Winnebago County, Illinois
The first public school in New Milford opened for classes about 1850 in a stone building that also doubled as a church and town hall. The square structure stood for years on a lot next to the former New Milford Methodist Episcopal Church on what is now New Milford School Road. The church is now identified as the New Milford First Baptist Church. That stone building was used up until at least 1910 as the community town hall. The early teachers included Ziphy Vanderc(-?), Halsey Clark and Miss Weed.
School records indicate that there were ten small school districts in operation in New Milford Township by 1856. The stone school in New Milford, called Common Elementary District No. 109, was operated by directors C.B. Johnson, Frederic H. Maxwell, and Mr. Irvine.
In 1861 Sarah E. Brown, daughter of Samuel and Angelina Hill Brown, was an editor of the "New Milford Scholars Leaf." Her co-editoress was Ellen W. Johnson. The handwritten school newspaper, consisting of several pages, sold for .25 single copies, $2.00 annually in advance. The paper was devoted to "the physical, mental, and moral elevation of scholars, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations", an indication of the paper’s name origin, the concern for the spiritual needs and the heartaches over the secessions and impending Civil War. Sarah E. Brown, then thirteen years old, became the great grandmother of Mrs. Ellen McNeil McHugh, Rockford. Another descendant of Sarah Brown, Mrs. Lucille Potter Holliston, Mendota, preserved the handwritten copy of "New Milford Scholars Leaf". Mrs. Holliston's mother Mrs. Alice Jones Potter, was a sister of Ellen Jones Weld.
The 15 March 1861 issue of the "New Milford Scholars Leaf" contained mostly philosophy, but some insight in the life of the New Milford community was vividly preserved in the document. The editors' wrote, "…speaking of exertions reminds me how necessary to success in anything we undertake it is that we go to work with spirit and determination. Our winter school is drawing to a close and those of us who have worked and endeavored to perform our duties that have been appointed to us will feel as if the time spent here has not been in vain…a change has taken place in the affairs of this nation (…). Mr. Lincoln is a last established live and safe at the head of our government and it is hoped he will equal to the great responsibility involving upon him. Affairs at home are progressing in a very quiet safer manner, but I expect we will put on airs when the railroad gets here…"
Billy wrote in the same issue, "Oh! How we boys hail winter and think of the skating, snowballing, and sleighing downhill we shall have, but that is not all winter is good for, in the winter we boys have the chance to go to school and learn, but in summer we have to stay at home and work. I hope I have made good use of my time in school this winter. I meant to anyway. I have had a good teacher, and if I had not learned as much as I ought, it is my own fault."
In 1871 the schools of New Milford Township had been consolidated to nine school districts and the New Milford School was in District No. 7. Nearby schools were Kinson School (District No. 8), Baxter School (District No. 10), South Bend School (District No. 4), Kishwaukee School (District No. 3), and Dickerman School (District No. 1). In 1877 the New Milford School was operated by George C. Sanborn and his wife. Mr. Sanborn, a Republican, came to Winnebago County in 1863. Her married Cora E. Allen of Shabbona Grove on 28 March 1876. In 1877 he was twenty-four years old, Cora was twenty years only. The district later moved classes successively into a frame building and the remodeled Congregationalist Church. The frame building, located just east of the James (-)untain farm, was the site of the school in 1871. Today that location is the residence of the Roger DeGarmos. For many years, until 11975, that dwelling was the residence of the Bergie Swensons on new Milford School Road.
The remodeled Congregational Church, which was located at the site of the present school, was wood painted white with a belfry. In 1914, the building was cut in half, one half moved on the present day new Milford School Road site of the home of the John Evans family. When the half was moved, it was remodeled as a dwelling for Joe Thompson, brother of Gilbert Thompson. That dwelling burned down. The back half of the old school became the home that Alice Roser raised her family in on the New Milford hill site. It was later razed to make way for her present home.
