- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Tim Wagner, public relations and content strategist for the Fox Valley Park District. All photos are courtesy of the Fox Valley Park District.
Most of the littles walked every morning to get to it, some a mile or two. Definitely through “two feet of snow” at times, though maybe not “uphill both ways,” like our grandparents used to regale. But the majority of young kids walked.
The older boys sometimes arrived there on horseback, a younger sibling often attached by squeezed arms around the waist.
And the fewest of the lot – those from families with greater means or thanks to “advancements” when the century changed from 19th to 20th – enjoyed the comforts of a horse-drawn buggy, riding shotgun alongside Dad.
Different modes of transportation to be sure, but they all got there.
Or, more specifically, the one-room schoolhouse located up or down the dirt road, on the outskirts of town, or simply on the patch of land handpicked by local farmers who pooled their resources to build a place of learning for their own children and others who lived on farms nearby.
According to Debra Corwin, director at Preservation Partners of the Fox Valley, 135 one-room schoolhouses dotted the Kane County landscape into the 1940s until 1947 when the county consolidated its schools because “buses were available, transportation was much better,” Corwin said. “In other words, you didn’t have to walk.”
The Mystery of the Little Red Schoolhouse
One of those early schoolhouses stood on Aurora’s west side at what is now the southeast corner of Galena Boulevard and Edgelawn Drive, a block east of West Aurora Plaza. The plat of land has been home to Edgelawn West Condominiums for years.
The schoolhouse was built in 1882 and known by several names – Red Brick Schoolhouse, The Country School, Little Red Schoolhouse. Depends whose memories you read, for a definitive record of the property remains elusive.
Like most others in Kane County, however, it closed as a school in the 1940s, when many of its students “transferred” to West Aurora School District’s Freeman Elementary, about a quarter mile southeast.
It’s unclear what the red, brick building surrounded by mature oaks and maples was used for prior to its demolition around 1968.
“My recollection is it had been abandoned as a schoolhouse, and I just remember an old car being parked outside,” said Neal Ormond, a lifelong Aurora resident and West Aurora schools historian whose childhood memories stretch to the mid-40s. “I thought someone might have lived there as a resident.”
The Replica at Blackberry Farm
Despite a few gaps in the historical timeline, the schoolhouse and its no-frills display of simpler times remains in session – in replica form at the Fox Valley Park District’s Blackberry Farm in Aurora.
When Blackberry (known as Pioneer Park until the ’80s) was built in 1969, not long after the original schoolhouse’s demise, park district officials acted in the name of preservation and installed the replica, complete with the original’s ceiling panels and light fixtures.
Absent of touchscreens and tech labs, Blackberry’s one-room schoolhouse continues to stand the test of time, delivering the simplicities of early 20th century childhood through the lens of an ordinary school day.
“It’s one of the most popular attractions here,” says Laureen Baumgartner, recreation supervisor at Blackberry Farm. “The only way it’s not the first stop is if guests have little ones and they have to go ride the train first. Then they double back to the schoolhouse afterward.”
The one-room schoolhouse is open to park visitors during normal hours, but staff shines a spotlight on it during themed events, such as “Laura Ingalls Wilder Day” and “Tea with the Lincolns” – re-enactments of life on the frontier.
One-Room Experiences — At Blackberry Farm And LeRoy Oakes
Baumgartner often dresses the part of the teacher and plays one in an interpretive role.
“There were very few behavioral issues, because children were held accountable,” Baumgartner says of the one-room schoolhouse era. “Oftentimes, brothers and sisters were classmates, meaning one misstep and, chances were, word of their naughtiness reached the parents before the kids got home at the end of the day.
“Their behavior represented the family. The parents were strict, because they didn’t want to be identified as the family with the wild kids.”
At Preservation Partners, one of Debra Corwin’s main roles is directing activities at the group’s own one-room schoolhouse – Pioneer Sholes School, which sat idle on farmland from 1947 to 1979.
