Digging Little, Learning Lots Schoolhouse Book Research Yields Surprising Gems for Author

By Chojnacki, Cheryl | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), September 14, 2007 | Go to article overview

Digging Little, Learning Lots Schoolhouse Book Research Yields Surprising Gems for Author


Chojnacki, Cheryl, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Cheryl Chojnacki Daily Herald Correspondent

Yesterday's one-room schoolhouses, long emptied of desks and books and the boisterous voices of children, are silent witnesses to a time long past.

Some still stand on backwoods roads or busy thoroughfares, humble buildings stirring up memories for many a passerby.

The chance to celebrate these relics of readin', writin' and 'rithmetic was too precious for a retired history teacher to pass up.

Robert Frenz of Crystal Lake has spent nearly three years researching all 140 rural schools that educated McHenry County children for the span of a century.

The information and anecdotes he discovered, along with 300 photographs and maps of each township, are being compiled into a historical guide titled "Historic Country Schools of McHenry County, Illinois."

A 200-page hardcover, the book is scheduled for publication by early 2008.

The author's mother, Anna Frenz, was a student at one of those one-room schoolhouses, and it was her warm reminiscing in later years that attracted him to their charms.

"She always talks about them, and how much she enjoyed her years in the one-room school," Frenz said.

The McHenry County Historical Society, at which Frenz volunteers cataloging artifacts, has an extensive file about many of the schoolhouses.

That got him to thinking a published guide would be a good idea.

"When I started out I had no idea what-all was involved," Frenz said. "I really thought more of a guide to where these schools are, or were. It's taken on a whole new life."

Indeed it has.

Frenz began visiting the school sites, which the historical society's museum administrator, Nancy Fike, had identified years earlier, and he took new photos of all the buildings.

He combed teacher record books and district files and tax records, looking for things like enrollment numbers, tax levies and which neighborhoods sent their kids to which schools.

He began talking with people for whom the schools were more than just statistics - people like his mom, who had been students or teachers in the county's one- and two-room schoolhouses.

Sometimes, Frenz said, "I would almost find them by accident." Twice, he said, he was photographing schools and stopped at nearby farmhouses to ask a few questions, only to discover the farm owners had deeply personal connections with the schools.

One woman had been a teacher and shared photos and memories of her time there. …

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