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No More Pencils, No More Books

A history of Central School.

The original Central School opened just west of its current location on School Street in 1887. Thirteen years later, with the population growing rapidly, an addition was constructed. At that time, Central School was one of the finest educational facilities in the county, dwarfing many of the areas small one-room schoolhouses.

In 1900, Central School children were expected to use pencils and paper tablets as opposed to the country schools that still utilized slates. Also, students were to provide their own textbooks, which could be purchased at Lovell's Drug Store. 

In addition to the advancements in supplies, Central School offered a superior educational program. At a 1960 meeting of the Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society, presenter O. L. Hawk highlighted, “Young people wishing to take the county examination for teachers' certificates [were] recommended to attend the grammar department here in order to be well prepared to pass the examination.”

At a 1982 Women's Club Presentation, Dorothy Bradford recalled that in addition to regular academic courses, students participated in music and art training for 20 minutes a day, once a week.

The original building was made up of two floors and a basement. The upper level was used as a county high school until the Brainerd Building opened in 1917. The main floor held classrooms for elementary school children. According to Dorothy Bradford, the bathrooms and the lunchroom were located in the basement. The lunchroom was monitored by the principal, however, “all children [were] expected to go home for lunch -- except in extenuating circumstances.”

A New Building

By the late 1930s, the building was in need of costly renovations. Around that time, the Federal Government offered the township a $39,000 grant to cover either repairs of the existing structure or the construction of a new schoolhouse. With overwhelming support from voters, and an additional $50,000 bond, it was decided that a new facility should be built just east of the original school. Lake Forest architects Anderson and Ticknor designed a fireproof, Georgian brick building with a price tag of $90,000.

During the construction of the new Central School, the school board placed a time capsule into the cornerstone of the building “to be opened 100 years later.” Among the contents, an Independent-Register article listed rare coins, specifically an Indian head penny, a buffalo nickel, and Jefferson nickel. Also included were photographs, copies of local newspapers, school books, and a letter from Superintendent Carl W. Baylor.

The letter read, “It is the hope of this school that it will be able to develop a more intelligent, better informed, more tolerant and respectful society. And through this plan democracy will continue to thrive and make happy those individuals who are fortunate to live under the flag of the United States.” The conclusion? Simply, “How have we done?”

The Razing of the Old Building

In May 1939, the building was completed and a few months later the original neighboring school was razed. Even then Libertyville was environmentally conscious, recycling the materials from the facility. An advertisement listed, “200,000 bricks; all kinds of lumber including maple flooring, doors, windows, plumbing, electric fixtures, steam radiators and pipes” with a “Salesman on Premises.”

While Central School closed in 1984, many residents were part of its multi-generation history.

Joe Wilson shared that he “was a student K-5 and principal there later in life.” Bonnie Quirke had two children who attended Kindergarten at the school. She shared this anecdote: “One of them thought it would be fun to play at Adler Park rather than going to class. She and a friend left and everyone thought they were "nabbed”.”

In the late 1990s, the Special Education District of Lake County used the school for its behavioral disorder program. Later, it was used for a YMCA preschool. Currently, the vacant building is undergoing a repurposing as part of the new School Street housing development.

For more on local history, please visit libertyvillemundeleinhistoricalsociety.org.

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