That’s when a restoration society formed in the school’s name to repair, move and preserve the building. The refurbished original schoolhouse is located in LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve in St. Charles and open for tours on dedicated days throughout the summer.
Corwin is a resident expert on one-room schoolhouses in general, but she’s lasered in on late-19th/early-20th century life here in Kane County. Though the schoolhouses may have contained some unique subtleties, they were overwhelmingly similar, for all families drew from the same pool of available materials.
(When the Aurora schoolhouse at Galena and Edgelawn was built in 1882, it would be another 112 years before Amazon could help.)
A few fascinating takeaways from a two-hour history lesson from Corwin:
- Farmers with children in the school paid teacher salaries and provided them room and board.
- The school year began at the end of harvesting season and ended at the beginning of planting season. “So, the school year was basically the winter,” Corwin says. (Which validates Grandpa’s claim of walking through two feet of snow).
- Students used slate tablets to solve arithmetic problems or “sums” (the word “math” hadn’t entered the vocabulary). Side note: Tablets (slate not iPads) were the reason so many people were righthanded – so as not to erase what they’d written with a frilly sleeve or gliding hand, as would’ve been the case for lefties.
- Penmanship was extremely important.
- Science was not part of the curriculum. “From having to start fires with flint and steel to learning about the plant germination process,” Corwin says, “the students lived science.”
- Schoolhouses were heated by a wood-burning stove, and students were responsible for bringing the “fuel” from home. Corwin has read that students who brought firewood were rewarded with a seat closer to the heat.
- Stovepipes would often arch overhead, inside the ceiling, for added interior warmth. Those pipes would also be used for draping wet clothes during crummy weather, so they’d be dry for the walk home.
- Children would often bring a vegetable to add to teacher’s “Wintertime Stew.” The cast-iron pot of onions, carrots, potatoes, etc. simmered atop the stove and was ready in time for noon dinner.
“The children were very appreciative of having a teacher, of learning,” Corwin said. “Getting an education – which also meant teaching right from wrong and discussing morals and values – was very important to the families and very important to the individuals. Nobody took the school day lightly.”
What Happened To The Little Red Schoolhouse?
Turning back to Aurora’s one-room schoolhouse at Galena and Edgelawn, the Aurora Beacon-News in 1998 printed a picture of the original building as part of its “Portrait of the Past” series, where it asked residents to help identify people and places depicted in various images that could not be officially identified.
Several readers provided similar feedback, but not quite enough to definitively connect every dot from the schoolhouse’s construction to demolition, a span of more than 80 years.
And that’s just the way it goes sometimes, says John Jaros, executive director of the Aurora Historical Society.
“A lot of times people will contribute to something if they have definitive knowledge,” Jaros said. “There are certain things you never find if they’re too far back. Sometimes it’s, ‘This is what we know, and this is what we don’t.’ In this case, we know the school existed – and that’s it.”
If only its replica walls could talk.
About Blackberry Farm
Blackberry Farm is a living history museum where pioneer life is re-created through educational demonstrations and hands-on fun. Admission to Blackberry Farm includes unlimited rides on the train, hay wagon, pedal tractors, paddle boats, carousel and ponies.
Located at 100 S. Barnes Road in Aurora, Blackberry Farm opens to the public for the 2022 season on May 1. Visit blackberryfarm.info or call 630-892-1550 for more information.
Read The Kane County History Series!
- 1850-1925 Geneva — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword
- Elgin Puts 3,500 Priceless Photos Online
- Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation
- Aurora’s Maud Powell, World Famous Violinist
- Waxing Nostalgic on Geneva’s WGSB, WFXW
- American Doughboys of WWI — in St. Charles, IL
- Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event
- Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
- Meet Andy Aurora, Man About Town
- Celebrating The 50th Anniversary of 9-1-1 in Geneva
- Blue Goose And Evergreen Pub — ‘Shop Local’ 90 Years In The Making
- Elgin Is The Apple of Illinois Bicentennial’s Eye
- Nordens Soner And Batavia’s Swedish Society
- Aurora’s Melting Pot ‘Yearning To Breathe Free’
- Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The ‘Life Cup’ — All Things Made in Geneva
- Hotel Baker, The ‘Masterpiece’ of The Fox Valley
- Elgin Celebrates Our Once-Burgeoning Dairy Business
- Reflections of Batavia’s Quarry Beach Pool
- Aurora’s Mabel O’Donnell, Author of “Alice And Jerry’ Books
- As Alice (Davis) Says, ‘Schools Out For Summer!’
