Here I thought I was going to answer a relatively straightforward question and give you a bit of background on the oldest high school in the state of Michigan.

It turns out that the answer to the question of what is the oldest high school in Michigan isn't quite as simple of an answer.

Naturally, some established dates are hard to pin down. After all, schoolhouses were once one-room halls that taught every local student regardless of age all at once. How those schools evolved over time changes a great deal of how they are remembered, if they managed to even survive as public education became a normal facet of American life.

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Wait, It's Not Detroit Central High School?

Googling the question brings up one of our sister sites in Grand Rapids, but that article doesn't actually answer the question precisely. Central High School in Detroit is indeed an old school, 155 years old to be exact. However, it's just the oldest public high school in Detroit, not in all of Michigan.

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Two other public high schools are at least older than Detroit Central High School, those being Ypsilanti High School established in 1849 and Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor established in 1856.

So the answer to the question is simply Ypsilanti High School, right? Well, yes and no.

See, technically Ypsilanti High School doesn't exist anymore.

Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

The Ypsilanti and Willow Run school systems merged in 2013 and the site that was once Ypsilanti High School is now Ypsilanti Community High School. This appears to be recognized as a separate school entirely, so Ypsilanti loses out on the oldest high school moniker on a technicality.

So it's Pioneer High School. Are we done here? Well, as Lee Corso has said on Pioneer's campus before...

Bad Research

According to Wikipedia's list of the country's oldest schools (Wikipedia is a source, this isn't high school English class guys - just double check the source... which we're going to have to get to the bottom of this) two Michigan high schools are reportedly established in 1849 or earlier. Charlotte High School is listed as being established in 1849 while Bellevue High School was listed as being established in 1836.

Now for the problem at hand. This is the only place that suggests either of these schools are this old. Both are sourced to  "Annual reports of the Department of the Interior for the fiscal year ended June 30, 1902. Report of the Commissioner of Education. Volume 2." Googling that leads to Department of the Interior reports on... Indian Affairs, which are available for purchase on Amazon for some reason, even though you can search the database on the official government website. Bafflingly, you can't search the Commissioner of Education reports there though, only Indian Affairs.

That is all admittedly over my head and far beyond my pay grade. Though, thankfully, it's possible to debunk both schools as being the oldest.

According to Zippia, while Bellevue's public school was founded in 1827 as a log cabin schoolhouse, it didn't have its first graduating high school class (a whopping two students) until 1870. There is no mention of the year 1836, and there is a sizable gap in the information concerning the school between 1827 and 1870. Regardless, those two graduates definitely started high school after 1849. Bellevue is not the oldest.

As for Charlotte, that is more clear-cut in being debunked. The official Charlotte Public Schools website says the school first opened its doors in 1926. Much like the folks checking my driver's license when I buy a beer, seeing that 19 to start the date is all I need.

I Think We Have an Answer

So, the oldest public high school in the state? It's in fact Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor. The school opened in 1856, a full two years before Central High School in Detroit opened its doors.

Wikipedia Commons | Photographer: Dwight Burdette
Wikipedia Commons | Photographer: Dwight Burdette

There's truth on the internet at last. Wikipedia's list of oldest schools has inaccuracies, and the misunderstanding surrounding Detroit's Central High School is cleared up. (Central's Wikipedia page does say "the oldest public school in Detroit, Michigan," so an easy mixup to make. This article was going to look very different until I had a double-take on that sentence.)

So, A Bit About Pioneer High School

If you've ever been to a Michigan Wolverines football game or watched an ESPN College Gameday from Ann Arbor, you're more familiar with Pioneer High School than you may have expected. Pioneer High School is located directly across from Michigan Stadium at the southwest corner of West Stadium Blvd and South Main Street and is the host site for College Gameday and FOX's Big Noon Kickoff show for some of Michigan's biggest matchups throughout the season.

Opening in 1856 as Union School, Pioneer has gone through some name and building changes over the years. It was later renamed Ann Arbor High School and was previously located at the corner of Huron and State Streets after the original location burned down in 1904. That building, later known as the Frieze Building, was later sold to the University of Michigan in 1956, though it was demolished in 2007.

The current location of the high school was opened in 1956 as well, taking on the name Pioneer High School a bit later in 1968.

The school adopted the mascot the Pioneers in 1936 and has had incredible athletic success in its history. The school recognizes having 214 total state championships: 107 by women's athletics, 101 from men's, and six from coed teams. Women's field hockey leads the way with 26 state championships. You can see all of the state championships the school recognizes here.

As for famous alumni, take your pick. From athletes to politicians to musicians, the school has seen many legendary names walk its halls. Take a look for yourself below.

Notable Alumni from Pioneer High School

When you're the oldest public high school in the state, odds are you're gonna have some incredible names on the alumni list. Check out some of the legendary names to walk the halls at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor, which first opened its doors in 1856.

Despite all of the athletic success and notable alumni names, Pioneer High School surprisingly didn't make Niche's top 12 for best Michigan high schools for athletes. Check that list out below.

Top 12 Michigan High Schools For Athletes

Where do Michigan's student-athletes thrive the most? According to Niche, these are the 12 best schools in Michigan for athletes.

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