In September 1925, the construction of a one-story elementary school began in the village of Redford, Detroit, Michigan. The opening of the school took place in 1926.
The building was named after a doctor and a local resident – Samuel Drayton Holcomb. Holcomb was born in Ontario in 1857, and after his marriage he moved to Michigan. He had one daughter and two sons.
Samuel Holcomb graduated from medical school in 1884 and became one of the first doctors in Redford. His medical career lasted 38 years. He was an active participant in public organizations and events and also made a significant contribution to society. He passed away in 1917 before the construction began on the school which would be dedicated to him.
According to the project, the building consisted of 12 classrooms which included a library and kindergarten. It was larger than other elementary schools in the area, such as Coffey and Mettetal, although it was still smaller than other Detroit schools.
The original plan was that the school would serve Redford County only. But the city of Detroit was developing rapidly, and the Holcomb school was swept up into the main city school system.
However, the school retained its distinctive style and came to be known as a rather pleasant educational establishment due to its natural surroundings. It was described as having “the advantages of the country woodside brought to [a] city school doorstep.”
Even before the school opened, the Parent-Teacher Association was formed and the group remained active throughout the school’s lifetime. During the opening ceremony, the sons of Samuel Holcomb donated a portrait of their father which was placed in the library.
The city continued to develop and expand which put pressure on the school. In April 1929, a second school block was added. It consisted of six additional classrooms.
A dining room and gymnasium were also added. This enabled Holcomb Elementary to offer places to more than a thousand students.
For a while, there were temporary buildings to cope with demand, but in 1946, a third permanent school block was built, which included five classrooms, an auditorium, a shop, and more restrooms.
The school always remained a big part of Redford life. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Detroit Public Schools Radio Station ran a series of episodes that focussed on notable names from Redford’s past.
#An episode about Dr. Samuel D. Holcomb was released on December 5, 1955, focussed on Holcomb, describing him as a good person who loved to study and had a fondness for horses.
In 1986, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the school, Senator Karl Levin expressed his official gratitude for the achievements of the school which he listed as including “your contributions to our country during World War II” and “your commitment to giving kids a sense of values as well as giving them a valuable education.”
Eventually, the number of students at Holcomb Elementary decreased. In 1999, 600 students were registered at the school but by 2010, only 250 were registered. Consequently, the school could not continue and was forced to close its doors for good in 2010.
After the building was abandoned, it began to decline into a poor state. It was also a target for scrappers and vandals. Luckily, the portrait of Holcomb that his sons had donated was found behind the stage curtains in the auditorium and was saved.
Eventually, in 2017, the city decided to develop the site as one of 77 vacant schools in its possession that it wanted to put back into use.
After an engagement project where the community was able to comment on the proposals received, Detroit chose the project submitted by the Anchor Team and DDC Group which would see the Holcomb school converted into a 32-unit senior cooperative housing community.
Work began in the summer of 2019. Construction is expected to be completed this year with the building opened in time for summer 2020. Current plans indicate that there will be 29 one-bedroom units and three two-bedroom units.
The project is calculated to cost $6 million, which includes not only the renovation of the school building but also the creation of a park, walkways, and open spaces. The reconstruction work will involve adding a community kitchen, cafe, fitness center, lounge, and patios.
The four acres of land that surround the former school will be used as a park offering walking and bike trails as well as other amenities. There are plans to line the trails with public art.
The photos below were taken by photographer Ben Garratt who has been photographing and videoing oval track racing events since 2007. You can find a lot of different photos from some abandoned places on his Flickr account which were taken for illustration purposes only.
In addition, all his photos are available in various sizes and prints can be obtained by contacting Ben Garratt via his Facebook page.