The case began when I examined this wonderful photo that was taken by James Austin Bell whose local photos formulate the Stratford Farms collection donated by the Bell family.  This one room schoolhouse sat on the north side of Schaumburg Road, just west of Roselle.  It went by various names over the years.  Sarah’s Grove School.  Schween’s Grove School.  Schaumburg Centre Public School.  And, amazingly enough, the school still exists on the St. Peter Lutheran Church property.

The photo was taken around 1930 and shows us multiple aspects of the building that we weren’t aware of.  The playground on the west side of the building features a maypole swing.  Children would hold onto the boards, run in a circle and then lift up their feet to capture the feeling of flying through the air.  The multiple trees scattered around the schoolyard are a sure indication that shade was definitely appreciated in a school that wasn’t air-conditioned.  They also sheltered the separate boys and girl outhouses in the background.

The thing that really caught my eye, though, was the windows of the school.  You see, there is an earlier picture of the school from 1916–and it’s different.  Take a look for yourself.

Both photos give us the western perspective of the school.  In the 1916 photo, there are three windows.  In the 1930 photo there are five.  What happened?   Why would the school make such a dramatic change and what would propel them to do so?  And, did the same thing happen on the east side of the building?

Not having a clue, I touched base with LaVonne Presley who included histories of all of Schaumburg Township’s one-room schoolhouses in her book Schaumburg Of My Ancestors. We considered the possibility that maybe it wasn’t the same school in both photos–that maybe it was torn down and a new school was erected on the same spot.  But, that just didn’t seem likely.  Still puzzled, I decided to investigate later photos we have of the school that might indicate any possible clues.

This photo shows the school shortly after it was moved to the St. Peter property.  The east side of the building has two windows with awnings and a white door.  It appears, then, that the three original windows in the 1916 photo were likely kept but, at some point, a door took the place of one of the three.  It is my supposition that the door was added after the school closed when the building was used for business purposes.  (Also, you’ll notice an addition was added to the front and features two windows and a door.  This was done before the school closed as we have a photo from the 1940’s in our collection showing this arrangement.)

Fortunately, LaVonne didn’t let the window issue go either. She speaks regularly to a cousin who was involved in the rehabilitation of North Grove School in Sycamore.  According to her, they discovered during the renovation that Illinois dictated regulations on everything in schools from desks to heating to sanitation–including in one room schools.

Upon doing a bit of online research I discovered the 1917 Biennial Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Illinois.  And, lo and behold, it addresses how Cook County Schools stipulated how the number of windows came to be changed from 3 to 5 on one side of the school.  It states:

“In buildings in use before July 1, 1915, all windows in the wall which the seated pupils face shall be permanently walled up so that no light may enter from that direction.  (This would have been the north wall in our school where, to the best of our knowledge, there never were any windows.)

If there are full length windows on the right of the seated children, the lower sash shall be shaded so as to completely shut out the light from that part.  (This would have been the east wall in our school.)

If this makes the light insufficient, additional windows shall be provided to the left.”

And, there it is.  At some point, in the 14-year time span between 1916 and 1930 (the dates of our photos), Cook County complied with the regulations.  They provided an allocation in their annual budget for the modification of the building from three windows to five on the west side.

Puzzled about why these changes would be necessary, I put the question out to an Illinois museum listserv I am on.  Roger Matile, Director of the Little White School Museum in Oswego, Illinois shared this information with me:  “Schools were required to have a certain amount of window area, based on the schoolroom’s square footage, on one side of the building. That was so that the teacher, standing in the front of the room, would not be back-lighted and so that the desks could be arranged to have light shine over the students’ left shoulders so shadows didn’t interfere with handwriting. Of course, that assumed all students were right-handed. The one-room school I attended only had windows on one side, and our desks were positioned so that light from them shown over our left shoulders.” This truly did solve the case of the schoolhouse windows!

Interestingly enough, after the building was moved to its current location, another renovation was done.  As you can tell in this Daily Herald photo, five windows were added to the other side of the school to create a more symmetric building.  To view this nice touch of harmony, take a tour of the school on Labor Day weekend.  It will be open Saturday, Sunday and Monday (September 2-4, 2017) from 9-4.  The Schaumburg Township Historical Society would love to have you there.

Jane Rozek
Local History Librarian
Schaumburg Township District Library

My thanks to LaVonne Presley and her cousin, Bernice, for sending me in the right direction to get this mystery solved.  It would have been tough without them!

My thanks to Roger Matile for giving me the real reason for the windows going from three to five.  It’s wonderful to have his professional and personal knowledge of one room schools in Illinois.


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