Original Fremont School torn down for road realignment
In a matter of hours Friday morning, a century-old landmark and conversation piece at Fremont Center Road and Route 60 in Fremont Township was torn down and carted off.
An excavator made quick work of the red brick, one-room schoolhouse where an untold number of kids from nearby farms -- and later, sprouting subdivisions -- were taught.
There were no spectators or tears shed, as the building has been vacant for more than four years and marked for removal. But even those in the business of clearing landscapes said they felt a sense of history escaping as the building fell.
The academic past inside was erased in the late 1970s, when the building was converted to a home. However, as always, the original Fremont School building served as a reference point and conversation piece along what has become a busy state road.
"Over the years we lived there, many people stopped to tell us they had gone to school there, so it has been of historical interest to many in the area," said Christine Nordmark, an interior designer who with her husband, Eric, an architect, bought the schoolhouse in 1978.
The brick Fremont School replaced a one-room schoolhouse that was moved to Erhart and Fremont Center roads, according to Diana Dretske, curator and Lake County historian at the Dunn Museum operated by the Lake County Forest Preserve District.
Most of the brick schools were built in the mid-to-late 1910s to provide a better environment for learning, Dretske said.
Fremont Elementary District 79 used the school until moving south on Fremont Center Road in 1957 to the first of what is now a four-school campus.
In 1959, the Archdiocese of Chicago, which operated St. Mary of the Annunciation Church nearby, bought the one-room school to house first- through third-graders.
"That was considered the little school," said Betsy Tekampe, who attended St. Mary School from 1961 to 1963. She said there were about 12 kids in each grade taught by one teacher.
Route 60 wasn't nearly as busy and the area was much more agricultural, she added.
"It was a different time. I'm really glad I got to go there," said Tekampe, who still lives in the area.
Every couple of years, she added, about 10 St. Mary classmates get together and reminisce. She has fond memories of the school but said safety needs to be addressed.
The Nordmarks fashioned a home from what had been one big room by creating an upstairs and installing a fireplace. They stayed 38 years, their kids playing on swings in the small schoolyard used by generations of students during recess.
In 2017, the couple sold the property to Lake County and moved to Tennessee.
"It will make the intersection much safer, so I'm happy it is moving forward, but it will look very different without the schoolhouse on the corner," Christine Nordmark said.
The building's location on a curve made getting onto Route 60 from Fremont Center Road dangerous, resulting in many accidents and near misses.
The Lake County Division of Transportation for several years has had plans to realign Fremont Center Road, add turn lanes and install a traffic signal.
Now, the road will be moved about 100 feet east to meet Route 60 at a less-severe angle as part of a $2.13 million project, and the school was in the way. The Illinois Department of Transportation will reimburse 50% of the cost up to $1.55 million.
Beginning Monday, Fremont Center Road will be closed to through traffic to 50 days from Route 60 to Earhart Road so the project can proceed.
Except for the boarded-up windows, the school looked to be sturdy and in decent shape.
A few years ago, Habitat for Humanity cleared a full truck of items like appliances, cabinets, doors, light fixtures and mechanicals.
Darrell Kuntz, former project manager for LCDOT, said no one was interested in moving the old school so it was scheduled for demolition.