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The Origins and Development of the Greenwood School


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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The Origins and Development of the Greenwood School

All photographs and programs cited on this webpage are from the Coles County Historical Society Archives.

The Land Ordinance of 1785, a significant government document, established local schools within specific sections of the, then very young, United States of America. This document stated that the government wanted one section in every township to be reserved for a public school. This monumental document created public schools and changed the status quo of education. Children from rural areas now received the opportunity to obtain an education, instead of it being confined to families of wealth and prominence.The Land Ordinance of 1785 signified a turning point where this new American government set a precedent that education held enough value and merit that this issue needed to be addressed. The formation of townships allowed the United States government to build a structure that established government control, but also a sense of community because now border lines had been drawn. This document created a type of formal education within the United States, and thus the one-room school came into being. The formation of township schools resulted in a profound effect on the communities, the teachers, and the students who attended the school.

The Greenwood School Building The Greenwood School Building

The Greenwood School’s original location started out in Eastern Coles County, specifically the Ashmore Township. Jesse and Mary Fox, husband and wife, gifted some of their land to the township for the precise reason of building the Greenwood School. There is not an exact date on the construction of this school, but Joe Fender, former student and scholar on the Greenwood school, estimates that the date ranges from 1860 to 1861.

Due to multiple maintenance repairs that needed completion, the school board of directors wanted to build a new schoolhouse in the early 1890s. The Greenwood School voters defeated the proposition twice, once in 1893 and another time in 1894, because they did not want the old school building destroyed. This school meant a lot to the Coles County community, because the location provided the children in the area with an education, and served as a contact zone for social activities and other local events, such as town meetings. However, in 1895 the proposition passed with a vote of twenty to four.

Class in Session         Class in session with students seated at their desks, with the teacher in the back.  

This Greenwood School building held classes within its walls from 1895 to its closing in 1948, which meant this school stood as a place of education for fifty-three years. This one room school encompassed first graders through eighth graders.                                                                 

Children Raising Hands Children Sitting in Desks Raising Their Hands.
The Greenwood School Interior.The Greenwood School Interior.

The Greenwood School closed in 1948, and auctioned off at a later date. A man named Alfred Snoddy bought the school and turned it into a house for one of his hired hands. When he died he willed the school and the land it stood on to Bert Coffey’s, a former Greenwood School student, brothers. The Coles County Historical Society moved the Greenwood School to the Eastern Illinois University campus in 1975. 

The Greenwood School BuildingThe Greenwood School Building

According to former Greenwood students, they enjoyed the education they received at this school. The students loved that all of the grades were combined into one room because they listened and practiced the lessons the teacher gave to the older children, and the older students helped them with their homework. One side of the spectrum in one room school education deals with the fact that students received special attention from the teacher to understand their own grade level lessons, but they also received the opportunity to gain more knowledge from the older students.

The Greenwood School Building The Greenwood School Building

Once the building moved to its new home, the Eastern Illinois University campus, the Coles County Historical Society transformed this building into a museum. This building received a lot of restoration work over the years since 1975. Throughout the years, since the Greenwood School building became a museum, Eastern Illinois University and the Coles County Historical Society have used this structure to present programs to various audiences, such as education majors at Eastern Illinois University, elementary school students, and local community residents.

Greenwood School Programs



Webpage was designed by Historical Administration Graduate Student, Emily Spuhler