The residents of the New Milford District joined with the citizens from Dickerman Common Elementary District No. 107 (to the west) and Baxter Common Elementary District No. 110 (to the south) to approve a referendum in April 1914 creating New Milford Consolidated District No. 123. The election, which proceed the third successful consolidation in Winnebago County, was followed within a month by a successful $7,500.00 bond issue for construction of a new building.
A two story brick veneer school, thirty-five feet by fifty feet containing four rooms, was subsequently erected on the site of the old school building. It was built under the supervision of school directors, W.H. Robinson, T.W. Evans and Sherman Corlett in 1914. Harry Graham helped dig the basement. He hauled all the lumber and bricks for the building with a team of horses and wagon. Harry Graham was the son of Hugh Graham who immigrated from Ireland. Hugh Graham worked in New York State to make money to travel west where he settled near the Kishwaukee River. Harry Graham, who was married to Gladys V. Baxter, died in 1973 after living for more than eighty-five years in New Milford. He was considered to be one of the oldest and most active residents of the community. Mr. Graham said he could remember when there were only twenty buildings in the New Milford community. His wife Gladys, born in 1890, died in 1970.
The new brick school building was opened 28 October 1914. Enrollment included sixteen high school and fifty elementary pupils under a faculty of three, including Reed Williams and Mrs. Alma Norton. By 1917 the enrollment was seventy-seven and the faculty consisted of five teachers. A serious series of financial problems developed in 1919 and plague the school district for thirty years.
First, in 1919, action was taken by the federal government in acquisition of the Camp Grant area as a federal reservation that drastically cut New Milford's tax revenue by shearing 23% of the district's assessed valuation. In 1928, it was not only decreed that the acquisition land was detached from the district, but simply declared non-revenue producing property. This forced the district to educated all the children living in the Camp Grant reservation despite the fact that the are was contributing no revenue.
Second, probably the most exciting day in New Milford history was 21, January 1936 when the school burned to the ground in a disastrous fire. Firemen estimated that if two hundred gallons of water had been available when they arrived the fire could have been extinguished without difficulty. Nearly one hundred pupils dashed again and again in an effort to save books and equipment. Examinations were being held the day of the fire and some of the students watched the fire with tears in their eyes because they were unable to finish the tests and much of their work had been destroyed. This disastrous fire created great educational hardship and serious financial problems.
When the school burned classes were held at Camp Grant until the new school was ready to be occupied. The new school, constructed on the same site and reopened in 1937, was financed by $23,000.00 in federal WPA funds and $19,000.00 local funds, including a $10,0000.00 insurance settlement. The school then included a three year high school with ninety students and two buses. Students came from as far away as Rockford's southeast end because of the preference for a smaller quality high school. The new building consisted on six classrooms and a gymnasium.
The third problem, in 1939, was considerably more involved and is only briefly detailed here. Principal of the school, Luther, Hester, resigned, the teachers went without salary for a year, the school directors resigned, there was a near doubling of the tax anticipation warrants beyond the legal limit for its bonded indebtedness, there was a taxpayers' suit and some other problems to solve.
Somehow in the years to follow, the school district solved its problems and the school, not only survived, but made considerable progress. Today it is one of the leading schools of the county. It included Sky View School on Rotary Road to which Kinson School was consolidated in 1967.
New Milford and Sky View Schools became a part of the Rockford District No. 205 on July 1, 1969. Students are bused all over the district. In 1974, there were 545 students enrolled in the New Milford School. These children cam from 337 families. The 1975 enrollment was 400 students taught by a faculty of twenty teachers. Long time teachers at the school include Mrs. John Evans and Mrs. Darlene Smith. In addition to those families that live in the New Milford community, many families that live in Morningside Heights, a former section of Camp Grant, have children attending New Milford School. The Sky View School, built in 1966, serves residents of Morristown, the rural area southeast of New Milford and the subdivisions of Kirkwood Heights and Sierra Heights, north of New Milford. Sky View Schools' enrollment in 1975 was 270 students, representing 187 families. The school is staffed by Stan Filips, principal, twelve teachers and three special education personnel. [Source: History of New Milford, 1835-1975 by Jack L. Baxter]
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