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Western Springs’ First School… Now a Home

140 years ago, long before Western Springs became a village, a one-room school house was built at Grand Avenue and Chestnut. And it still exists today.

In the early 1870’s, land developers were trying to entice people to buy residential lots in an unincorporated place called Western Springs. While the town was located on the Burlington railroad, it didn’t have a village government, police force, fire department, water system, paved roads, or a school.

Most of those improvements would have to wait a while. But the developers decided that, if they were going to attract new families, they had to build a school house. So, even without the help of a school district, a new school was built at a cost of $2,200 and opened on October 1, 1872. It was located on Chestnut, between Lawn and Grand.  

According to records at the Western Springs Historical Society, the first floor of the building served as a one-room, one-teacher school house. The second floor provided space for public gatherings and church meetings. Although the building was heated by three stoves, one account indicated that the school children had to wear coats at their desks on the coldest winter days.

In 1880, the village was still not incorporated … that wouldn’t happen until 1886. However, during that year, the population reached 172 residents, with the prospect of many more. As a result, the decision was made to construct a larger school. And, in 1885 the former building made way for a much larger Grand Avenue School, which was located on the same site. See second photo.

But, what happened to the old school?  It was moved several blocks to a new site, which was a common practice during that era. Unfortunately, there are no known photos of the actual move. However, the old school would have been jacked up onto solid wood timbers, placed on heavy wagon wheels, and then pulled by horse teams to its present site at 4028 Wolf Road.

Once there, the former school was transformed into an attractive “four square” private residence. Side bay windows were added to what became a living room and a dining room. Later, an enclosed back porch was added, which eventually became part of the kitchen. Modern amenities, including central heat, were also added.

Like the first school, Grand Avenue also went through many changes and eventually served a new purpose. In 1985, it was sold by the school district to the Village and began serving as the Grand Avenue Community Center. See third photo.

While both of these buildings’ roles have changed over the past 140 years, both serve as a constant reminder of just how well built these early structures really were!

Laura Sakas April 24, 2012 at 07:15 PM
Thanks for another great story. I live across the street from the home and had no idea of its' history!
John Devona April 24, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Yep, I'm over at 40th & Howard and drive by it every day. I often wish we had photos of it from the days when it was a school.

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