HAPPY BIRTHDAY CONANT HIGH SCHOOL!

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Our guest contributor this week is Pat Barch, the Hoffman Estates Historian.  This column originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of the Hoffman Estates Citizen, the village’s newsletter.  The column appears here, courtesy of the Village of Hoffman Estates.

Congratulations to James B. Conant High School on its 50th anniversary.  It was the first high school in Hoffman Estates and Schaumburg Township, opening in September of 1964.  At the time, it was planned to house 1,700 students.  The building was built at a cost of $13.50 a square foot.  The architects, Fridstein & Fitch had also designed Hoffman Plaza and many of the other elementary schools in Hoffman Estates. Conant was designed with many windowless classrooms, to lessen distractions, and it would be air conditioned so students could attend summer school in comfort.  The new school would have 52 classrooms. 700 parking spaces would be provided for students and staff.  That first year, only freshman, sophomores and juniors attended.

A little known fact about Conant High School is the serving of the first school lunch. It was served to the school board members, who were touring the new facility, in the unfinished cafeteria. It was hosted by the school architect, Marvin Fitch. Tables made of cement block and slabs of plaster board with plastic over the top served as “furniture”. Since the school was still under construction, the meal had to be catered.  The board was served boneless fried chicken, hot potato salad, molded fruit salad, rolls & butter with cherry and apple pie to finish the meal.  The August, 1964 Daily Herald reports that the catered food “had to be brought into the building over a block wide quagmire of mud.”

A favorite hangout for the early Conant students would’ve been Hippo’s Hot Dogs. It was just a short walk from school.  It was a great place to go for one of the best hot dogs in town.

The land for Conant High School was donated by F & S Construction Company who built Hoffman Estates. It had been part of the Arthur Hammerstein Farm.  One of the farm’s caretakers lived in the old home that is west of Conant on Aberdeen.  Another farm, the Winkelhacke farm, was across Plum Grove Road to the east.  The Winkelhacke family had been one of the first families to move to Schaumburg Township sometime between the late 1830s and early 1840s.  The early students would’ve been familiar with the farm.  A small portion of the farm north of the football field was planted in corn for many years after the school opened.  Helen Brach, whose family owned the Brach Candy Company, also had a large farm that was just to the east of the Winkelhacke farm.  The entire area was a mix of farms, new homes and new schools.

Some of the old timers who lived on the local farms have told their stories about traveling to Palatine High School long before Conant came to be. There were no school buses.  Everyone had to find a ride with parents who had cars.  Many of the “kids” would learn to drive when they were freshman and would pile their friends & others in the car and drive to school.  Winter was their biggest challenge.  There were on snow days back then and the roads were terrible.

Happy 50th to all the staff and students of Conant High School.

I’d love to have all those “kids” who grew up in Hoffman Estates come to our Hoffman Estates Museum program on Saturday, Sept. 27th from 1 till 2:30 pm  at the Village Hall.  Share your stories of what you did growing up in Hoffman Estates.  What didn’t you tell your Mom?  Bring your pals with.  I hope to see you then.  If you have questions, please send me an e-mail.

Pat Barch
Hoffman Estates Village Historian
Eagle2064@comcast.net

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12 Responses to “HAPPY BIRTHDAY CONANT HIGH SCHOOL!”

  1. Tom Helsper Says:

    I remember there was a fairly significant fire at Conant shortly after it opened. Any details on that?

  2. jrozek Says:

    Hi Tom,

    You are correct about the fire. There was close to $45,000 damage in the office portion of the school in a fire that occurred on Sunday, November 27, 1966.

    The fire was contained in three rooms and was started with the use of fuel oil. The rooms were the office of the assistant principal and the secretary to the principal as well as the reception area. Fuel oil was also spread on books in the library but the fire did not make it to this area.

    Because the office doors were closed in this area, the fire luckily burned itself out without further damage. Evidence of the fire was discovered by a custodian who came in to clean on Sunday afternoon.

