Old_Schools1.jpgKENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

The old Sparta Township High School building in Wataga is now home to ROWVA West Grade School.

School pride lives on

Web site features long-gone schools of Illinois

Saturday, July 1, 2006

The glory days are long gone for hundreds of small school districts lost to consolidation over the past 50 years, but stories and pictures about bygone high schools in Illinois, including many local former schools, have found a home online.

The Web site Illinois High School Glory Days, located at www.illinoishsglorydays.com, features information on more than 500 Illinois high schools that no longer exist, including consolidated public schools and defunct private schools.

Each school has its own page, often incorporating glimpses of the towns where the schools were once in session and of the students who walked through the halls. For some schools, there are also insights into what the curriculum was like and details about athletic accomplishments.

"Especially in smaller towns, the high school was really the focus and the heartbeat of the town," said Dave Nanninga, creator of the Web site. "This is a way to bring some pride back to those towns."

Old_Schools4.jpg
Submitted photo

An undated photo of the high school in Wataga.

Nanninga grew up in Mineral, in Bureau County. He attended Annawan High School, but always heard stories from relatives about Mineral High School, which was consolidated to Annawan in 1961, the year before he was born.

The building was later used as an elementary school and closed permanently in 1974. But Nanninga remembers the bell, set on a timer, still rang in the empty school for several years after it closed. That sound, along with a feeling of sadness that there would never be a high school in town again, stayed with him.

Nanninga launched the Web site in February 2005 and now gets about 100 daily visitors who look at an average of 10 pages within the site each visit. Readers are encouraged to submit information, personal memories and photographs to supplement the basic facts Nanninga and a group of friends have gathered from the Illinois High School Association and other sources.

"I really like the personal memories," he said.

Nanninga said traffic to the Web site started to really pick up about six months ago, but he has not done much publicity.

"It's been mainly word of mouth," he said.

Old_Schools2.jpg
KENT KRIEGSHAUSER/The Register-Mail

The turret on the old high school in Maquon is about the only part of the building visable above the trees that surround the structure.

For Maquon native Denis Shenaut, who now lives in Rockwall, Texas, the Web site is a way to remember where he's from and to learn more about what his parents' lives were like.

Shenaut stumbled across the Web site after searching for information about small towns in the area. He has contributed photos and information about several deactivated high schools in Knox and Fulton counties.

Shenaut grew up a block away from the high school building in Maquon, which was used as a junior building after the high school was deactivated in the late 1940s. Shenaut attended Spoon River Valley High School, but his father, Richard, was in the last graduating class of Maquon High School.

"My dad died when I was 5 and that has a lot to do with it," Shenaut said of his interest in the Web site and in the area's old high schools. He said he remembers attending athletic events at the old school and hearing stories from his mother, Mary, who played basketball there when the building housed junior high students.

When Shenaut visits the area later this summer, he intends to do more research to supplement the entries.

He said it's interesting to look through the site and trace the various waves of consolidations through the years, beginning with the widespread consolidations that took place in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

"We're kind of going through the same thing now that they did then," Shenaut said.

Nanninga said the majority of people who submit the information are people who attended high school in the 1940s and 1950s, but he hears from people from later generations as well. He said it's not just alumni who submit the information, but coaches, family members and local historians as well.

Nanninga funds the site out of his own pocket and intends to keep it that way.

"Some people golf or whatever," he said. "This is my hobby."

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On the Net:

www.illinoishsglorydays.com

Bygone School Facts

When Rio, Altona and Victoria schools consolidated in 1948, they became the ROVA Tigers. But each school had its own nickname before the consolidation. They were the Rio Rockets, the Oneida Mohawks, the Victoria Trojans and the Altona Vikings.

Before West Central High School and before Union High School, there was Biggsville High School. The BHS boys track and field team won back-to-back state titles, in 1899 and 1900.

Haw Creek Township High School in Gilson was built in 1903. An addition was built in 1928, which featured classrooms on the first floor and a gymnasium on the second. The school was reportedly the first in Knox County to use buses.

Source: Illinois High School Glory Days


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