Remembering Old Central School and Other Des Plaines Schools
Also: South Division School, Riverview School, South Elementary School, Des Plaines Junior High, Thacker Junior High, Willows Academy, North School, Thacker Junior High School, Central Elementary School and West School.
Des Plaines residents love to talk about their hometown, and numerous Facebook pages and groups have sprouted, spurring lively conversations, including on Des Plaines Patch’s page. Surprises abound. Residents share their memories, ask each other to help them remember the departed places of their youth, and introduce fascinating photos of bygone eras.
Mark Mensching, of Des Plaines, recently uploaded photos of old Central School that his father, a District 62 custodian for 35 years and an avid photographer, took over the years. They can be seen on the "You Know You're From Des Plaines When" Facebook group here and here.
The school's construction in 1906 marked the first time Des Plaines had more than one school building. It had a different name then, South Division School, since its location on Center Street, at the time called May Street south of Thacker, between Ashland and Thacker put it nearly on the south edge of town near Walnut Street.
South Division School began with just four classrooms, one for every two grades. But growth was anticipated from the beginning.
Architect George Ashby (previously), designed a back wall of wood and brick veneer in contrast to the brick and limestone on the other three sides. This would allow the school to easily build an addition and double in size, which it did in 1914, becoming the larger of the two schools.
The school featured the large windows necessary in those dimly lit days, but Ashby thoughtfully arranged the seats away from the windows to keep the sun out of their eyes, and to keep their eyes from wandering.
In 1928 a new addition doubled the school in size again, swallowing the original building inside the two additions. The city had continued to grow, and because of the 1924 annexation of the Village of Riverview south of Oakton Street, “South” no longer seemed an appropriate name.
Riverview School was renamed South Elementary School in 1945, creating a somewhat confusing situation. The school was re-dubbed Central School. A few years later, the upper grades moved to the former Maine Township High School one block away, as Des Plaines Junior High, later named Thacker Junior High, opened its doors in 1931.
While the former West School building, a legacy of Des Plaines’ early educational system, still stands today as home to the Willows Academy. North School, Thacker Junior High School, and Central School all fell to the wrecking ball between 1958 and 1968.
Students at old Central School had an environment today’s students would find foreign. Once Kindergarten was finally instituted there was no room in the school building for it, so classes were held in rented houses.
In the early days there were no lockers, only cloak rooms. On the playground, equipment options were limited to a slide, monkey bars, a few swings and a wooden toboggan slide.
Students could arrive via Des Plaines’ subway, a pedestrian underpass to shield students from busy Route 45 along Lee Street.
In 1961 the new Central Elementary School with modern amenities was built on Earle Field, and the obsolete old Central was demolished in the spring of 1963. The old site was believed to be too close to busy streets and commercial development, while the building, with the oldest section 45 years old, was deteriorating. The newer Central Elementary School has proven more durable, despite being more than 50 years old.