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Moving A Childhood Memory
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Built in 1929 and proclaimed as the first Superior School in McHenry County IL, the English Prairie Schoolhouse was host to first through eighth grade students until 1962. For 33 years kids learned reading, writing and arithmetic. For 33 years kids laughed, played, cried and fought with each other. All within these walls of brick, brick, mortar, plaster and paint.

The story of this school is in the people who discovered life within its simple walls.

Tuesday, June 14th was a bright summer day. Only a small handful of people stood at the side of the road watching as workers prepared to move the 82 year old schoolhouse. A white-bearded man, eyes hidden behind the darkened lenses of his glasses, talked softly as he answered my question.

Workers Prepare To Move Schoolhouse

Workers Prepare To Move The Old English Prairie School

“I went to school here from 1946 to 1951. I graduated from 8th grade here.” Dick Cooper was watching as the 188 ton brick schoolhouse was being prepared to leave its first foundation. “We had one hell of a softball team. Boy we could take on any other school with no problem! Kids from other schools always hated taking on the Cooper boys.”

Dick’s sister, Elsie Martin was also on hand to watch her school head off to its new home. “All of us went to school here”, said Elsie. Elsie was number 10 of 12 kids in their family. Dick, her brother, was number five. “Nine boys, three girls. All of us attended here, but the two youngest didn’t graduate from here.”

Of childhood memories most fond, Elsie remembered the holiday parties. Different dads would take turns playing Santa. “As a kid, you knew, but you didn’t care because all your friends and family were there”, recalls Elsie. She also remembered the card parties where parents would set up tables downstairs and the kids would play Bunco upstairs.

Dick remembered the school as being a place of community, “Parents built the baseball field, backstop and put in the swings. We also had fund raisers for money for the school year, picnics, parties… It’s where a lot of us grew up.”

Former Students of the School

Former English Prairie School Students: Robert Richardson, Elsie Martin, Dick Cooper & George Richardson

Over the years Dick and Elsie’s parents, Anne and Ray Cooper, were very involved in the school. Anne served as the school secretary for a while and Ray was on the school board. As she looked on while the school left its lot and moved onto the road she commented that she still had ‘minute records’ from the PTA meetings that her mother kept.

For just over eight decades, the small brick building stood as the guardian of childhood memories on a small stretch of a narrow country road. Elsie, her voice shaking a little, asked the new owner if she could keep a brick from her old school. A former student of the English Prairie Schoolhouse himself, George Richardson, was only too quick to grant her request.

“It was just the right thing to do”, was the simple explanation George offered when asked why he’d gone to the expense of moving the old building. “I went from first to fourth grade here. It was such a part of our community, I couldn’t just watch it get torn down” said George.

Closed as a school in 1962 the building sat vacant for many years until it became a private residence. In fact, the old schoolhouse had been occupied by renters until the end of April, 2011. The land, now owned by Thelen Sand and Gravel is scheduled to be cultivated for resource materials. Rather than demolish the building, Thelen agreed to sell the building to the owners of the Richardson Farm for the hefty sum of $1.00.

The schoolhouse will have a new home on the Richardson Adventure Farm. However, George anticipates it will be at least two years before the building is renovated and made available to visitors. “I have no idea what it will be yet. It could become a restaurant, part of concessions, a gift shop, meeting space… I guess what we’ll use it for isn’t as important right now as just making sure it’s saved.”

School House on the Move

The Old Schoolhouse on its way to a new home on the Richardson Adventure Farm

This is a small brick building. Not really much to look at. But it really isn’t the building itself that the Richardson’s are saving.

What they’re saving are the childhood memories, the feelings of love, safety, and community warmth. By moving the schoolhouse just a quarter mile down the road the Richardson’s are saving a tiny piece of northern Illinois history that has very personal meaning to them, their friends and neighbors. As George said, it’s just the right thing to do.

© Peter Gault/Topical Content 2011 All Rights Reserved

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