School District 36 remembers its past as one-room schoolhouse holds its final classes
Along Grass Lake Road in Antioch stands a reminder of how school buildings once looked.
Walking inside this structure, constructed in 1900, one can imagine what has taken place there for five generations. Inside the 649-square-foot classroom, Grass Lake Elementary District 36 has taught hundreds, if not thousands, of elementary schoolchildren.
While the school district's main building serves most of the students today, the original schoolhouse still functions as a space where students learn. Today, 3- and 4-year-old children attend the district's half-day prekindergarten program.
"We believe it to be the only single, original, one-room schoolhouse that still has students being taught in it," Superintendent Terry O'Brien said. "Some of the buildings may still exist, but they might have been converted to office or things of that nature."
As the district plans to expand its main building -- it will feature various improvements, including allowing prekindergarten students to join the rest of the student body -- the era of students entering the one-room schoolhouse for class will come to a close after the 2016-17 school year.
The pre-K class will be housed in a temporary space in the main building because construction will block access to the one-room schoolhouse.
However, O'Brien is quick to add that the schoolhouse will not be torn down. Having that happen would take a toll on the community, he said.
"It is a staple in the Grass Lake community," he said. "It identifies very much with many of the community members, several of which are now grandparents that attended and now visit. There's a big class out there, and quite a few 3 year olds will grow up remembering that they had a class here."
O'Brien said stories are still shared of the students who attended the school years ago. One focuses on the fence surrounding the building, which students long ago would use to keep the animals -- such as rabbits and ducks -- they hunted and would later bring home for dinner.
Among the students was Trudy Petty, who attended from 1933 to 1941. Between 17 and 20 students made up the student body from first through eighth grade. It was the same school her father attended from first through sixth grade, and where he would later serve on the school board. Her mother also taught in that building from 1949 to 1951.
Petty later attended Lake Forest College, and she recalled her English teacher asked where she acquired such great knowledge of grammar and writing. She told the teacher: in a one-room schoolhouse in sixth grade.
"I wouldn't trade my elementary school years in a one-room schoolhouse," she said.
The first electric lights were installed in the building about 1921. Many additional improvements were brought about in ensuing years, including running water, washrooms and modern desks. Many improvements were the work of the Parent Teacher Association, and parties were held at various resorts to raise the money.
There was a time when the one-room schoolhouse was at risk of being condemned. Around 2003, O'Brien said, North Shore Church came to help save the building as part of Share Fest, an annual celebration where Antioch, Lake Villa and Lindenhurst churches work together to serve the community. As part of the restoration, residential air conditioning and furnace units were added and new windows were installed.
In 1942, the school district bought the land where it would construct its main building: 10 acres purchased for $3,000. Two rooms were built in the main school building, which opened in 1947. Additional expansions were made in 1955, 1970 and 1999.
To address the aging of school buildings, the district administration began discussions several years ago to construct an addition. Among the goals were replacing the 1947 section, providing a secure entrance for all students and moving the pre-K program into the main building. O'Brien said the project will add 11,792 square feet. The addition is expected to be completed in May 2018 and will open to students in the 2018-19 school year.
Linette Benes, who teaches the 3- and 4-year-old prekindergarten classes, said the coming change is bittersweet. While it will be wonderful to provide the students a new, updated space they will come into to learn and grow, to see this history-filled room change also will bring sadness.
"It's important to know history because it gives you a sense of who you are, a sense of community, a sense of belonging. It ties you to something," Benes said. "It's important to be tied to history, and it's going to be sad to see we're not making any more history in that building."
O'Brien said that while no specific use has been determined for the original school, this piece of Lake County history will remain a part of the community.
"This tiny little school has touched more people than I could have possibly imagined," he said.