    School was closed on Monday and resumed Tuesday.

    Jane Rozek
    Local History Librarian

  3. Dave Olson Says:

    Wow, so it was arson? I never knew that. Did they ever catch who did it? I do remember the acrid smell, even now, when we went back to school.

    • jrozek Says:

      Hi Dave,

      I have tried my darndest to confirm if anyone was ever arrested for that arson fire but have not been successful. I’ve looked for newspaper articles, made calls and even looked through editions of the Conant Conavite and the Conant Crier. Nothing. I’m sorry. Maybe something will turn up at a later date?

      Jane Rozek
      Local History Librarian

  4. Patrick Hysell Says:

    How well I remember Larry from the Standard station. He worked on my 56 Ford that I bought for $150 back in 1963. And I remember Bill Brown up on Roselle Rd where he sold cigarettes for $.22 a pack and gas for $.26 a gallon. Some great memories of really special people that you never forget.

    • jrozek Says:

      And Dan is every bit as nice as his father, Larry! You can read about Larry & Dan’s here

      Funny you should mention Bill Brown. Someone else was just talking yesterday about Brown’s station station on Roselle Road. I think that maybe deserves a blog posting some day too!

      Jane Rozek
      Local History Librarian

      • Patrick Hysell Says:

        Thanks for the reply Jane. There are so many great memories from growing up in Hoffman. I moved there in 1958 when i was 11 and left in 1966 when I was drafted. I remember all the unpaved streets, the never ending row of mailboxes on Washington Blvd., St Buggywhip, the start of Little League, Boy Scouts, Blackhawk school, going to school with the Volkening’s and Winklehake’s, hay forts in the Mansfield barn on Roselle Rd, and so many other things. It was great fun, unlike anything today. I wish our children and grandchildren could enjoy those same memories. It built great character and creativity.

      • jrozek Says:

        Interesting that you should mention the Mansfield barn–and that you could play in it. How fun! I just came across a drawing of the racetrack on an early topographical map of Schaumberg [sic] Township. I plan to do a blog posting on all of farm racetracks that were in the township. That should be a fun one!

        Jane Rozek
        Local History Librarian

  5. joe Says:

    Didnt the grade school west of Conant have its roof damaged in a tornando in the late 60s early 70s ?

    Jane – Reading the blogs on here have really brought back a lot of memories. It got me looking through my old stuff and I found some old Conant Crier student newspaper. I have one copy of a paper from 78 and 3 from 81. I was wondering if you or the Hoffman librarian would like them. I can mail them to you if you like…just let me know where. And thank you for keeping the memories alive by preserving our history.

    • jrozek Says:

      Hello Joe,

      I’m presuming you are referring to Fairview School? I checked through the Newspaper Archive to see if I could find anything about Fairview School and their roof from 1965-1975. While there were various storms mentioned, I didn’t see anything regarding Fairview School–if that’s the school you are referring to? The only roof I saw that was torn off in a storm in Hoffman Estates was at Guido’s on the southeast corner of the intersection of Higgins and Roselle. I doubt that’s what you’re referring to but I thought I’d try!

      I’d be delighted to have copies of the Conant Crier. Someone else passed along a couple of years worth from the late 1960s and I’d appreciate the opportunity of filling in another gap in the chronology.

      You can mail them to me at:

      Jane Rozek
      Schaumburg Township District Library
      130 S. Roselle Road
      Schaumburg, IL 60193

      Thank you!

      Jane

  6. joe Says:

    Thanks it was Fairview….but maybe it was just an urban legend ? I see your located at the library. I will drop them off to your attention this weekend.

  7. Donna Lichtfuss Says:

    Yes, Fairview’s roof was damaged in a tornado. I believe it went right down Arizona Blvd and hit the school. There was a lot of damage to the whole street. It’s true.

    My sister was bused to Palatine High School and also Fremd. It would have been in the early 60’s. I don’t know if she ever went to Conant. My oldest brother was the 3rd graduating class of Conant.

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