Kirby School

In the early 1840s "Yankee" settlers from east of Ohio and land speculators began to acquire the public land in southwestern Cook County from the United States land office. For voting purposes this area was part of York Precinct. By 1850 this precinct was divided into townships, with each forming its own local government. The first government for Orland Township organized Common School districts. In southeastern Orland Township sections 23, 25, 26, 27, 34 and 35 were united into District 4. On February 16, 1850, settlers from these sections met to organized District 4.

A Board was chosen consisting of John Smith, Barnabas Webb and Timothy White. It was agreed that a one room school house would be erected on public land in Section 25, south of a trail that led from Bachelor Grove Road in western Bremen Township into Orland. The Board approved the first school tax for its construction and appointed a building committee, chaired by Joseph R. Ward.

Meanwhile the remaining public land in the area was being acquired from the American government. John Lewis, a major land speculator in Bremen Township obtained 40 acres in the SW quarter of Section 25. A year later, in 1854, James Kiddle, a recent immigrant from England and a carpenter by trade, received the northern 40 acres next to the school house, now under construction. In 1855 he bought the 40 acres from John Lewis, using a mortgage provided by Samuel Tinley, a holder of land in Section 27 and newly hired as the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific railroad agent at Bremen Station in Bremen Township.

The Board continued to meet annually and hold special meetings to approve budgets, oversee construction, and if necessary to increase the school tax. Seemingly building was delayed, perhaps due to lack of funds and harsh weather. In 1853 the school building could be used for meetings, but not yet for classes. Equipment began to be acquired such as a pail with a dipper for drinking water, a broom and a blackboard. In 1855 the Board decided that more land was needed, perhaps for a larger play area. After some negotiation James Kiddle agreed to sell about 100 feet of land next to the school site. Further evidence of progress came the following year with the building of a chimney and the buying of a wood burning box stove, along with the "banking up" of the school. Finally in 1859 the necessary outhouses were added and the school grounds fenced to keep out roaming animals and livestock. Now it was time to appoint a school director and to hire a teacher.

On December 10, 1859 Orton L. Mayhew was appointed to organize the school for its planned opening in January of 1860. Since he had agreed to serve only until January 10, Daniel W. Griffin was hired to be the first permanent teacher. After nearly a decade since the creation of District 4 the school opened for business. Classes began with 18 students, equally divided between boys and girls. During this first year 12 more boys and 7 more girls were added. The Hoard faced a problem in hiring and keeping adequate teachers. Only in 1863 was the Board able to employ Mrs. William Myrick, who lived up to its expectations. Otherwise, budget items consumed most of the Board's attention. Besides the major expense of salary for the teachers ($16 to $18 a month), funds were needed to provide equipment and maintenance, including an annual white washing of the school's exterior. Annually four cords of wood were needed for heating during the cold winters.

The 1860s brought difficulty as well as change. Disruption resulting from the Civil War and the reappearing attacks of cholera led to a decline in enrollment. By 1864 only 19 students were in attendance. Meanwhile the original "Yankees" families such as the Kiddies, the Kirby's, the Shields and the Wards were being joined by German immigrants. Now the district voters included such names as Andres, Battenhause, Bormet, Brandau, Mager 1tnd Sippel. Despite the difference in culture and language the "Yankee" and the Germans were able to cooperate in the running of the school district. Both Christian and Conrad Battenhausen played important roles as Board members. The Kirby family including Robert, Samuel, Zacharia and later John provided both Board members and school directors. This important and consistent involvement of the Kirby's over the decades resulted in the district being referred to as the Kirby School District.

As the 20th century approached other changes occurred. In 1869 a coal burning stove replaced the old wood burning stove. A flag pole was added in 1896 at the cost of $6.50. By the end of 1899 a well had been dug to provide an adequate water supply. In 1901 reorganization resulted in District 4 becoming 140. Now the first insurance policy was required, which was bought from Charles Hollstein. One item was still needed: a school bell.  

In August of 1901 the Board approved its purchase. Christian Andres, who had previously farmed in the district and had moved in 1865 to the nearby village of Bremen, provided the bell for $25.50. A local carpenter, Karl Schuman, built the platform and installed the bell. Finally electricity arrived in 1904.

Now time was passing by for this one room school house as a growing population in Tinley Park (formerly Bremen) needed an enlarged and more modem facility. Closed and deserted the school house became the victim of time and circumstance. It was sold to the Bettenhausen fami1y, who had acquired the Kiddle property in 1864. By the early l 990s the deteriorating school building had been torn down. Only the bell was preserved. Like the one room school houses, time caught up with the area's farmers, with their lands becoming housing developments and strip shopping centers. This fate now befell the Bettenhausens. During August of 1992 an auction was held to sell their farm's remaining equipment, the bell was acquired by the Tinley Park Historical Society. It will be preserved as a remembrance of the vanished past of Tinley Park.

Dr. Robert J. Kovarik Professor of History Chicago State University August 30, 1992.