Saying Goodbye to Sangamon Elementary: Public Open House Thursday

By FRED KRONER
fred@mahometnews.com

A tradition that can be traced back at least 170 years will be over before the end of next month.

Since at least 1847 — according to information compiled by Mahomet historian Greg Pasley — a school building has been located in the 600 block of East Main Street, in Mahomet.

The building erected in 1847, the third such one in the community to be used for educational purposes, Pasley writes, was “a wood frame house along East Main street.”

The current building, known as the Sangamon School, has been sold and will no longer be a part of the educational system for local grade school students.

By the start of the 2018-19 school year, all first-and second-grade classes, which are currently at Sangamon, will be relocated to a new building under construction at Middletown Prairie.

An open house at Sangamon School is scheduled for Thursday from 5-7:30 p.m. It is expected to be the final public viewing of the schoolhouse.

The name “Sangamon School” was a popular one for schools at the East Main Street site.

“I went to school there when I was 5 years old,” said Regina (Roberts) Gnagey. “Mahomet had kindergarten when other schools didn’t.

“It was almost always Sangamon School. I never knew it as anything else.”

Gnagey, who lives in Jonesboro, Ark., is 86 years old. She started school in Mahomet in the fall of 1937.

Her future husband, Larry, moved to Mahomet in the fall of 1946 as a high school junior. His father was a school superintendent hired to oversee the transition of consolidating Mahomet and Seymour high schools into one unified district.

The last year for Seymour High School was 1947-48.

“When I got there, it was Sangamon School, named after the river,” Larry Gnagey remembered.

The oldest part of the current Sangamon School — the section parallel to Route 47 — was finished in 1951 and opened that fall. The newer part of the structure, the two-story portion located to the west, was completed in 1988.

“I believe the school (nearest Rt. 47) was under construction when I was in the second grade because I fell in the mud and had to wait in a ‘cloakroom’ of the old (two-story) building without any pants on while my pants were being dried on a register by Mrs. Enid Henninger,” said Bill Wills, who graduated from Mahomet-Seymour High School in 1961. “I remember it well. That would have been in the fall of 1950 or spring of 1951.

“I know that we were all excited about a new school with a combination gym/lunch room. The tables folded down from the walls. Until that time, we had indoor gym in an old single-story, barracks-style building behind (to the south) the old building.”

Alice (Phillippe) Dollahon moved to Mahomet with her family when she was in fifth grade.

“I learned a lot,” at Sangamon School, Dollahon said.

Part of what she retains decades later, however, happened outside of the classroom.

“I sprained my ankle and Mr. (Don) Stillwell (principal) had me put it in a bucket of ice,” Dollahon said. “I remember he was always so clean. He polished his shoes.”

Throughout the 1950s, eight grades were housed at the east-side Mahomet school buildings. At the time, there was not a separate building for junior high school students.

Grade-schoolers who attended the school building in the 1960s remember being assigned to take the blackboard erasers outside at the end of the week to remove the buildup of chalk. Many of those students would hit the erasers on the bricks on the north side of the building, leaving random white spots that rains would eventually wash away.

In 2000, Mahomet’s Isabelle Purnell published her 464-page book, “An Unofficial History of Mahomet, Illinois.”

Part of her section on the history of schools says, “In 1905, the original Sangamon building housed all of Mahomet’s students, a handsome brick schoolhouse destroyed by fire on May 10, 1906 and was rebuilt exactly like the one of 1905.

“Completed in 1908, it was used until the present Sangamon School (the western  portion) was built.”

Pasley, in his book, “Diggin’ up Bones, Volume II,” reported that the 1905 schoolhouse included 26 students and five teachers. Monthly pay for teachers, he wrote: “ranged between $40 and $45.”

Purnell also writes, “1921, Middletown Center was opened to house all the high school students in the already overcrowded Sangamon school.”

That Middletown building was the one located at the northwest corner of Main and Division streets. It is no longer in existence.

Purnell’s writings also indicate that what is now known as Sangamon School was a building without a name in the mid-1960s.

She wrote: “1967, Lincoln Trail opened to students grades 3 through 6. Shortly thereafter, a committee was established to name the two elementary schools. Sangamon was selected due to its proximity to the river and Lincoln Trail was selected because of its location to Bloomington Road (Rt. 150, which goes into Champaign), the road frequently traveled by President Lincoln (during his years as a lawyer).”

Purnell also provided information about the first time the Sangamon School property was listed for sale.

“Few people are aware that in March, 1969, the Board of Education passed a motion to sell the total building and grounds of the Sangamon School and listed the property with a realtor for six months with a 3 percent commission.

“The thinking at this time was to build a new school east of the river.”

Nearly a half-century later, that vision became reality. And soon, a long-time school building will be divided into multiple units and used for other enterprises.

Thursday is the time set aside to relive memories and to say goodbye.

 

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