Penfield schoolhouse

After four years of restoration by volunteers, the one-room Maple Grove Schoolhouse is ready to be shown to the public. It will be open during the Historic Farm Days show, set for July 11-14, 2019, in Penfield.

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PENFIELD — For years it sat neglected, hidden by trees and used for storage.

Not anymore. The one-room Maple Grove schoolhouse, where countless children of farm families were taught, will be opened to the public at this week’s Historic Farm Days show in Penfield.

It took four years of work from volunteers to restore the schoolhouse, which will be among the featured attractions at the I&I Antique Tractor and Gas Engine Club’s four-day show.

The schoolhouse will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today through Saturday. It will be closed Sunday.

Debbie Deremiah, who helped with the effort to relocate Maple Grove from just north of Rantoul to Penfield in 2015, said former student Allan Thomas and Virlon Suits — who has done a great deal of research on one-room schoolhouses in Champaign County — will be present to answer questions during the show’s first three days.

Suits said there were more than 200 one-room schoolhouses in the county, but “one by one, they went off the grid,” he said.

Suits himself attended a one-roomer for part of his education — in the same Kentucky school that his mother attended, 2 miles west and 2 miles north of Flatville.

While the Maple Grove schoolhouse, like most one-roomers, didn’t have many of today’s amenities, Thomas said it featured one “luxury” item — indoor toilets. They weren’t hooked to plumbing, but at least the boys and girls didn’t have to go outside.

Deremiah said a great deal of work went into restoring the school, which included a total makeover of the interior, a repainted exterior and putting in new doors.

The name game

There was some question about the name of the school. Some remembered it as Maplewood; others thought it was Maple Grove or Maple Ridge.

The school had the numbers “41” on the front. Deremiah said in researching county records, it was discovered that a number “1” was missing.

The county school number should have read “141,” which led to the discovery of the correct name of Maple Grove.

The school — built in 1875, when Ulysses S. Grant was president — was originally located about 21 / 2 miles north of Rantoul on what is now Maplewood Drive.

Lavern Christian, a former Maple Grove student, said the school was closed after she finished eighth grade in 1953. She said a Rantoul Township High School teacher then bought it and made a chicken house out of it.

It was moved to an area about a mile north of Rantoul near U.S. 45, on the Jean Lukens property, where it was used for storage and then sat empty.

Christian said all eight grades were taught by one teacher — Wanda North.

“We all had a desk,” she said. “When it came time for my class to meet, there were like six or seven chairs set up in front. The teacher sat in front of us, and we had reading, math, English, geography, health.”

Christian, now 78, said North did a good job and was strict.

“As long as you obeyed the rules and did your lessons, you were fine,” she said. “... My parents always thought I got a good education from Miss North.”

‘Country hicks’ label

Unlike many students, Christian didn’t have to walk to school. Her parents drove her the 3 miles to Maple Grove.

The schoolhouse had no electricity or running water, and coal was brought in from an outside building.

Christian said she and her fellow students found ways to entertain themselves when not studying.

“We were kind of along a swamp area,” she said. “A couple of us older girls were kind of a clique, and the middle school girls were kind of a clique. We built huts around trees with these swamp sticks.”

Entering high school was a “rude awakening, and I was one of 300-some students,” Christian said.

She said she was afraid at first, but after a month or so, adapted to the bigger-school atmosphere, although there was a bit of a stigma.

“We were considered country hicks,” Christian said. “Sometimes, I think a few of the teachers looked at us that way, too. We managed.”

Christian said she will “definitely” visit her old school at the farm show this year if she is able to.

Deremiah, who was involved in setting up the school museum at Maple Grove, said the 1875-1900 era will be highlighted this year. She said the colors will be muted.

“The one-room schools of the prairie didn’t have a lot of color because it wasn’t available,” Deremiah said. “As the schools progressed, the colorful maps and globes progressed. Pens and ink wells were used.”

Each year, a different 25-year era will be highlighted at the school museum.

Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.