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History of the Thornton Schools

1836:  The first school house was built from sawed lumber prepared by the Hubbard and Kinzie mill in Thornton.  The first teachers were James Barton and (Photo 1) Caleb T. Sweet.  The school stood just northwest of the railroad on Ridge Road.

1857:  (Photo 2) A wooden structure was built and used as a town hall and school on the site of the present village hall.  This had become important and necessary since the local population was growing and reached 301 in 1865.

1872:  (Photo 3) A new school was built on the west side of Wolcott Street between Harriet and Eleanor Streets  at the approximate location of the current schoolhouse.  It was called Thornton School.  The walls of the basement were stone. The upper two floors and balance of the building were made of wood.  On an early inventory some things listed under "Grounds" were the coal house, well, and the "out" houses.  The inside inventory listed desks, chairs, recitation bench, coal hod, shovels, pokers, dust pans, foot scraper, foot mats, rug beater and fountain


(Photo 4) At one time to be a teacher in the school you had to live in Thornton.   Teachers boarded at the house located at 102 N. Wolcott Street.  There were no other restrictions other than good moral judgment.


(Photo 5) 1889:  There was a Lutheran Christian Day School, often referred to as "The German School."  This school had 7 grades and in the beginning was conducted by individual members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church.


(Photo 6) All of the pastors served as school teachers.  It was located at 308 South Hunter Street (where it stands today but has been converted into a house).  In 1945 the congregation closed the school due to low enrollment.  (photo school, caption German School 1900 & photo of children - Note that in this photo that some of the children were not wearing shoes.  This was common, and the same was true for some students of the Thornton School.)


1892-94:  Charles Stave, Peter Abstein, John Henrichs, Albert Webb and John Cook were School Board members.  Teacher Jennie Erickson earned a salary of $55 per month.


1895:  Horace C. Wright was the principal of Thornton Public School and Jennie Erickson was assistant principal.


1901:  Thornton School was used until it was destroyed by fire on the night of October 14, 1901. Temporary classrooms were at Town Hall, John Stolzenbach’s meat market and Charles Frenck’s store.  The board of Directors went to Chicago on Oct. 16 to buy seats and books that were necessary to begin school with.  School opened Monday morning October 21.


(Photo 7). Temporary school at town hall with early teacher Miss Jennie Erickson.


1902:  (Photo 8) A red brick school was built at the same site.  This was known as Thornton Public School, and later renamed Wolcott School.  The basement consisted of the boiler room and the lunch room.  Metal fire escapes were located on both sides of the school. Children living more than 1 1/2 miles away were allowed to bring their lunch in.  Children who lived less than 1 1/2 miles had to go home for their lunch. 

1917:  On the 29th of June, they had a commencement exercise at Thornton School with a Maypole drill, a selection by the Thornton Band and a play.  The diplomas were handed out by O.T. Bright, the school director from the downtown Chicago office.  There were 12 in the class.


1923:  On Memorial Day, the Thornton School students would march as a group to what is now Homewood Memorial cemetery to place wildflowers on the graves of fallen soldiers, sailors and marines. (Photo 9)  Students by the B&O tracks on their way to the cemetery for Memorial Day.  The school can be seen in the background.


1930s:  When the quarry would blast in back of the school the children had to vacate the buildings.  Sometimes the blasts would shatter the school windows.  (Photo 10) Interior view showing teacher Estelle Batell and her class, circa late 1930s, early 1940s).

1953:  (Photo 11) Principal Robert Golliher arrived.  Enrollment was 222.

1954:  (Photo 12) A gym was added to the southwest area of the old building.

1956-58:  Additional rooms were built.  Enrollment rose to 450 students.


1956:  Kindergarten classes were added.   During the late 1950's Thornton Public School conducted these classes in the basement of the Methodist Church that stood on the corner of William and Eleanor Streets and the Lutheran Church on Hunter Street.

1961:  With the population growth in the north area of the Village, it was necessary to build another school.  This school was built between Park Avenue and Sunnyside Street, one block south of 172nd Street, and was called (Photo 13) Parkside School.  An addition was added a year later. The name of Thornton Public School was changed to Wolcott School to differentiate between the two schools.


1969:  In order to obey the "Life Safety Code" the part of Wolcott School which was built in 1902 was (Photo 14) torn down.  The school bell is now displayed outside the Thornton Historical Museum on a platform made of the red school bricks.

1983:  The last year (Photo 15) Parkside School was used in the school system.   Due to a decrease in the school population, the school was closed.  It was remodeled to be used by the Thornton Police Department and the Thornton Recreational Department.

