With Lake in the Hills just coming into being in the early 1920s schoolchildren would grab their pail lunches packed with bread and homemade butter from the farm and start their walk to school. Boys would bring water to the one-room Ford schoolhouse to use for the day. Others would start the fire and the whole building quickly warmed up for class. One teacher shared lessons with 26 children, grades first through eight, all in one room.
It's hard to believe less than 100 years ago this was reality, but the memories were more vivid than ever for Eunice Andreas and her brother Albert Ebel Friday afternoon in Lake in the Hills. They watched intently as their old school was hoisted off its foundation, placed on a truck and driven back to its original location four blocks east on Algonquin Road, where it will be converted into a museum.
Wide-eyed and amazed, the two were flooded with memories of their days at the school they both graduated from in the late 1920s.
The Lake in the Hills Historical Society, led by Bob and Arden Spooner, started planning in May 2011 to move this 20- by 36-foot, 22-ton building, built in 1886. After it was doing being used as a school, a farmer moved it in 1945 to be used as a house for his workers.
Every rotation of a tire had to be planned to make this monstrous move complete. Hundreds of people walked with the house and watched as it was put back where it belongs.
Police started setting up a lane early Friday and stopped traffic when the house was moving. Traffic on Algonquin Road was back up from Route 31 to past Randall Road. A skid steer loader was hooked up to the back of the trailer, where the house sat, to make sure the truck didn't roll too fast downhill. Two men were hoisted up the telephone poles and lifted the wires to allow the house to pass through. Three trees were cut down to make it easier for the house to be moved in through the back of its original lot.
After the truck was unhitched from the trailer, workers put down tracks so the house could be dragged up a hill to its new home by a cable. Workers crouched underneath the trailer and turned each wheel and jack individually to inch the house exactly where it was supposed to go.
Eunice was enthralled by the process. She saw it on both ends. "Everything has to be very precise," she said.
Back in the day
Albert, 94, Eunice, 98, and her son Duane Andreas, 78, each had a different experience of when the school was running. "Fine memories walking to school together," Eunice said.
And just like that, people flocked to listen. The park at the top of their farm's hill, Highpoint Park, was a common place for the children to visit. Duane and Albert said the park should really be named Ebel Park for the historical land it's on and how involved the Ebels stayed with the school systems throughout the years.
Eunice graduated eighth grade in 1927, the sixth child in her family, and ended up marrying the school's last teacher. He was there until it closed in 1939 with the advent of multiple classroom schools.
Duane said his dad, the schoolteacher, would take him to Ford School when he was just 4 or 5 so he could see what it was like. At the time, there were only eight kids and it was OK to have a little kid watching them.
"It's so different now," he said. Back then, students would listen to the lesson of each grade, and become exposed to higher learning at younger ages, Duane said. "People, they helped each other," he said. It was a nicer time then, there was no need to compete for the highest grade, or the best classroom scores, he said. The children helped each other succeed.
Eunice was proud of her spelling skills then. She had 100 perfect spelling lessons. "First time they had a spelling bee in McHenry, I won the first time," she said.
Albert joked about playing hooky and swimming instead. It was just kids being kids. "You were allowed to raise a little hell, people would look the other way," Duane noted. "Everyone (now) is so afraid of getting in trouble."
The three reminisced as the schoolhouse moved closer to its home.
From past to future
Arden Spooner said they've raised just less than 75 percent of the money needed to complete this dream and it was all done through donations.
This move meant a lot to the community and it will continue to as the renovations become more concrete. The Lake in the Hills Historical Society wants to make everything the way it was when it was first built, Arden said. A kitchen and a bathroom were added when it became a worker's bunkhouse in 1945. The society plans to remove the extra rooms and open the building as a museum in a few years.
Serendipity was definitely on the society's side when the plans were being made.
In November, retired carpenter Bruce Becker and his wife, Barb, who live across the road from the schoolhouse's new home, noticed people surveying the empty lot. Barb was curious and asked what was up. When they met Arden it was a perfect fit. Bruce had the skills and time on his hands to help with the project, Arden said.
"He just loves this stuff," Barb said about her husband. "We've been here 26 years, and this is the most we've seen of all of our neighbors. So that's great, too."