Skyline Council Works To Restore Pre-Civil War Schoolhouse in Campton Hills

Skyline Council Works To Restore Pre-Civil War Schoolhouse in Campton Hills

A Chicago-based volunteer group comprised of architecture and engineering, historic preservation, non-profit management, arts, and marketing professionals is working to restore a pre-Civil War, one-room schoolhouse in Campton Hills.

The Skyline Council, the young and emerging professionals committee of the statewide historic preservation nonprofit Landmarks Illinois, is collaborating with local and state officials to preserve the Whitney Schoolhouse and move it to a new, secure location where it can once again serve the community. To help fund the project, the Skyline Council will also be applying for a grant through Kane County’s Grand Victoria Riverboat Fund this winter.

The Whitney Schoolhouse, operated from 1852 to 1906 as one of three country schools later consolidated into Wasco Elementary School, in turn becoming part of the St. Charles School District in 1950. The schoolhouse was converted to a residence as early as the mid-1930s and served as such until it was vacated in the 1980s. The simple, one-story frame building designed in the Greek Revival-style, is the second-oldest intact one-room schoolhouse in Northeastern Illinois and the oldest existing such structure in Kane County.

(CREDIT: Skyline Council)

Landmarks Illinois’ Skyline Council became familiar with the site through the 2012 Town Center and Wasco Study Area Plan for the village of Campton Hills, in which a conceptual town center development was proposed in historic downtown Wasco and the open agricultural lands along Burlington and Wasco Roads. As part of the process, the community identified the Whitney Schoolhouse as the only historic resource needing future preservation.

In the spring of 2015, understanding the local and regional significance of the schoolhouse and its state of disrepair, Skyline Council embarked on a long-term service project to help plan for the preservation and rehabilitation of the schoolhouse for a new public use.

The schoolhouse is located on privately owned land and is presently for sale. The owners hope to see the historic resource relocated before the property is sold.

Thus far, the schoolhouse has benefited from more than $43,000 in-kind donations leveraged through the Skyline Council, including volunteer cleanups, which removed interior and site debris and secured window and door openings, material donations, and the preparation of a historic structure report, National Register of Historic Places preliminary determination of eligibility and local landmark nomination.

(CREDIT: Skyline Council)

The Skyline Council also prepared a relocation and reuse site study for Whitney Schoolhouse in September 2017. The study identified Gray Willows — 208-acres of open space in Campton Township with rolling meadows, woodlands, oak savannas and Ferson Creek — as the most suitable new location. Skyline Council identified Campton Township as a new potential owner and future steward of the Whitney Schoolhouse based on its commitment to preservation and conservation, as evident in its rehabilitation of Campton Town Hall and Wasco Train Depot, and Open Spaces Program.

Moving historic buildings can jeopardize historic significance and eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places, but the Gray Willows site would allow Whitney Schoolhouse to retain a setting and context as close as possible to the original and has been approved by the State Historic Preservation Office.

Presently, Campton Township is in the process of preparing a Master Plan for Gray Willows with a focus on environmental education. The existing program at Gray Willows includes the restoration of the Monarch Corridor and native wetlands, Wheaton College Living Laboratory classes, native oak propagation and Boy Scouts of America campgrounds. The Whitney Schoolhouse is well suited for an environmental education center and has smaller programming space to support future programming.

There are challenges to preserving the Whitney Schoolhouse, however. On Oct. 26, 2017, a fire destroyed the historic barn on the property, causing $100,000 in damage and raising questions about the schoolhouse’s safety from vandalism or arson. Total costs to move and rehabilitate the building approach $153,000, with roughly $43,000 to come from donations through the Skyline Council.

The Skyline Council’s next step will be applying for a grant from the Grand Victoria Riverboat Fund in early 2018 with hopes to prepare the Gray Willows site and relocate the structure by the beginning of 2019.

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SOURCE: Skyline Council