- Elgin Watches, ‘The World’s Standard’
- Aurora Silverplate a Symbol of Good Taste
- Women Leaders Played Huge Roles in Geneva
- Nationally Renowned Summer Camp in St. Charles
- The Harrowing Story of William Lynch, Elgin’s Civil War Brigadier General
- Batavia Powered The Aurora, Elgin & Chicago Railway
- Corsets Doing Big Business in Aurora? Scandalous!
- One Block of Geneva Tells 1,001 Fantastic Stories
- St. Charles’ Evergreen Pub — The ‘Before’ Photos
- 1917-18 — When Elgin Artists Went to War
- Thomas Cleveland — Batavia’s Presidential Connection
- Do Your Wurst — Aurora Meat Markets Are ‘In’ Again
- Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts
- Visit Amelia Anderson At St. Charles’ North Side Cemetery
- Calling All Artists! … For a Cobblestone Reflection in Elgin
- Batavia’s 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way
- The Compelling, Tragic Story of Aurora’s Black WWI Hero Frank Boger
- Geneva History Museum Invites Artists To Celebrate Cultural Heritage
- Elgin’s Anson Clark Soared in The Great War … And Life
- What It Meant To Be a Patrol Boy and Louise White School
- ‘Men’s Night’ Christmas Shopping Was a 1950’s Aurora Phenomenon
- St. Charles Remembers Colson’s Christmas-Day Fire of ’33
- The Art of Elgin’s Cobblestone Reflections
- When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia
- Geneva Presents The Art of The Fox River
- Blansford Astronomical Clock Is Aurora’s Treasure
- St. Charles Returns Family Heirlooms From WWII
- Museum Lands Painting By Elgin Artist Albert Kenney
- Cars Still Fixed at Historic Location in Downtown Batavia
- A Bird’s-Eye View of 19th Century Geneva
- Sheldon Peck: Kane County’s Connection To The Underground Railroad
- Elgin High School Celebrates 150 Years of ‘Education For All’
- Batavia’s Incredible Roller Skating History
- The Fabled History of Jewelry Stores in Geneva
- Astonishing Buried Treasure Discovered in Aurora Outhouse
- Lincoln Elementary School in St. Charles Celebrates 90 Years of Education
- Remembering Elgin High Grad, Renowned Composer Daniel Brewbaker, 1951 – 2017
- Meet Batavia’s Sharron Moran, LPGA Star, ‘Most Beautiful Golfer’ of 1966
- The Many Iterations of Geneva’s National Food Store
- The Burlington Zephyr — A ‘Silver Streak’ Through Aurora
- What IS That Thing in Downtown St. Charles?
- 18 Events, Limited-Edition Poster For Preservation Month in Elgin!
