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  • Writer's pictureRochelle Gridley

One-Room School Houses of McLean County

Updated: Mar 6

The one-room school house is an icon of our past. Our parents or grandparents attended those schools, but those of us who have attended "grade" schools can only wonder what school must have been like when children attended school in groups of eight or ten students. Because children walked to school or rode horses, the schools were usually placed such that no child had to travel farther than 3 miles to the school building.

It was in 1948 that the consolidation of the rural schools in McLean County began. The population of farming families was decreasing and tax payers were no longer willing to pay for dozens of tiny schools throughout the county. Standards of education were also being improved, requiring specialized teachers and AV equipment. Also, motorized vehicles made it possible for children to travel farther to the school. That year dozens of school houses were auctioned off and children were sent to nearby grade schools or consolidated schools.

The Pantagraph Negatives Collection has a number of images of rural schools that were sold, became homes or community centers or fell into disrepair and rotted in place. All the photos here are from the Pantagraph Negatives Collection.

The Freed School, near Gridley, became the Gridley American Legion Hall in December 1948. The brick veneer building shown here was built in 1915. The school was named for the Freed family in the 1860s, and two different buildings were used by the school. Lena Luckert was the last teacher at the Freed School. After the school consolidated she taught at the Gridley Grade School.

The Longworth School (Funks Grove Township) closed in 1945 when the people of that school petitioned the McLean School District to accept the students. The land for this school was given to the school district by A.T. Longworth. Mrs. Marion Stubblefield purchased the building in 1945 or 1946 and planned to convert it to a five room house, but post war lumber shortages halted the work she wanted to do in March of 1946. By 1948 the school was included in a series of photos of schools converted to homes.

Langley School, just south of Bellflower and in Piatt County, was also closed and sold in 1948. It was purchased by a Farmer City farmer, Willard Beckenholdt. This scene is so peaceful and bucolic, the lambs are grazing but no little girl named Mary has brought them to school!

The Bentown School was boarded up in 1948 and abandoned. Children were still attending this school in 1945, but it became part of the Downs-Ellsworth School District. Once the town of Holder was established on the railroad line, the town of Benjaminville declined and lost its importance. A school had been there since the early 1860s and had taken place in a Quaker meeting hall.

Some schools had rather fanciful names, like the Sheep Eye School. It was first named Bishop School for William Bishop, who built a brick school as a private enterprise there in 1854. It later became known as Sheep Eye School because of sheep grazing in an adjacent field. It was one of the best out fitted rural schools in McLean County. The brick school was blown down in a windstorm in 1909 and the building here was built.

In 1940 the Lilly School (Tazewell County) had to be rebuilt due to a fire. Here a large brick building is being built. The school was still in use in 1953, but in 1956 the town of Lilly had a Grade School.

Prairie Creek School was a charming brick school located in the McLean School District, 3.5 miles southeast of the town of McLean. It did not merit a mention in William Brigham's history of McLean County Schools because it was situated in DeWitt County. In 1942 children at Prairie Creek continued their education in the McLean High School District. The last teacher noted as teaching at Prairie Creek was Mrs. Paul Mobley. Ralph Alexander was the superintendent and is seen posting the auction notice.

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