Michigan Military Academy

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Orchard Lake Schools Historic District
The Academic Building of the Michigan Military Academy was built in 1890. It now holds many of the classrooms for St. Mary's Preparatory.
Michigan Military Academy is located in Michigan
Michigan Military Academy
Michigan Military Academy is located in the United States
Michigan Military Academy
LocationIndian Trail, Orchard Lake, Michigan
Coordinates42°35′38″N 83°21′28″W / 42.59389°N 83.35778°W / 42.59389; -83.35778Coordinates: 42°35′38″N 83°21′28″W / 42.59389°N 83.35778°W / 42.59389; -83.35778
Area15 acres (6.1 ha)
Architectural styleGothic, Tudor Revival, Queen Anne
NRHP reference No.82002859[1]
Added to NRHPMarch 19, 1982
Joseph Tarr Copeland

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 J. Sumner Rogers[2]and closed in 1908 due to bankruptcy. Some journalists have referred to the school as the Second West Point.[3] The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 as the Orchard Lake Schools Historic District.[1]

In 1919, three former alumni of the Michigan Military Academy formed a new institute in Grand Rapids, MI called the Western Michigan Military Academy. Initially a similar academic institution, WMMA eventually shifted to more government contracting during the early days of World War II to avoid a similar bankruptcy.

Early history and establishment[edit]

In 1858, Joseph Tarr Copeland (b. May 6, 1813), 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. J. Sumner Rogers, 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.

Peak years[edit]

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.[4]

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).[5] Some claim that he said: "There is many a boy here today who looks upon war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell"; however, the published text of Sherman's address does not contain that line.[6] (1)

Future City of Detroit Mayor, Cadet John C. Lodge, recorded his memories of the Sherman speech, "At one of our graduation exercises the speaker was General William T. Sherman. He was not eloquent, and he didn't have a very pleasant voice; it was somewhat shrill."[7]

Student life[edit]

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 siege mortar and Gatling guns at its disposal for military drills.[8] 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 in use. 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[edit]

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 undertaken by Rogers. Unable to pay off the huge sums of money owed for the new buildings, the academy quickly sank into debt. Added to this, during two days in December of the same year, students and teachers protested against mistreatment and unsatisfactory meals. Rogers, who was terminally ill at the time, quickly fired several teachers whom he blamed for instigating the complaints. Rogers died in September 1901 and management of the school was left to Rogers' widowed wife, and Rogers' friend Gen. Charles King, who assisted with disciplinary and militaristic duties. Enrollment declined sharply, and the academy was closed in 1908.

Notable faculty[edit]

Notable alumni[edit]

  • Daniel Read Anthony Jr., member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas's 1st congressional district, 1907 - 1929.
  • Sewell Avery who would become the Board Chairman of Montgomery Ward. He is most remembered for the famous photograph of him being carried by two uniformed Illinois National Guardsmen from his Montgomery Ward office onto Michigan Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.[13] The move was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt due to Avery's defiance of the National Recovery Act.
  • 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.[14]
  • 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.
  • Truman Handy Newberry, United States Senator from Michigan, 1919 – 1922.
  • George Veazey Strong, commander of the Military Intelligence Corps during World War II[15]

The Seminary and other schools[edit]

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.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  2. ^ Powell, William H. (1893). Officers of the Army and Navy (Volunteer) Who Served in the Civil War. Philadelphia, PA: L. A. Hamersly & Co. p. 112 – via HathiTrust.
  3. ^ Michigan Manual (1893-94), State of Michigan, p. 655
  4. ^ Bohnett, Brian J., Them Was the Days, Mad Kings Publishing, Holt, Michigan, 1993, page 56.
  5. ^ Miller, Duane Ernest, Adventures in Martial Education, Berlin Green Press, Lansing, Michigan, 1993, page 156.
  6. ^ Address of General W.T. Sherman, to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy, at Orchard Lake, June 19, 1879. http://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/003297466
  7. ^ John C. Lodge, I remember Detroit, Wayne University Press (Detroit), 1949, pp 28-29.
  8. ^ Miller, Duane Ernest, Adventures in Martial Education, Berlin Green Press, Lansing, Michigan, 1993, page 112.
  9. ^ Inc, ed.: Marquis Who's Who (1975). Who was who in American history, the military (76 bicentennial ed.). Chicago: Marquis Who's Who. p. 115. ISBN 0-8379-3201-7.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b Davis, Henry Blaine Jr. (1998). Generals in Khaki. Raleigh, NC: Pentland Press. pp. 314–315. ISBN 978-1-5719-7088-6.
  11. ^ Thayer, Bill (May 5, 2015). "Frederick Smith Strong in Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, Volumes III-VIII". Bill Thayer's Web Site. Chicago, IL: Bill Thayer. Retrieved June 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Major General Edwin B. Winans". Brigham Young University. Retrieved 2009-04-21.
  13. ^ In one of... -Sewell Avery, 1944 - chicagotribune.com
  14. ^ Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc
  15. ^ The Michigan Military Academy Archived 2006-09-03 at the Wayback Machine. Accessed on 2006-09-27.
  • Note (1): From Merrill, above. Some accounts of Sherman's speech do not mention that he said "war is hell", but many accounts note that a vague variation, like the one quoted, was spoken. The line as quoted more closely resembles Sherman's speech of August 11, 1880, at Columbus, Ohio; see Robert L. O'Connell, Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, p. 326.


  • Lodge, John Christian (1949). I Remember Detroit. Detroit: Wayne University Press. ISBN 0-7812-8581-X. OCLC 415215.
  • 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)

External links[edit]