Carroll County Illinois

Contributed by Karen Fyock


Situated on a one-half tract of land at the intersection of Zion and Elizabeth Roads, Zion School is rapidly giving way to the encroachment of Time.

Wind rustles through the giant maple trees overlooking the weathered one-story frame building. Whit paint has blistered and pealed under the stark conditions of the northern Illinois weather leaving the old school house bleak and unprotected. The schoolyard, once a haven for noon lunches and recess activity for students in grades one through eight, has become so overgrown that the rusted, decrepit slide and swing set are nearly invisible beneath the towner weeds. A visitor can almost hear in the school yard the children's voices of bygone days. All that is audible now is the faint sound from a radio across the blacktop road. One of the last one-room school houses in Carroll County to close its doors and consolidate with a larger school district (Mt. Carroll in the early 1960's) Zion School relentlessly nears the day when it will succumb to the passage of time and become a mere memory. Elapsed time has not dimmed the memory of one Zion School graduate, however, Robert (Bob) Carson, Mt. Carroll, entered first grade at Zion in the fall of 1901.

In those days, Carson, 79, recalls, Zion was a bustling little hamlet with a post office, blacksmith shop and a grocery store. The post office and grocery store were located in a home across from the school now inhabited by the Fred Rath family. The weathered old school now standing at Zion was not Carson's first academic home. He says there was another frame school house sitting exactly where the current one is when he first started school. Somewhere along his grade school career, he does not remember the exact date, a new school was built. East of the school in what is now a cemetery sat the frame-built Zion Church, says the pleasant Carson. Early in the 1900's a brick church replaced the frame one and was built north of the cemetery. It is no longer standing. Sitting in his small, one-story home last week, a solitary electric table fan whisking the hot, humid air about the living room, Bob Carson was eager to tell someone about the days when it seemed as if the Zion School would live forever. His hearing is somewhat impaired and his body is bent with the passing years, but long-time Woodland Township farmer Bob Carson has a keen memory and an eternal sense of humor which makes it easy to transport a visitor back to the turn of the 20th century. Winter was that time of the year when Zion School was the most crowded, Bob says, because there was no field work and fathers could handle the farm duties while their sons were at school. When springtime rolled around, the school enrollment which reached a maximum of the upper 30's when grades one through eight had a good turnout, diminished somewhat with many of the boys returning to the fields. Bob stayed in school year round, though, upon his father's insistence. "School was always easy for me," he says matter-of-factly. "Dad made me go and I always enjoyed it."

Subjects studies in those days included grammar, geography, spelling, and, of course, the Three R's. He noted that he hardly ever brought home any homework "because I got it right when I was sitting in school." Students who didn't get it right, though, or did something else to raise the teacher's ire, were occasion for the famous hickory stick.

"Teachers back in them days had sticks to correct students," mused Carson, quickly adding, "None of them ever touched me, though." His one-half mile daily walk to Zion School was just child's play compared to the nine and one-half mile one-way trip he had to make by horse to attend Savanna Township High School after his Zion graduation. For two years he made the long journey five days a week. His junior and senior years he drove in from Zion on Monday and rented a room in Savanna returning to his home on Friday nights.

His desire for a high school diploma was well rewarded on a spring night in 1914 when he was named valedictorian of the 26 member class of Savanna Township High School, which was located where the Savanna Medical Center now stands. Not only were Bob's grades outstanding, but so was his attendance. During his four years of high school, BOb was never once absent or tardy. Just one day did his perfect attendance record seem in jeopardy. A blinding blizzard whipped through the hills of Zion all night long, and come morning the snow was neck deep in some spots.

No matter. It was a school day and Bob got up early in the morning, hitched a horse to his wagon and started off for Savanna. After the agonizingly long trip, Bob arrived at the school house soaking wet at 10:30 a. m. Two hours after the start of school. But, he was not late this particular morning, because school had been canceled. A janitor whisked the freezing young boy to the boiler room and in a matter of minutes, "I was as dry as can be."

Another of his favorite recollections about his long trips to school concerns a certain passenger. "I used to pick up a girl on Monday who would live in Savanna during the week and then I would take her back to Zion on Friday. She became my wife." That girl was Margaret McCall and she became Mrs. RObert Carson in 1917. The farmed 160 acres in the Zion area from the start of their marriage which produced four offspring: Col. Russell Carson, Georgia and Mrs. Arthur Eckert, Lanark, both of whom are still living. One son, Roland, died in the mid-1960'2, and another child died as an infant. His wife died "around 1960" and Bob moved from his farm, which he still owns, into Mt. Carroll two or three years ago. He remains fairly active, not unusual for the long-time farmer who also served 21 years of the Carroll County Board of Supervisors.

Among his many highlights on the county board, he says a major one was when he helped get Zion Road improved from a dirt road to a gravel one. Much of his time nowadays is spent walking from his home to downtown Mt. Carroll, a distance of several blocks,where he is a familiar and friendly visitor. Once a week, too, he still goes to a livestock sale at Winslow.

His memory is not what it used to be when it domes to dates, but, names and places are forever etched in his mind. And so are little school verses, which cause his face to light up with a smile when he recites; "reading and riting and rithmetic taught to the tune of a hickory stick."

Zion School is much more to Bob Carson than a decaying, frame structure. His knowing eyes say it all; memories are something special.

The Carroll County Review August 28, 1975 by Bob Watson

Unused as a one-room school since the 1960's, Zion School shows its lack of activity by its peeling paint and overgrown schoolyard.

Robert (Bob) Carson, Mt. Carroll, attended Zion Grade School, a one-room schoolhouse, and Savanna Township High School in the early 1900's. He is holding his 1914 senior class picture from Savanna, of which he was valedictorian and also was cited for never being absent or tardy in four years of school.

The former Zion Church used to stand directly north of the Zion Cemetery, It has long since been torn down.