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Friday, September 12, 2008

Swan School

Community histories often include a section on the local school, but schools are rarely researched in and of themselves. One reason may be that school is so much a part of the infrastructure of our lives that it is overlooked in the grander scheme of things.

Many of us are quite sentimental for our school days; going to class reunions or meeting with former classmates over a cup of coffee to regale hilarious and sometimes embarrassing moments from the past.

In light of this curiosity, and to promote more interest in the history of schools, I've decided to regularly feature a school in my posts. One of the more substantial collections at the Lake County Discovery Museum's Archives (now the Bess Bower Dunn Museum of Lake County) is the School Collection. It includes histories for 52 one-room schools, photographs, and board of directors' ledgers for a number of schools.

To start, I've chosen the Swan School in Fremont Township for its somewhat central location.

The Swan School, once located at the southeast corner of Route 83 and Peterson Road, was named for Deacon Swan who donated the land for the school. The naming of schools was often handled in this way.
Swan School, circa 1900. Dunn Museum 81.21
As families settled newly opened regions of the country, the first building constructed after a home was a neighborhood school. The first school lessons taught in Lake County were in the home of Laura Sprague (1815-1899) in Half Day in 1836. Laura Sprague School in Vernon Township is named in her memory. The following year, the first proper schoolhouse was built in Libertyville.

The original Swan School was erected in 1856. By 1861, there were 70 one-room schoolhouses throughout Lake County.

Schools were central to each community. They were often used for church services, since schools were built before churches. Meetings and social gatherings such as dances and spelling bees were also held at the schools.
Miss Josephine Kische (later Ullrich) with her scholars in front of the Swan School's new brick schoolhouse, 1926. 
Dunn Museum 81.21

As listed on the back of the photo from left to right: Top row -- "Orphan" from Chicago who lived with a local farmer, Miss Kische, Ethel Meyer. Second row -- Dorothy Radke, Vernon Willard, Mary Fincutter, Anna Fincutter, Edward Fincutter, Jack Zahnle, Margaret Fincutter, Cecelia Grosser, ?? Willard, ?? Willard, Marge Sorenson (later Obenauf). First row -- Helen Radke, Helen Sorenson, Fiester boy, Fiester boy, Willard boy, Willard boy, Billy Meyer, Virginia ??, Fiester girl, Titus girl, Louis Meyer, Virginia Wirtz, Titus girl, Titus girl.

Swan School students, 1953. Dunn Museum 93.6.14
This above 1953 photograph of unidentified Swan School students retains much of the rural, farming atmosphere of earlier class photos. There's even a touch of mischief in their broad smiles.

Swan School lintel, circa 1926. Dunn  Museum. 95.6.2

In 1995, the Swan School was razed. Intersection improvements made it necessary for the school to be moved. The County of Lake tried unsuccessfully to find a buyer. 

For a selection of the Museum’s one-room school histories available online click here.

- Diana Dretske, Curator


Anonymous said...

You might be interested to know that in the 1953 picture the teacher there is Margaret Obenauf, probably Margaret Sorenson in the 1926 photo. I was a 2nd grade student there in the 53-54 school year.

Aleata said...

So nice. Mrs Obenauf was my school teacher when I attended a few of the one-room school houses before they became consolidated schools. Fremont Consolidated School dist when I was 1/2 way through 3rd grade. I even have my report cards. She was actually my 1st grade teacher in about 1955. I went to Swan, Murray and one other. At Swan School Miss Lyons was my teacher. I loved going to school where we had a cloak room and especially loved recess. There was an art class that I remember drawing the grove of trees south of Swan School right at Winchester Rd and 83. That grove of trees (oaks) still stands these many years ago.

Cathy Sheehan said...

My Gould ancestor donated a school in about the same area. This picture really looks like Gould School. Do you have any info on the Gould School. It took us over a year to find it.

Diana Dretske said...

Hello Cathy,

We have a Gould School history written by students in 1918 in our archives. It's available online:

The Gould School is a similar style to the Swan School, but Gould has a roof overhang over the front entrance and porch.

Please email me if you need further assistance:

Thanks for reading!


Dave S. said...

Several of the names listed in this article, and listing the children in the photo, are buried in the Ivanhoe Cemetery on route 176, immediately west to Ivanhoe Congregational Church. I’ve been cleaning some of the older grave stones; there are several Swans buried there. Other prominent names in Fremont and Liberty Township history are Wirtz, Gould, and Hurlbutt. There are several Civil War veterans, including a Confederate soldier.

Diana Dretske said...

Dave S.,

Ivanhoe Cemetery is also one of my favorite local cemeteries. So much history there, including the Joice Family.

Thanks for commenting.

Diana Dretske