The Beginning & Union School
In 1836, there were no free schools as there are today. People formed groups, raised the money, constructed or established a school, and hired someone to instruct the children. In 1838, the Beardsley family and their friends built the first school in Crystal Lake on what was known as the John Buehler lot located on the corner of McHenry and Virginia streets. The building was a 200 square foot log structure with a wood shake roof and split log desks. Named South Prairie School to honor the area in which it was built, the school housed students of various ages. The first teacher at that school and in Crystal Lake was Hannah Beardsley.
On April 21, 1883, the Nunda and Crystal Lake boards decided to consolidate and form a single district. June 2, 1883 voters approved the bond to build a building for the newly formed district on McHenry Avenue between Franklin and Paddock Streets. At that time, our local area was divided into the towns of Nunda and Crystal Lake. Designed to house elementary and high school students (1st - 11th grades) from both communities, the building was appropriately named Union School and opened to students on April 17th, 1884. At that time, only a three year high school program was offered so education was considered complete at the end of 11th grade. The first principal of Union School was J.C. Paul who served from 1884-1886. A.C. North served as the principal the following year 1886-1887 and S.M. Grimes served as the professor/administrator of the school from 1887-1894.
When Mr. Grimes left, William Calhoun assumed the administrative role from 1894-1897. He was best known for alternating the commencement ceremonies between Nunda and Crystal Lake. In 1897, W.C. Smith took over the administrative role. It was during this time that the school began getting crowded and a room at the Baptist Church was rented. A bond issue for an addition to the building failed as did a plan to build another school in each village. Finally in June of 1901, a bond issue did carry and two rooms were added to Union School due to population growth and crowding. L. Ragland held the administrative role from 1901-1903 during which time the school had to be closed in December 1901 for diphtheria and lightning rods were installed at the school in August 1902.
In 1903, A.M. Shelton took over the administrative role until 1910. During his tenure, many improvement and innovations were started with the most significant being the change from a three year high school course to a four year course, which is why there there no graduates from the high school in 1905. In 1906, the community approved the construction of a new building, which would house the high school aged students. Mr. Shelton oversaw the planning, construction, and equipping of the facility. The high school was constructed on the same property next to the original building, which was turned into an elementary school. A tunnel was constructed between the two schools to allow students and staff to move back and forth between the two structures. In 1909, city water was brought to the school building, which relieved the janitor from pumping 90 pails of drinking water each day. The Orange and Black, a school publication, was launched during Shelton's tenure, which did a lot to boost school spirit.
In December 1910, H.A. Dean began his tenure as the administrator, which lasted until his death in 1936. The recovery of back taxes from an estate in Crystal Lake allowed for the construction of a gymnasium to the high school building in 1914. Additional items added to the building during the 1914 construction were classrooms, a study hall and boiler room. In 1916, the high school was placed on the accredited list of the North Central Association of Secondary Schools and Colleges, which has been continuously held to this day.