The Michigan Military Academy, also known as the M.M.A., was an all-boys military prep school in Orchard Lake Village, Oakland County, Michigan. It was founded in 1877 by Captain J. Sumner Rogers, and closed in 1908 due to bankruptcy. Some journalists have referred to the school as the West Point of the West.
Early history and establishment
In 1858, Joseph Tarr Copeland (b. May 6
), a U.S. Army general
who would later serve in the American Civil War
, purchased several acres of land and began to build his retirement home on the shores of Orchard Lake
. Most of the 90 acres (364,000 m²) he owned were used for agricultural
purposes, and he was slowly selling tracts of land for profit. The area was popular with tourists, so in 1871 Gen. Copeland converted his residence, a large, castle
-like home on the shores of Orchard Lake
, into the Orchard Lake Hotel. Business was good for a few years but development in the area forced many vacationers to seek seclusion farther north and the Panic of 1873
forced Copeland to find profit elsewhere. In 1877 Gen. Copeland sought to sell his home and the land around it. Captain J. Sumner Rogers (b. 1844), who was a professor of Military Science and Tactics at Detroit
High School, had wanted to establish a creditable military prep school in the Detroit area
for some time. Seeing the opportunity at hand, Rogers bought the land with the help of some wealthy Detroiters, and later that year he established the Michigan Military Academy. He modeled the academy after West Point and its success was immediate.
Over the course of its 30-year history, the Michigan Military Academy had 2,558 enrollments and 458 graduates. The graduating class of 1893 played a prominent role in the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, and many of the classes won National Drill Competitions.
On June 19 1879, William Tecumseh Sherman, General in Chief of the U.S. Army, delivered a variant of his famous "War Is Hell" speech to the graduating class. A total of 10,000 people arrived to listen to Sherman's speech, and the press reported that it was the largest number of people ever to gather within the township's boundaries (at that time the village of Orchard Lake was part of West Bloomfield Township). He said: "There is many a boy here today who looks upon war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell." (1)
With a tuition of $500 per year in the 1800s, the M.M.A. attracted mostly sons of wealthy upper class
businessmen. There were three levels of training at the school: Infantry, Artillery, and Cavalry. The cadets
wore gray and white uniforms, modeled after those that were worn at West Point. Students with musical abilities were encouraged to join the marching band
. All cadets were taught to use a .45 caliber
Springfield rifle, and the academy had an 8-inch Gatling gun
at its disposal for military drills. There were a few accidents; in 1884, a cadet drowned during a training exercise in the lake. In 1889, another cadet drowned during a midnight swim.
The cadets had a busy schedule, even on weekends. Rogers and his staff allowed for holiday parties and arranged dances with nearby all-girls schools. Discipline was harsh and there were many athletic and extracurricular activities and the students were encouraged to participate. There were several hundred dropouts throughout the academy's history.
There were a total of 19 buildings on the campus. The oldest building on the campus is Copeland's "castle", built in 1858, and it is still there today. The Academic Building (pictured above) was completed in 1890 and it was the center of academic life on campus. Additional buildings, all of which are still standing and used today, include a Riding Hall (1881), Cadets Barracks (1884), Engine House (1889), Gymnasium (1896). There were also several barns, and these and many other buildings were demolished, replaced, or destroyed by fire throughout the academy's short history.
As Rogers extended the campus, he dug a network of tunnels to connect most of the buildings. In the event of an attack, the tunnels would provide easy access across campus. The tunnels also led to a large bomb shelter under the Engine House. The tunnels are now used for plumbing, electricity, ethernet, and other utilities.
Bankruptcy and post-peak years
In the early 1900s, the school went bankrupt. In 1900, a massive building project, with a total of nine buildings at a cost of $350,000, was assimilated by Rogers. Unable to pay off the huge sums of money owed for the new buildings, the academy quickly sunk into debt.
Added to this, during two days in December of the same year, students and teachers protested against mistreatment and unsatisfactory meals. Roger, who was terminally ill at the time, quickly fired several teachers who he blamed for instigating the complaints.
Rogers died of in September of 1901. Management of the school was left to Rogers' widowed wife, and a friend of Rogers' named Gen. Charles King assisted with disciplinary and militaristic duties. Enrollment declined sharply, and the academy was closed in 1908.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan novels, attended the Michigan Military Academy. Burroughs entered the academy in 1892 and was noted for his rebelliousness. After attending the Academy for only a short time, he left without notice on a train bound for Chicago. As punishment, he was sent back to the academy, where he graduated in 1895. He later spent a brief amount of time as an instructor at the Academy.
- John C. Lodge attended the Academy for a short time, but dropped out before graduating, though he spoke fondly of it in his later years. He was the mayor of Detroit from 1923-1924 and 1927-1928. The John C. Lodge Freeway (M-10) in Detroit is named in his honor.
The Seminary and other schools
Two years after the Academy closed, in 1910, Fr. Joseph Dabrowski, the director of the Polish Seminary of Detroit, purchased the campus and moved his school there. The seminary has stayed there to this day. It is now called SS. Cyril and Methodius Seminary
. The campus is also home to St. Mary's Preparatory
, and Madonna University
of Livonia, Michigan
holds some classes on the campus.
- Bohnett, Brian J., Them Was The Days: Edgar Rice Burroughs and the History of the Michigan Military Academy (2001)
- Martinez, Charles H., Song of the Heron: Reflections on the History of West Bloomfield (2004)
- Merrill, James M., William Tecumseh Sherman (1971)
- Note (1): From Merrill, above. It should be noted that not all accounts of Sherman's speech mention that he said "war is hell", but many accounts note that a vague variation, like the one quoted, was spoken.