- Julius Amandus Anderson’s WWI Memorial Trapunto Banner
- Geneva’s Swedish Days Celebrates Its 70th Anniversary
- The Historic Drive To Save Aurora’s GAR Hall
- The Story of St. Charles’ Paddlewheel Riverboats
- Meet Elgin’s Legendary Marshal — Andrew Barclay Spurling
- Jackie DeShannon ‘Put A Little Love’ In Batavia
- Aurora’s William S. Hart, Cowboy Movie Star
- St. Charles’ First Settlers, One Lost, Found Again
- Discover The Elgin Stories All Around You
- Batavia’s WWI French Connection
- Amazing Stories Behind Geneva’s Extraordinary Parks
- Roots Aurora Seeks 2019 Nominations For Aurora Cultural Champions
- Newly Renovated Thompson Middle School Retains Memories of St. Charles High
- Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery Memorializes City’s Past
- Batavia Connection to 1969 Moon Landing
- Geneva Company Made Huge Contribution to Art Deco
- East Vs. West 1914 — Aurora’s Greatest Football Game
- North, Union Cemeteries Are St. Charles’ Hallowed Grounds
- Elgin Temperance Crusaders Take Hatchet To Beer Fans
- Ever Heard of Clybourneville? (Hint: It’s Now in Batavia)
- Geneva Ghost Stories Rise From Former Hospital Site
- Aurora Tells The Cows To Shut Up
- Baby Face Nelson And 100 Years of St. Charles Boys School ‘Good, Bad And Ugly’
- Behold The Telegraph, Elgin’s First Digital Communication!
- Mary Bailey, Batavia’s Trailblazing Woman Lawyer
- Holiday Traditions, Historic Creche at Geneva History Museum
- Welcome To Thanksgiving Dinner at Aurora’s Tanner House
- St. Charles’ Whiskey Bend Signaled Boom Time For Taverns
- From Elgin Watch Cases To 4.2 Mortar Shells
- Lorraine James’ Art Leaves Lasting Impression on Batavia
- Geneva Remembers The Tornado of 1967
- New Year’s Calling in Aurora
- Newly Digitized Footage Documents Construction of St. Charles Municipal Building
- ‘New Year’s Calling’ in Aurora Was The Online Dating of Late 1800s
- A Woman’s Right To Vote — In Elgin
- How The Household Journal Came To Batavia
- Geneva’s East Side — From Dodson To Dog ‘N’ Suds
- On Leap Year, ‘She-Wolves of Aurora’ Have ‘Gender-Swapping Fun’
- Mary Todd Lincoln, Batavia Resident
- The Women Who Broke Codes at Riverbank Labs in Geneva
- Turn Around in Aurora And You’ll Bump Into a Luxembourger
- Geneva History Museum Offers COVID-19 Journal
- Aurora’s Amazing Family Portrait Exhibit ‘A Brilliant Idea’
- How St. Charles Survived The Spanish Flu in 1918
- Elgin Epidemics — COVID-19 Is Not The First To Bring Suffering, Sorrow
- Geneva Museum Passes Milestone
- Aurora’s African-American Police Officers
- Garner Family Is St. Charles’ Juneteenth Celebration Story
- Notable Black Americans From Elgin, IL
- Black Batavians Played Key Roles in History
- Geneva History Museum Reveals Archive Redesign
- Family Secrets — Historian Finds 1866 ‘I Love … ‘ Message Scratched in Tanner House Window
- Cut Glass Was Booming During Roaring 20s in St. Charles
- Elgin Remembers Devastating Palm Sunday 1920 Tornadoes
- Batavians Find Treasure in 150-Year-Old Privies
- Geneva Hosts Virtual Night at The Museum
- Visit Aurora’s Tanner House — With a Click of The Mouse
- Elgin Cemetery Walk Is Virtual Travel Through Time
- James Prindle Jr.’s Roll Top Desk Returns To Batavia
- 60 Years Ago, Kennedy Campaigned in Geneva
- Aurora’s 1894 Central Station Proud Home of Regional Fire Museum
- Secret Symbolism in Elgin’s Bluff City Cemetery
- Meet The Doctors Who Shaped St. Charles’ History
- Batavia Inventor Paul Hassler And His Arithstyle Adding Machine
- The ‘Background’ on Geneva’s Famous Creche
- Aurora Soldier’s Diary Reveals Gripping Story of War, Love, Pain And Heroism
- St. Charles’ Delnor Hospital — A Thanksgiving Gift in 1940
- Meet Elgin’s Mary Muirhead of The WWI Army Nurse Corps
- Geneva’s Holiday Giving Tradition Continues Despite Pandemic
- Remembering The Days When Aurorans Cut Ice on The Fox River
- Arcada Plans Next Chapter of Its St. Charles Story
- Christmas Memories in Elgin
- A Brief History of The Batavia Historical Society
- Order Your Geneva Home By Mail — Right From the Catalog!
