County loses historic schoolhouse after fire

McHenry County now left with 85 similar structures

UNION – Another piece of McHenry County’s rural history has been wiped out, after a recent fire near Union destroyed a former one-room schoolhouse that dates back to the 1860s.

The fire started inside the garage of the historic property during the late afternoon on Nov. 22 before quickly escalating to a structure fire, according to the Union Fire Protection District.

It left the schoolhouse – later turned residence – at McCue and Pleasant Valley roads uninhabitable. The family living in the home was not injured.

The incident now leaves McHenry County with 85 remaining one-room schoolhouses – five less from six years ago, said Bob Frenz, board president of the McHenry County Historical Society.

“These schools were central to the area. It might have been a voting place; community meetings were held there. ... There were several in each direction near Union, but now they are gone,” Frenz said.

The former Maple Hill District 111, which covered southeastern Seneca Township, likely built the one-room schoolhouse in 1859 on the east side of McCue Road, between today’s Route 176 and Pleasant Valley Road, Frenz said.

Officials then moved the building to its present location in 1892, and teachers used it to teach subjects such as grammar, algebra, geography, history and philosophy. The average enrollment at the schoolhouse ranged in the teens, Frenz said.

The school earned many accolades in the 1900s, including superior school status in 1940. The criteria included employing a teacher with a college degree, having playground equipment and running electricity.

By 1935, the school was remodeled and included fire safety improvements. In January 1947, the school was auctioned for $1,565 after District 111 was consolidated. It was later remodeled into a private residence.

Despite a slow erosion of one-room schoolhouses, people in the area still are working to preserve and redevelop the remaining ones, Frenz said. At least three restoration projects are ongoing, including a former schoolhouse near Route 31 and Virginia Road in Crystal Lake, he said.

The County Board also recently granted landmark status on an old schoolhouse at Harmony Road and Route 20 in Coral Township. The effort has forced the Illinois Department of Transportation to reassess a construction project at the intersection that could have demolished the historic property.

The society is even planning a bus tour for the upcoming summer to see existing schoolhouses in the area.

“It’s not a lost cause,” Frenz said.