District 73 marks 100 years since its formation from union of three country schools

About a century ago, long before there was a Vernon Hills, three one-room schools combined to create Hawthorn Elementary District 73.

By late 1924, a new, four-room brick school opened at what is now Route 60 (Townline Road) and Aspen Drive. The land was donated by utility magnate and first ComEd President Samuel Insull, and construction was financed by a $20,000 bond issue. The school opened with an enrollment of 65 students.

According to accounts at the time, about 250 people, including Insull and state school Superintendent Francis G. Blair, attended the dedication. It was described as “the best elementary school in the state” and was presented with a superior elementary school certificate.

Additions were made over the years as the area grew and other school buildings were constructed in District 73. But the original school remained in use for about 80 years until being razed and replaced by the modern, four-story Townline school.

The district has been celebrating its centennial all year with activities including having students fill time capsules and posting the videos on Facebook. The last time capsules are scheduled to be created today at middle schools North and South.

“The (school) board would've loved to see time capsules from 100 years ago to get a glimpse of what they valued and how their time was spent at school,” President Robin Cleek said.

On Wednesday, students are encouraged to dress like they're 100 years old in recognition of the district's history.

Tiny snapshots of all students in the district have been incorporated into a mural in the shape of the school logo and displayed in each school building to mark “100 years of learning.”

And for the first time in its long history, the district's mascot has a name.

“We just called him the Hawthorn Eagle, and now it's Sam” as in Insull, said Samantha Cook, communications specialist.

With campuses north and south of Townline Road, an enrollment of more than 3,725 students and a $48.7 million program to build a kindergarten center and expand or renovate seven buildings in progress, operations would be unrecognizable today to district pioneers.

Cleek said it's hard to know what the original Hawthorn community envisioned but figures the district has grown and changed in ways they probably didn't imagine.

“From the growth and development of physical space to the use of 1:1 devices, students today have a very different K-8 experience than they did 100 years ago,” she said.

“Even from my own experience as a student of Hawthorn in the 1980s, the change has been remarkable,” she added.

According to the District 73 website, Hawthorn had its origins as a country school on land donated by John Locke, Libertyville's first village president.

According to an article by Jenny Barry, local history librarian at Cook Memorial Library District, Insull came to the U.S. from England in 1881 as Thomas Edison's private secretary.

He was made vice president of Edison General Electric in 1889. A few years later he was sent to Chicago to head two electric generating companies. In 1907, the two merged to become ComEd with Insull as president.

Insull began buying farms south of Libertyville, eventually amassing 4,000 acres and naming it Hawthorn Farm, according to Barry.

Insull became known for the Italianate mansion completed in 1916 that later was sold to the Cuneo family, but the old Locke School also was among the acquisitions.

When that school became unusable, Insull built a one-room school nearby with an outdoor toilet and pump for water, according to District 73 history. Most of the students were from families that worked in the estate's fields.

Insull took great interest in the school, according to Barry, and every day had fresh flowers delivered from the farm gardens. In 1918, the building was remodeled for about $6,000 and by 1919 became the first school in Lake County to achieve the state rank of Superior School.

In late 1923, the Butterfield (on what is now Allanson Road in Mundelein), Coon (Route 45 in what became Vernon Hills) and Hawthorn schools consolidated into Hawthorn Community Consolidated School District 73 U, one of the oldest in the state, according to the district.

Vernon Hills' population grew from 124 in 1960 to 9,827 in 1980. The district rented space for fifth- and sixth-graders until the first junior high, now known as Middle School North opened in 1975, marking the start of the existing multibuilding campus.

Hawthorn District 73 students put items into a time capsule as part of the district's centennial celebration. Courtesy of Hawthorn Elementary District 73
A classroom scene at Hawthorn School dedicated in 1924 at what is now Townline Road and Aspen Drive. Courtesy of Hawthorn Elementary District 73
Aerial view of completed construction at Hawthorn Elementary South in Vernon Hills. The project included an addition off the existing wing on the northwest corner of the building for a new band room, offices, practice and storage rooms. Courtesy of Hawthorn Elementary District 73
An old newspaper article showing a proposed addition to Hawthorn Grade School on Townline Road and Route 60. With additions, the building housed students for about 80 years. Courtesy of Hawthorn District 73
  A backhoe sits on a pile of rubble that used to be the original Hawthorn School in Vernon Hills as it continues to take down the years of additions to the facility. John Starks/, 2004
A vintage image of a school dance at Hawthorn School in Vernon Hills. Courtesy of Hawthorn District 73
Hawthorn District 73 students dress up for 100 days of school event. Students again are encouraged to dress up Wednesday as part of the district's centennial celebration. Courtesy of Hawthorn District 73
Original Samuel Insull one-room schoolhouse west of Milwaukee Avenue Courtesy of hawthorn District 73
Hawthorn District 73's Middle School North held an International Fair where students created displays and made food from various cultures at the Vernon Hills school. Daily Herald file, 2009
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