1996:  Wolcott School conducted its first pre-kindergarten class in the back hall of the former Lutheran Church on Hunter Street which currently houses the Thornton Historical Society.


2015:  (Photo 16) A multi-grade school reunion was held at the Thornton American Legion which included tours of Wolcott School.





On an early inventory some things listed under "Grounds" were the coal house, well, and the "out" houses.  One of the early female students told how cold it was in the winter to stand in line waiting her turn to get in the "out" house at recess time.


In 1902: $5 was paid to Fred Lorenz for moving outhouse on school premises.


The inside inventory listed desks, chairs, recitation bench, coal hod, shovels, pokers, dust pans, foot scraper, foot mats, beater, and fountain. (The beater was used to clean the rugs and mats).


The school had 3 plays a year - Fall, Christmas and Spring.

Festival days were held late in May and were a yearly event involving most of the South Cook County Schools.  Some years the event was held in the area on the west side of the road 1/2 mile south of the village limits on Schwab Street.  Other years the festival was held in Glenwood and the students would march out of town on William Street to the Glenwood Woods.  Games, races, etc. were held with the schools competing and prizes were awarded.


The day before Memorial Day, students were marched to a field north of Marion Street (at that time the village limits) where they picked wild flowers.  Some students were also marched to a field by the brewery along Thorn Creek where they picked flowers off the locust trees.


On Memorial Day, all the Wolcott students would meet at school and at a pre-arranged time the Glenwood School for Boys Band would arrive.  They would all march together to Oakwood Cemetery (now Homewood Memorial).  Sometimes the Thornton High School Band and citizens from Harvey would ride the street car out to the corner of Ridge Road and Halsted Street, where they were met by the Wolcott students who had marched to the intersection. At a given time all would march as a group to the cemetery with Wolcott students placing the wildflowers on the graves of fallen soldiers, sailors and marines.


In the early days, all students had recess at the same time with the boys on one side of the school and the girls on the other side.  On bad weather days recess was held in the basement with boys in one room and girls in another.


At one time to be a teacher in the school you had to live in Thornton.  There were no other restrictions other than good moral judgment.


Head lice once presented a problem and teachers had to perform a daily head inspection with toothpicks.  This is when a teacher said that she found out that lice could jump more than 20 inches.


When the school got modern and they had inside restrooms (around 1920), the only stall that had a door was the one for the teachers.


James Templin, Sr. was a teacher for the upper grades at the Thornton Public School (now Wolcott School) 1936-1938. His mother Amy Webb Templin was also a Thornton teacher from approx. 1909-1913. Jim was appointed principal of the Berger School in Dolton in 1938-1941.  He married another Thornton Public School teacher, Miss Estelle Batell, before joining the U.S. Navy and serving 4 years in World War II.


Harris Dante, who was married to Margaret Miller, was a teacher at Thornton Public School (now Wolcott School) 1937-1939 until he went to Burlington, Iowa, to teach.  He was later employed as a professor at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.


PRINCIPALS:  Some former principals and superintendents were: Horace C. Wright, W.A. Ferguson, C.G. Crissman, R.L. Johnson, Mr. Schroeder, Harry J. Koedyker, H.J. Woesner, Charles. A. Donelson, Gordon Tieckman, Robert Kesterson, Paul Heck, Howard Gutch, Robert Golliher, Pearl Ross, Roy Wehmhoeffer, Dennis Plecas, Theodore Goldberg, Glen T. Littlefield, Gaetana Mollin, Dr. Bernard Parlock, and James Narczewski.


From “School District 205 Board Minutes”


School House Burned October 14th, 1901 between 7&8 o'clock P.M.


SPECIAL MEETING HELD OCT. 15, 1901: On account of school house being burned down the first thing in order was to secure temporary school rooms.  John Stolzenback's was chosen as one.  Chas. Frenck's Store as another and the Town Hall as another.  These apartments was the only ones that could be secured.


Brought to a motion, seconded & carried.  John Stolzenback is to heat the room and do the Janitor work, furnish coal & stove for the sum of ($25.00) Twenty-five Dollars per month.


Chas. Frenck is to furnish stove (crossed out).

The dist. to furnish coal and Janitor work.  For which Mr. Frenck is to receive ($10.00) Ten dollars per month rent.


The Town Hall can be had without rent.  The district to furnish coal and Janitor work.

The board of Directors went to Chicago Oct. 16 to buy seats and books that was necessary to begin school with.  School opened Monday morning October 21.

- Fred J. Bielfeldt Clerk.

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