Quintessential Barrington

One School, One Barrington

by Patty Dowd Schmitz

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As the Village of Barrington prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday (its Sesquicentennial) in 2015, Quintessential Barrington will run a series of articles celebrating our town’s history, culminating in a special edition of the magazine in February 2015 dedicated solely to the Sesquicentennial and Barrington’s history.

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My daughter Samantha heads to Barrington High School this month as an incoming freshman, and I couldn’t be more excited for her.

Many other communities have numerous villages or towns that feed into their high schools (Stevenson, New Trier), and others have two or more high schools within their borders (Naperville, Palatine).

When we moved here in 1998, one of the most appealing things about Barrington was that it was a one-high-school town. To me, that meant a cohesive community – a place where there were no competing, cross-town football teams to divide the fan base, no “good school” and “bad school” debates. I grew up in a town like this, and I wanted that experience for my children.

Barrington’s first “high school” wasn’t a high school at all. It was a one-room log cabin built in 1835 at the intersection of Sutton and Algonquin Roads, when Barrington was a pioneer community on the prairie. The school served children of all ages during the agricultural off-seasons, when they could be spared from farm work to walk the proverbial two miles each way in the snow.

During the Civil War era, the first two-story frame schoolhouse was built on South Hough Street (at the site of the present-day Hough Street School). This school served all grades, and according to a comprehensive report on the history of Barrington High School by the CA220 History Committee, the environment at the new Hough Street School in the 1860s was still rural:

“One student reported that when he arrived at school one day there was a wise owl sitting on his desk. Another student said that the job of the first student to arrive at school was to fetch some wood and start a fire in the stove to warm the school. Another student reported that one teacher carried a leather strap in his hip pocket for frequent use.”

By the early 1900s, Hough Street School had become overcrowded. According to the report, “It was decided to cut the two-story building into four sections and sell them as residences…. A new 120’x 65’ brick building was erected in 1905 for $42,000.” The building was modern for the era and the centerpiece of the community during the 1920s and 1930s.

After World War II, the population of Barrington began to explode again with the onset of suburbanization, and the need for a separate high school emerged. In 1948, land was purchased from the H.S. Hart family at the corner of Hart and Lake-Cook Roads. Construction began, and on September 12, 1949, classes commenced at Barrington’s first and only high school, built to serve 400 to 450 students.

Over the next 65 years the high school has been added onto and reconfigured numerous times, resulting in the large and compartmentalized building we have today that serves nearly 3,000 students. The core of the 1949 building remains intact, but the blueprint has expanded.

During the latter half of the 20th century, the community haggled over, debated, voted on, and in the end, continued to defeat the idea of adding a second high school to our community.

I’m glad this idea never caught on – BHS makes our town feel connected and special. I like that we’re one school, one Barrington, and I hope that my daughter does, too.

As the Village of Barrington prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday (its Sesquicentennial) in 2015, Quintessential Barrington will run a series of articles celebrating our town’s history, culminating in a special edition of the magazine in February 2015 dedicated solely to the Sesquicentennial and Barrington’s history.

Patty Dowd Schmitz is a local writer and Barrington-area historian. She is a member of the Village of Barrington’s 150th Sesquicentennial Committee.

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Editor’s note: If you have a piece of Barrington history and a photo to share with it, please feel free to contact us at 847-381-3860, or email publisher@qbarrington.com.