One-room schoolhouses dotted the landscape of 19th century Lake County. By 1861, there were 70 of them, including the Avon Center School (District 47) in Avon Township.
Avon Center School was located in today's Grayslake, east of Route 83 at Shore Wood Road and Drury Lane. The school was built about 1841. The exact date is unknown, because the school’s records were destroyed in a fire in 1886 when Leonard Doolittle’s house burned down. Doolittle, who was the school treasurer, attempted to rescue the school documents from his house, but was overcome by smoke and died in the blaze.
This is the first page from the Avon Township Board of School Trustees's new ledger book, after the school's treasurer and records were lost in a fire. The first act of business on April 5, 1886, as shown on this page, was to "settle with the Administrators of L. Doolittle former Treasurer as follows to wit money in his hand..." and to appoint Emory Adams as the new treasurer. This ledger from the museum's collection dates from 1886 - 1951. The records lost more than likely dated from 1841.
The first school was a log building, 16 x 14 feet. The teachers were Tom Whitmore and Miss Cook, who was called “Little Miss Cook” for her short stature. Apparently, her feet could not reach the floor when she sat on a chair. The log cabin school was in use from circa 1841 to 1850.
The drawing was made by Gunnor Petersen for the Avon Center School History compiled in 1918 by its scholars in celebration of Illinois' centennial. (LCDM 2003.3)
Students from the log cabin school period (c 1841 - 1850) had contact with Native Americans who camped under a locust tree north of the schoolhouse. Despite relinquishing their land to the U.S. Government in the Treaty of Chicago in 1833, Native Americans continued to pass through Lake County for many years, returning to ancestral burial grounds. The students noted that the visitors carried a large quantity of dried meat and corn, and had a great many dogs and ponies. The Native Americans also continued to plant corn on islands on nearby lakes.
In 1850, a new school was built for its 70 students, and the log cabin structure became a blacksmith shop. The second schoolhouse was a frame structure about 20 x 30 feet. Teacher, Frances Simens (later Mrs. F.C. Doolittle) provided a globe and a map for study purposes.
The first frame schoolhouse (above) in later years when it was the residence of A. Petersen.
The third Avon Center School was built about 1887. This building was 36 x 25 feet with a brick foundation, and a wooden flagpole out front. Photo of school and students taken circa 1916.
The 1887-built school was remodeled about 1916. The school was raised and a cement block basement put under it for a furnace room and "play" room. The wooden flagpole was replaced with galvinized pipe. Larger windows were added and the porch enclosed. Photo of the improved school and its students taken in 1918.
Interior of the remodeled school, 1918.
In 1950, a two-room brick building was constructed for Avon Center School on Route 83 in Round Lake Beach. The following year, the framed schoolhouse was put up for bid. It sold for $6,700 and became a family residence.
The new brick building marked the end of Avon Center School's one-room school history. In 1988, the school merged with Grayslake District 46, putting an end entirely to Avon Center School.
In 1918, the school's history was compiled by several of its' scholars—Walter Parker, Leo Sheldon, Maybelle Sheldon, Della Bacigalupo, and Bertha Doolittle.
Shown in the photograph (left) are Askel and Gunnor Petersen, holding a kitty and puppy. Gunnor did the fantastic drawings shared in this blog. Many more of his drawings are included in the school history, along with more photographs and information about the school and environs.
I am grateful to the wisdom of school officials in 1918 who created the project to "chronicle" area history from "original sources." The museum holds 52 Lake County school histories, 18 of which have been digitized with grant funding and made available online at the Illinois Digital Archives. Though they are referred to as "school histories" they also document early settlers, businesses and town histories, and often share rare photographs and anecdotes, as seen in Avon Center School's history.
The Avon Center School History can be seen in its entirety online at the Illinois Digital Archives. The museum's online collections recently moved to the IDA, and are accessible on the site's Digital Past link.