music.


    In 1936, the Ann Arbor News sponsored an essay contest to find a nickname for the school. The first prize of $5,000 was awarded to Richard J. Mann, an Ann Arbor High Graduate, who was one of six to advance the name "Pioneers." Mann later served as President of the School Board.

    Lewis Forsythe holds the distinction as the longest serving principal at Ann Arbor High School. He began his service at the beginning of World War I and retired 29 years later in 1946. He was succeeded by Nicholas Schreiber, who served with distinction until his retirement in 1968. During Mr. Schreiber's tenure the district purchased 210 acres at the corner of Main and West Stadium Blvd for $135,000. In 1953, three years after the purchase of the land, Trustee Ashley Clague turned the first shovelful of earth at the ground breaking for Pioneer High School's current facility.

    Pioneer was built over the course of three years, at a cost of more than $6,000,000. The building included a large auditorium, a small auditorium, specialized rooms for band, orchestra, and choir, a large gymnasium, a pool, and even a planetarium.


    On April 9, 1956 1,374 students reported for the first day of classes at the new High School. The building was dedicated six days later.


    The Building of Ann Arbor High School (1953-56)

    In the early 1950s, when population growth in the Ann Arbor Public school district occurred, a new high school was built on former U-M-owned land, Main Street at West Stadium Boulevard. Mahlon Buell, a physics teacher in the high school (1922-58), filmed the evolution of the project and he and Gene D. Maybee, long-time principal at Tappan Junior High School (1936-70) and an administrative employee, Gail Beaver, jointly narrate.


     Making of Pioneer Movie Link


    In October of 1957, the Soviet Union launched the Sputnick satellite, prompting an intense reevaluation of the educational curriculum at Ann Arbor High School. Another late '50s phenomenon was the arrival of a tidal wave of post-war "baby boomers" in schools across the nation. This cohort of students would fill and over-fill schools everywhere. Plans were initiated for the building and occupation of a second Ann Arbor high school.


    With Huron High School firmly on the drawing board, Ann Arbor High School was re-christened Pioneer High. From September through June of 1968-69, the Pioneer building housed Pioneer students and staff from 7:30 am to 12:30 pm and Huron students and staff from 1:00 pm to 6:00 pm. Huron High took possession of its own building in September of 1969.


    In 1971, Pioneer II, an experimental off-shoot of Pioneer High School, was established. The school utilized a small, self-selected group of Pioneer faculty and students working under "free-school" principles, and eventually became Earthworks High School before merging with Community High School in 1978.

     Historical Documents from the Building of Pioneer


    Educational Pioneering

    The Ann Arbor Story

    The Ann Arbor Folio (1908) showing the Pioneer grounds.


    Other Links

    Pioneer High School Wikipedia Entry