Barnum Fireplace

View of Barnum School Library Fireplace before its deconstruction in 2007. (Photo: Birmingham Historical Museum)

Did you attend the Barnum School in Birmingham before it was demolished in 2007?  Do you recall the beautiful storybook tile fireplace that was in the Barnum School Library? 

If so, the Birmingham Historical Museum & Park wants your memories…but more about that later. 

The Barnum fireplace was very cool.  It had raised line designs of Mother Goose rhymes, storybook characters, and fanciful zoo animals.  It was composed of rare tile created and manufactured in Michigan by the Flint Faience & Tile Company.  The company was a wholly owned subsidiary of AC Sparkplug and General Motors and only operated from 1921-1933. 

The tile was used in hotels, churches, civic buildings and private residences in Flint, Detroit, Chicago, and New York.   Elementary schools of the period sometimes used such tiles to appeal to young children, especially kindergarteners.  A fireplace might be built as the centerpiece of a school library or reading area, evoking warmth and home at story time. 

Barnum fireplace CU

Detail of "Crooked Man" story tile group on the Barnum School Library Fireplace (photo: Birmingham Historical Museum)

Because of its short production period and handmade qualities, Flint Faience is an uncommon but highly prized art tile.  Little of it survives.    That’s why the fireplace was carefully deconstructed when the building was demolished in 2007 and saved for later restoration. 

Now, zoom forward four years and it’s time for the Birmingham Historical Museum & Park to give the fireplace a new home.  They to use the Barnum fireplace in a permanent exhibit in the Allen House, and is looking into potential funding needed to bring it out of storage.  This will make it possible for the public to see and appreciate this special part of Birmingham’s school history, and for the museum to hold programs and events that help keep the Barnum fireplace story alive.

But to make the fireplace story come to life, they need your memories.  The Museum is looking for stories, traditions, and recollections about the Barnum School and its lovely Storybook Tile Fireplace.   The museum is seeking stories and traditions associated with the Barnum school and its fireplace to add to our understanding of it.  Did you attend Barnum?  What do you remember about the fireplace?   Are you aware of any interesting stories or people that involve the fireplace?  If you have any memories to share, please call the museum at 248-530-1928 or email us at

The Birmingham Historical Museum & Park is open Wed-Sat. from 1 pm-4 pm.  General admission is $5; students and seniors, $3; and children and members of the Friends of the Birmingham Historical Museum & Park are free.  The museum is located at 556 W. Maple, Birmingham, Michigan at the intersection of Maple (15 Mile Rd) and Southfield.  
Thanks to Leslie Pielack, Museum Director for the Birmingham Historical Museum & Park, for sharing this very cool story.  Hopefully, it will spark many warm memories!

Puns intended…but I couldn’t resist.



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