Editor’s note: The northeast corner of Dixie Highway and Hickory Road in Homewood could change soon as the village seeks to redevelop the property currently occupied by Independence Park and the former Savoia T’Go. This article takes a look back at the property’s history as a site for local schools.
Education has always been important to Homewood residents.
The first settlers arrived in the mid-1830s and after the arrival of the Illinois Central Railroad in 1853 the first public school was opened.
James Hart, an early settler and landowner, was instrumental in establishing the school when he deeded some of his land to the School Trustees of Thornton Township in 1855.
Shortly thereafter, a one-room schoolhouse was constructed on property east of the railroad tracks, near the current intersection of Dixie Highway and Harwood Avenue. Hart, who farmed 160 acres located at the northeast corner of the present day intersection of 175th Street and Ashland Avenue, no doubt wanted the school located as close as possible to his home to cut down on the distances his children would have to walk daily to and from school.
By 1880, continued growth in Homewood necessitated the construction of a larger public schoolhouse.
During the 1870s attendance at the old one room schoolhouse had grown to more than 50 students.
Pupils in all eight grades were taught by the school’s only teacher, a young man by the name of David Perry. A native of Beecher, Perry boarded with the Mitchell family in Homewood during the week and returned to Beecher on weekends.
As the school’s only employee, Perry was also responsible for all of the administrative and maintenance work at the school.
To alleviate overcrowding, a new two-room schoolhouse was built on the Chicago-Vincennes Road (now Dixie Highway) just north of St. Paul Church. Independence Park occupies a part of this site today.
This site was more centrally located and within easy walking distance for most children in the village. The two rooms required two teachers and the 1880 census identified Oscar Andrews and Peter Lennon as the teachers residing in Homewood.
More than 20 years later, in 1904, Homewood School Board members realized the growing population of school age children in town was overwhelming the two-room schoolhouse.
A referendum to approve a $10,000 bond issue to finance a new building was held and passed by a large majority. Construction of a handsome two-story brick building, known as the Standard School was completed during the summer of 1904.
The school building consisted of four large, airy classrooms with plastered walls, wood wainscoting, hardwood floors, two center cloakrooms, an office, attic and basement.
The school opened with 117 pupils in eight grades. Herman J. Broek was principal and he shared teaching duties with Emma Mullen. Students interested in attending high school rode the train to Thornton Township High School in Harvey, which opened in 1899.
As construction of this new schoolhouse was to take place on the site of the old school, that building was sold to local carpenter Billy Mueller, who moved it a lot to the north.
Mueller then remodeled and converted the old schoolhouse into apartments. It was further altered in ensuing years and still stands today at 18120 Dixie Highway as a tangible testament to the early history of education in Homewood.
The Standard School building was torn down in 1970 and the site was developed into Independence Park as a U.S. bicentennial tribute in 1976.