One-room country schools existed in the Huntley area until the 1920s when the rural schools began consolidation with Huntley School District 158. The schools dotted the countryside, usually spaced within a three-mile walking distance of surrounding farms. Rural schools taught first through eighth grades. If students passed their Eighth Grade Exams, they attended the high school in town. The county annually evaluated the country schools listing the teacher and directors, attendance, the school equipment such as number of desks, library books, blackboards and even number of trees. The report rated the condition of such things as the roof, windows, stove, outhouses and well pump. When the rural schools closed, the students attended the 1875 Huntley School on Main Street (the school was razed in 2017). Busing of rural students to the town school began with consolidation in 1920. At the time of closing, most of the rural school buildings were repurposed, but eventually deteriorated and were razed.
Below are brief histories of five one-room schools. A complete listing of one-room schools in the Huntley area and more detailed information is available in a handout at the Huntley Area Public Library.
Haligus School District #81. This school is located in McHenry County, Grafton Township, at 7511 Haligus Road. Built in 1861 and closed in 1946. This is the only one-room school still standing in Grafton Township. It had been converted to a private home, but today has been restored to its origins. Students’ memories include playing baseball, sledding, singing along with the piano, roasting a potato for lunch on the wood/coal furnace, parents cleaning the school and Miss Conley playing at recess. Marion Conley taught there for 20 years. Miss Conley continued teaching in Huntley for another 20 years after the school closed and now has a Huntley school named in her honor.
Schuyler School District #82. Schuyler was located in McHenry County, Grafton Township, on North Union Road. On May 2, 1902, the Marengo Republican News reported the school had been “struck by lightning and burned to the ground.” The school was rebuilt. On March 12, 1903, the Crystal Lake Herald stated, “Those who were responsible for its erection and equipment may well feel gratified over the handsome results of their efforts. The school generally had high class numbers reaching 28 students in its final year. After consolidation, the structure was vacant for a time, deteriorating, and was torn down in 2005.
Butler School District #121. The Butler school was located in McHenry County, Coral Township, at the northwest corner of Harmony and Seeman Roads. The school was built in 1860 and closed in 1920. Butler School had beginnings prior to the Civil War. Photos and records over the years tell of plays, musicals, picnics, poor attendance and declining enrollment. Upon closure, the building was used for farm equipment storage but was vacant in its final years. The school was torn down in 2006.
Browntown School District #119. This school is still standing and is located in McHenry County, Coral Township, on the Marengo-Huntley Road near Leech Road. The school was built circa 1858 and closed in 1948 when the school consolidated with Marengo. In 1927 the teaching method was noted as an individual plan of instruction rather than the traditional recitation. Usually, teacher turnover in one room schools was high; however, Hazel Heideman guided the school for its last 22 years. Mabel Donahue Hemmer also taught at Browntown.
Eakin School located in Kane County, Rutland Township. Built in 1859, the school was originally on the north side of Big Timber Road near Eakin Creek. In 1931, the school was closed and moved across the road so the Standard school could be built on the original school site. The Rutland Township Historic Society was housed in the original school from 2003-2013. In 2015 the building was sold and moved to Hampshire becoming the community room of the Resource Bank, 135 Oak Knoll Drive. The building is believed to have its original shutters, windows, lightening rod, wainscoting and slate board.
Resources: At Home in Huntley 1851 – 2001; Historic Country Schools of McHenry County by Robert Frenz, Looking Back at Gilberts by Nancy S. Bacheller, Woodstock Sentinel, and McHenry County Historical Society. Information also contributed through interviews with Carol Donahue, Bev Eisenmenger, Mary Beth Manning, Jake Marino and Betty Zirk.