FREEPORT -- Back in the 1890s, the ringing of the school bell was a common way for rural areas to announce the start of the school day.
While those days are long gone, students who visit the Millerburg Schoolhouse can ring the bell and experience what it may have been like to attend a one-room school, thanks to a major fundraising effort to restore the school.
The schoolhouse was moved in 1973 to the Stephenson County Historical Museum grounds. Built in 1892, it once stood at the intersection of West Stephenson Street and Van Brocklin Road. It began to crumble over the years, making it unsafe for visitors.
Restoration began in May 2012. The structure was moved about 25 feet to the east so a basement, air conditioning and heating could be added.
The schoolhouse opens June 20 to the public for the first time.
The project cost $180,000: a $70,000 grant from the Department of Natural Resources' Museum Capital Grant Program, $30,000 from fundraising, $31,000 from the Freeport Park District and $49,000 from the historical museum.
"We could have built three new ones for what this cost us for the restoration, but the idea was to preserve the original," said Ed Finch, executive director of the Stephenson County Historical Society. "It is now a fully functional schoolhouse for year-round use by schools and small groups."
Within its walls, hundreds of children received their elementary education at this schoolhouse. It has been a favorite place to visit on school trips to the museum. The classroom is representative of a typical classroom in the 1920s.
"We took the existing structure, created a basement and added heating and air conditioning," Finch said.
"This building is going to be saved for 50 to 100 years for people to know what life used to be at a one-room schoolhouse."