A step back in time at Sycamore’s one-room school

By Jack McCarthy
Chronicle Media

Carole Lichty and Alice Whitney were students at at the one-room North Grove School north of Sycamore. Last Saturday, they served as hosts for an annual holiday open house. (Photo by Jack McCarthy / Chronicle Media)

It’s been almost seven decades since Alice Whitney and Carole Lichty were students at North Grove School but the Sycamore area cousins still keep coming back.

Last Saturday they served as hosts, greeting visitors and telling stories North Grove’s annual holiday Open House, one of a handful of days the schoolhouse is open to the public.

The event featured tasty apple cider and cookies and the chance to travel back decades for a peek at what rural education was like.

North Grove School is located on Brickville Road about three miles northwest of Sycamore and is reported to be the only remaining DeKalb County school house still at its original site.

The school is located amid flat, sprawling farmland. Despite the encroachment of modern homes, a newer nearby church and today’s larger farms, it’s still possible to imagine what the immediate area around the school was like in the 19th century well through the mid-20th.

“It used to be country all the way from North Ave. (Illinois Route 64),” said Lichty. “Now it’s all built up with houses and subdivisions.”

Recognized as a landmark in 2012 by the National Register of Historic Places, the school is still owned by Sycamore District 427. It is leased by the North Grove School Association, a private organization formed in 1985 to preserve and maintain the property.

North Grove School features original desks and other functional items from the days it served as a one-room schoolhouse north of Sycamore. (Photo by Jack McCarthy / DeKalb Journal)

small lot is defined by a white plank fence and consists of the school building, a storage/garage structure plus two outhouses — one with three openings and the other with two.

In front of the building is a vintage swing set and shiny metal slide as well as a working hand pump. A Swedish flag — a symbol of the school’s origins — flutters below an American flag on a single nearby flagpole.

Inside are rows of utilitarian, attached wooden desks, some with stained inkwells. Each desk had a small chalkboard, a preferred way to take notes and work out problems.

In front of the class area is a wooden teacher’s desk — complete with a vintage globe — and a large chalkboard to the right with the Pledge of Allegiance written in neat penmanship.

“I hadn’t been here in years and years and the first time I came, I walked in and it was just like it was when I left,” said Lichty. “It took my breath away. It looked exactly the same, which is what we’re trying to do here.”

The building was constructed for $230 in 1878 by Swedish immigrants and was initially used for religious education and a Sunday school. Two years later it was converted to a DeKalb County public school. The Sycamore school district acquired it in 1949 and it operated until 1952.

Two young visitors step outside the single-story school (right) and then later work a hand pump in front of the building (far right). (Photos by Jack McCarthy / DeKalb Journal)

The North Grove School Association is a labor of love for many.

“There are a lot of people involved with the school who had ancestors who were part of the school,” said Whitney. “They had grandparents or parents here.”

The association is funded through private donations and membership dues , which range from $15 for individuals, $20 for families and $300 to be a life member. Dues and donations can be sent to the NGSA, P.O. Box 244, Sycamore, IL 60178.

More informatoin is available at www.northgroveschool.org.