The Superintendent’s Cottage, completed in 1890, is the oldest building on the campus of the Michigan School for the Deaf. With the exception of the masonry work, the cottage was built almost entirely by male students. In addition, students made the furniture for the house in the school’s shops. The building reflects the craftsmanship of the boys who studied under instructors Edwin Barton and James Foss. Student labor saved the state money while preparing the boys for future employment. Construction of the cottage began during an 1880s diphtheria epidemic when faculty housing was reorganized to make room hospital space. Beginning with Francis Clarke and his family, who lived in the house from 1892 to 1913, every superintendent has resided in the cottage.
In 1848 the Michigan legislature established the Michigan Asylum for Educating the Deaf and Dumb and the blind. Flint was selected as the site for the new institution. The first student arrived on February 6, 1854. After the School for the Blind opened in Lansing in 1880, the Flint facility began serving only deaf children. The curriculum, which combined academics and practical training. emphasized “market gardening and general farming.” Boys studied carpentry, printing, tailoring and farming, while girls learned the sciences of cooking, sewing, darning and patching. The schools mission was to educate deaf children so that they “may earn a living … may have culture enough to enjoy that living … (and) may be fitted for citizenship.