When I first spotted this beautiful old wooden schoolhouse around the bend, I almost drove off the road.
It was a sizable century old building situated relatively close to a narrow two-lane road in Elmira, Illinois; and, despite its physical fragility, it had a powerful presence that demanded your attention as you passed it by.
It was impossible at the time for me to stop, due to work, but for the next several hours all I could think about was returning to this building for a closer inspection. I had become so obsessed with the thought of returning that I literally drove three plus hours out of my way to retrieve my foolishly forgotten camera from a hotel room in Iowa, just for last twenty minutes of available daylight. I was worried that if I didn’t make it back before the sun had completely set then I might not have another opportunity in the future.
The schoolhouse was in very poor condition and looked like it was barely holding together when I was walking around the premises. A large section of the Western facing wall is missing along with most of the back wall and portions of the floor. The wood was splintering and coming down plank by plank. The school had many long windows but the glass panes, along with the doors and steps leading up to the front entrance, no longer existed.
Information about the town of Elmira and its abandoned school was practically nonexistent. What I did manage to find was that the town is unincorporated, as are most towns in the surrounding area, and a statement dating the schoolhouse to 1903. The date seemed about right and was pretty close to my first guess, mid 1890’s. I knew it had to have been before 1910 because most public schools built afterwards were standard two-story brick building.
I am going to assume that this building was used not only as a schoolhouse, but also as a meetinghouse and place of worship for the local community. Multiple usage of a focal building in a small rural community was common. This Schoolhouse had two large rooms plus a basement. Considering the size of the town and number of surrounding farms it is hard to imagine that there was enough students to fill each of the rooms during the school week a hundred years ago let alone today. The bell in the steeple could easily have been used to call students to the classroom along with the congregation to a Sunday sermon.
I suspect that the Elmira Schoolhouse has been abandoned for several decades, possibly sometime in the mid 20th century. The students would most likely have transferred to a larger school nearby, as a part of the school consolidation trend. In addition to the students leaving, a church with modern amenities was built nearby for the congregation thus ending the need for the now decaying schoolhouse.
If anyone knows the history of this schoolhouse please contact me. I would greatly appreciate knowing more about it.