Bourbonnais to restore first schoolhouse
BOURBONNAIS — The village of Bourbonnais and the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society want to restore the village’s first schoolhouse.
That building, a log cabin structure, stood for about a century and three-quarters along Main Street in Bourbonnais.
It served as a school from 1837 to 1848. It actually was part of the Joliet School system at a time when the area was sparsely populated. For many years after that, it had different purposes, according to Bourbonnais Mayor Paul Schore.
The building was a blacksmith shop, a gas station and, eventually, a private residence. The actual logs, Schore said, were covered up by siding, though you still could see them if you went inside and looked in the basement.
Now, the village and the historical society have embarked on a drive to raise $70,000 to reassemble the log schoolhouse, replace the parts that are missing and open it as a living history museum next to the George R. LeTourneau historic home on Stratford Drive in the village.
The effort was announced Friday night as 69 supporters of the historical society met for a fund-raising Fleur-de-lis dinner, the first of its kind, at the Kankakee County Club. Admission fees, a raffle and donations helped raised an initial estimated $10,000 for the drive.
Schore explained that the village purchased the home in 2010 from its last owner, Red Marcotte. Marcotte served on the village board in Bourbonnais for 16 years and also for a dozen years on the Kankakee County Board. Marcotte died in 2011.
The village then hired Piggush-Simoneau Inc. to dismantle the home, piece by piece, and move it to a safe location, away from Main Street traffic. Schore said the firm did the work expertly and inexpensively. The logs now are stored on village property, carefully out of sight to prevent vandalism. When reassembled, the building would be 20 feet by 20 feet.
“It was a school when it was not a God-given right to go to school,” Schore said. “It was a school when English was not the primary language in this area. My hope is that one day we will have classes spending a day inside to learn about the community.”
Schore said about 60 percent of the original structure has been recovered. It will need a new roof. The roof had been taken off years ago and a second unoriginal story was added. Parts of a wall are also missing. He described the logs as square-hewn, not the rounded Lincoln logs you might think of.
The French-themed dinner included an authentic Gallic meal of a meat pie, and fries with cheese and gravy. Charles Balesi, Waltraud Schuller and Lynn O’Brien Ahlden organized the event, which included remarks by Frederic Chole, the deputy consul for France in Chicago.
The Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society presented its first Fleur-de-lis award to local historian Vic Johnson. Johnson is a founding member of the group and a past president of the society.
He wrote more than 500 Up tip Now columns for the Daily Journal, wrote an Illustrated Sesquicentennial History for Kankakee County and has authored Arcadia books for Bradley and Bourbonnais.
He also was instrumental in saving the George R. LeTourneau home in 1985. It had been scheduled to be burned down as part of a fire training exercise. That restored home now serves as a museum and the history society’s headquarters.