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Old Maine High School Site Now Home to Park

Check out photos of the demolition in 1968.

Built in 1902 at a cost of $15,000, Maine Township High School was fairly small, designed by architect F.C. Allen, who worked nationwide, and built by Danville contractor Moore & Son. The school wasn't ready by opening day, so its students met in the old grammar school in Park Ridge until November 8. It would be a relief to students who until then attended high school in Jefferson Township.

It could not have been crowded, though, because only 35 students attended opening day, swelling to 50 students by the end of the year. The first graduating class of 1904 numbered just 3. Along with the community, the school grew quickly.

Enrollment in 1915 numbered 181, and an $55,000 addition was created that year, with a 350 seat auditorium, a gymnasium, and an enamel lined swimming tank (perhaps manufactured in town at the ?) Des Plaines could finally stop swimming in the fetid Des Plaines River.

In 1923, principal Charles M. Himel made headlines as a disciplinarian when he created a new rule, holding students accountable for their conduct both inside and outside school grounds. Such a rule is common now; times have changed. However, today's students usually get in trouble for actual infractions.

Roland and Amasa (nicknamed "Bud" and "Pug") Kennicott, sons of Ransom Kennicott, chief forester for the budding forest preserves, were suspended for misconduct on the football field. Apparently, the boys had "laid down" in a football game against Lane Tech, which Maine lost 39-0. In other words, they were suspended for not doing something, rather than breaking any actual school rules. Their suspension had further fallout. Fellow football player "Bust" Hall said "Hi!" to the boys on the way home from school. Himel suspended him. Days later, Himel spotted two girls talking the Kennicott boys and suspended them, too. Himel only reinstated them once he made it clear that if the girls were to come home late, their parents must phone him immediately.

One Park Ridge girl went skating at the Kennicott home, with her mother's permission. Himel spotted her and phoned her mother, so incensing the girl that she transferred to another school. Another girl from Wheeling (apparently Maine cast a wide net at the time) was recieving a ride home from another Wheeling girl and former pupil when the Kennicott boys asked for a lift uptown; the passenger girl recieved two days detention. Evidently, the Kennicott boys were the Ferris Bueller to Himel's Mr. Rooney. Amasa Kennicott would later become Des Plaines Police Chief.

Maine's reign as the local high school ended March 24, 1930, as the doors to "New" Maine, now Maine East, opened for the first time.The building then became the Des Plaines Junior High School, the first Junior High in the district. While opened in 1954 as a K-8 school, Des Plaines Junior High was renamed Thacker Junior High. Thacker was aged and crowded, to the point that some classes were held in the auditorium. Still, many students still preferred it. The one edge Thacker held was the pool; it was one of only three Junior Highs in the state with a pool, a legacy of its high school past.

Still, the writing was on the wall for Thacker, and the end came in 1967 as the student body transferred to the new . Although the building was briefly considered for use as City Hall, the building was demolished in 1968. The lot sat vacant for several years before being named , to correspond with Central School, and after plans to use the site for senior housing were squashed, was sold to the in the mid-1980s.

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Markemmanuel Rodriguez May 30, 2012 at 02:50 PM
What is the reason for Des Plaines to quickly tear down buildings? I noticed that they do it frequently now and noticed that they have a history of doing this. I was pretty sad to see Sim's Bowl and other downtown buildings torn down. Downtown Des Plaines feels devoid of 'Main Street' character I see in other suburban downtowns. :/ Does Des Plaines have a master plan for development? If they do, is there someone to talk to in city hall so I can share some of my thoughts and ideas for their downtown? --Mark--
Brian Wolf June 05, 2012 at 08:36 PM
The reasons vary; some are private owners, some are government buildings. There's not a policy in place that has specific plans earmarked for sites, but the city does have a comprehensive plan and zoning plans available on their website. If you want to talk to someone in City Hall, I would encourage you to talk to City Manager Mike Bartholomew, as there isn't currently a permanent head of Community and Economic Development. A historic preservation ordinance would help to enhance the main street character that we do have, and the Main Street Program has many recommendations for the same. It would be helpful to have a more specific vision and policy in place.

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