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Article posted: 2/19/2010 12:01 AM

The rise and fall of a country school

Helberg School was built in 1890 on almost the same site at the Lindbergh School. The school was destroyed by fire in 1929.

Helberg School was built in 1890 on almost the same site at the Lindbergh School. The school was destroyed by fire in 1929.

 

Courtesy John Russell Ghrist

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By Jerry Turnquist

"The purpose of this book was to organize, collect, and document all of the available information about the school and the immediate area for future reference," says historian John Russell Ghrist of his recent book, the "Lindbergh School Compilation."

Filled with photos, maps, and other documents, the two-volume publication details both the history of the school and its predecessors - located just to the east of Elgin on Shoe Factory Road - as well as its eventual fall to developers in 2007.

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Some of the very first schools to appear in the area were in the early 1860s, notes Ghrist, who became interested in the school after passing it numerous times on his way to work. They were small enough that they could be moved to multiple locations where a large group of students lived. The loss of records in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 makes locating early Cook County Schools like this more difficult, Ghrist says.

In 1890, the "Little Brick School," a predecessor to the Lindbergh School, was built on the south side of Shoe Factory Road just east of Berner Road. Known also as the "Helberg School," for families that lived nearby, the structure burned down in April of 1929 - probably as a result of a furnace malfunction.

Students were then housed at a nearby garage until a new building was completed. On Sept. 5, 1929, officials of District 41 - a one room school district - dedicated the Lindbergh School, named in honor of Charles A. Lindbergh who had flown solo across the Atlantic Ocean two years earlier. The building was situated approximately on the same spot as the previous school.

The new building was set apart from others by its "Try-Ply" construction - a style popularized in Missouri, explains Ghrist. Built by an Elgin company specializing in this design, the fieldstone was quarried in South Elgin, and left on the ground at the construction site to cure. All four walls were then secured at the corners, hoisted together, and then scoured to give the exterior its unique appearance. Nelson Grove School in Batavia, which is now a residence, was similar in design, Ghrist adds.

Shorty after the building was dedicated, the students did what those from the previous school had done when they wrote their names, age, and grade on a slip of paper and buried it on the school grounds. The bottle was unearthed decades later when the school was brought by a private owner, Ghrist says.

As part of his research Ghrist interviewed a number of former students who shared many fond memories. "Olly, Olly, Oxen Free" or "kick the can," and baseball were some of the games recalled with fondness by one student.

"Children were able to learn quickly because when they finished their lessons they could sit and listen to what was being taught to other students," recalled one alumnus who felt her one-room schoolhouse education was preferable to switching classes later in her school career.

"The Lindbergh building was more than a school," says Ghrist. "Lindbergh was indeed the hub of the area. Not only did students from all ages attend, but other noteworthy community functions and celebrations and meetings took place in the building and on adjacent grounds."

"Women's groups used the building, reunions were held there, and outside events such as ball games were played in the pasture. It was the cultural center of the area."

Lindbergh School - or all of District 41 - was absorbed into Elgin Area School District U-46 in 1948 as part of a post-World War II statewide consolidation move to eliminate many of the smaller districts. At the time, the school only had about 12 to 15 students. The building saw a trail of renters, but managed to survive in the years ahead, notes Ghrist.

When Ghrist recognized developers had set their sights on the area, he led an exhaustive effort to save the building. Chronicled in his book, which he describes as "opinionated," is his record of attending meetings, researching, searching for alumni, combating vandalism on the property, and writing elected officials and the media - all to save the building.

"Too bad the leaders of our changing communities could not appreciate and preserve this tiny setting," Ghrist says. "Had this school been located in a different little town, the building would still be standing and restored."

Ghrist's extensive research also details more than two dozen other small area school houses, most of which have also fallen over the years. Remaining, however, is Woodside School, District 45, that was moved from Golf Road east of Rohrssen Road to Chicago Street east of Shales Parkway in Elgin.

Still in its original condition is Hoosier Grove School of District 43 1/2 which was relocated from Barrington and old Church Roads to the Streamwood's Park District's Hoosier Grove Park on Route 19.

The legacy of Lindbergh School lives on in Fox Elementary School in Hanover Park, named after Anne M. Fox who taught for many years at Lindbergh School and adjacent Schaumburg Township. And, of course, Ghrist's book - of which there are copies at Schaumburg Public Library, the Gail Borden Public Library, and the Elgin Area Historical Society - is a historical record unmatched by most other rural school houses.

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