- Aurora’s Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Winter of 1918
- St. Charles’ Response to COVID-19 Sparks Memories of WWII
- Elgin’s Black Soldiers Proudly Served in U.S. Armed Forces
- Amazing Stories of Batavia’s Thriving Black Community Date Back To 1855
- Step Back in Time to See ‘HerStory’ in Geneva
- Aurora Will Never Forget The Great Flood of 1857
- When Cars Came To Elgin, Tragedy Followed
- Batavia’s Female Athletes Fought To Play The Games They Love
- Take a Tour of Geneva Art History!
- Play Ball! Hall of Famer Casey Stengel Among the Greats to Round The Bases in Aurora
- St. Charles History Hustle Pays Homage to Long-Lost Sport of Competitive Walking
- Elgin’s History Is Written in Street Signs
- Batavia Museum Finds Treasure in Capt. Carr’s Spyglass
- Celebrate 185 Years of Kane County Courthouse in Geneva
- Meet Aurora’s Peerless Publisher, Olive Beaupre Miller
- Charles Haines — The Man Who Saved St. Charles Schools
- Elgin’s Perry Thomas — From Inventor to Atomic Bomb Photographer
- Take Me Out To The (Batavia American Legion) Ballgame
- Aurora Journalist Randy Shilts Helped Frame Debate About Gay Rights Movement
- Wheeler’s Rolltop Desk Held Secrets of Underground Railroad in St. Charles
- Aviation Began To Take Off at Hoornbeek Airfield in Elgin
- Kane County History: Good Roads Day! Batavia Was The Starting Link of The Lincoln Highway
- Geneva Museum Is Reimagined, Reopened — And Admission Is Free!
- John Rogers’ ‘Council of War’ at Aurora’s Tanner House Museum
- Today’s Drivers Owe Thanks To Elgin Motor Club
- 3 Men Behind Batavia’s Fame as ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
- Grotto on Government Center Campus Is One of Geneva’s Hidden Gems
- The Boys of Summer, Aurora Style
- Elgin Preserves History, Honors Past at Bluff City Cemetery
- Restored Headstones at West Side Cemetery Tell Geneva’s Story
- A Mormon Tale in Aurora, IL
- Batavia Hardware Store Owner Was Early Race-Car Builder
- The Quest To Light Aurora’s Streets
- St. Charles Is Thankful For C.V. Amenhoff And The Legend of Charlemagne
- 3,000 People at a Time Used To Ice Skate in Elgin
- After 70 Years, Batavia Elves Still Making Christmas Brighter
- Astonishing Detail, Symbolism in Geneva’s 18th Century Creche
- Joseph Freeman Stands Among The Giants of Aurora History
- A St. Charles Christmas Story: The Special Gift For Mr. Baker
- An Elgin History Museum Photo Is Worth 1,000 Clues
- Batavia’s Fox River Channel Has Changed Through History
- Geneva Celebrates 100 Years of The Little Traveler
- The Definitive Story of the City of Lights: Part 2
- St. Charles Museum Site: From Serving Gas to Preserving History
- Robert Gilliam Was ‘An Elgin Guy’
- Black Batavians Played Key Roles in Local History, Greater World
- Geneva Remembers The Mill Race Inn
- At Last, Restored Portraits Tell The Stories of Aurora’s Past
- A Fond Farewell as Blue Goose Closes Its Doors After 90 Years
- Elgin’s Alice Byrd Potter Was Driven To Make Her Mark
- Batavia Reveals Hidden LGBTQ+ History in Groundbreaking Exhibit
- ‘Her Story’ in Geneva Begins With Charity
Sign Up To KCC E-Newsletter