The east side of Detroit expanded rapidly in the early 1900's, as the auto industry built factories along the Mt. Elliot Street. In early 1905, the Detroit Public Schools started laying out plans for a school to serve the neighborhood surrounding the Packard plant. At a meeting in May, residents and school officials chose a site on Ferry Avenue between Canton and Concord, and proposed naming the school for Emma A. Thomas, who had supervised the district's music program until her death a few months prior. Construction on the school started in the fall and continued through spring and summer of 1906.
Emma A. Thomas school opened in September of 1906, one of seven new schools built that year. Like other schools of the time, Thomas was a K-8 grade school, though it was changed over to an elementary school in later years. Unfortunately, that is where the early details of Thomas school dry up. It was vacant by 1977, and became part of the Motor City Industrial Park, located in the former Packard plant. Several businesses were operated out of the school during this time, but again, there are few details.
In 1997, the city of Detroit tried to seize the Packard property for non-payment of taxes. The owner of the plant, Dominic Cristini, refused to be evicted and started a sit-in at the administration building on Grand Boulevard in 1998. By 2000 he had moved into Thomas Elementary, which he converted into a home and workspace from where he waged his legal battles with the city. After years of financial and personal problems, Cristini started using drugs heavily, holding large parties and raves inside the school. A sting operation in 2004 caught him dealing large quantities of ecstasy out of the school, and he was sentenced to 70 months in prison in 2006.
On November 25th, 2009, Thomas School burned in a three alarm fire destroying most of the top floor and roof. As with the rest of the Packard plant, the school was ripped apart by scrappers and the elements, with the contents of the building spilling out into the yard around it. Another fire in 2012 burned what was left of the school, as well as two houses next door. On July 1st, 2013, Thomas school was demolished.