Old, old Chester school—not forgotten

By Marcie Klomp

When doing any sort of remodeling or new construction project, there are always unforseen glitches. You run into dry rot, electrical issues and foundation problems.

Foundation problems are exactly what Hamilton Builders found when they tore down the shelter at Chester City Park in order to put in a new one. The foundation was not from the old shelter, though. It was from the old, old school!

According to Chester Through The Years (1858-2008), the first school in Chester was a small wooden-framed building 24×50 feet. It boasted 55 students and stood in what is now Chester City Park.

The second school (the one with the aforementioned foundation) was built in 1895-96. It had a basement and two additional stories. It cost about $2,000 to build.

With a growing town, thanks to the railroad, a new school was needed just 20 years later. The new brick building was erected a block away—adjacent to what is now the community center/skating rink. The 1916 building also had two floors—lower grades downstairs and upper grades upstairs.

In 1955 a new gymnasium with two classrooms and lunchroom was built (the current community center).

(Now, here is where one story can turn into two in the newspaper business. I got talking about the foundation to Howard Falck and he remembered another foundation—the one on the school gym.)

There is nobody around who remembers the second school coming down or the new one going up, unless they are over 100, but there are still a few old-timers who remember when the gymnasium was built. Some of them even helped!

Falck recalls that when he first came to Chester in 1954, athletes were using the old community center (where German Heritage Furniture is located). He said regulations and safety reasons forced the school to build a new gym.

To help keep expenses down, community members offered their blood, sweat and tears to put up the structure. Falck was one of those who helped. He can’t remember everyone (It was 60 years ago!), but some faces who came to mind who dug the footings by hand were Ed Holmes, Bill Jensen, Maynard Ladwig, Fred Falck, John Kelly and Kenny Murphy.

Falck called them old-timers, but they weren’t old at the time. They were young and strong and put in a lot of hard work to get the new gym built.

Murphy doesn’t specifically remember this part of Chester history, but he remembers many others. He is now a resident at Country Winds Manor.

After the schools consolidated, and the school was torn down, another generation (and some from the previous one) helped preserve the gym in 1972. Some of those associated with that project were Howard, Harry and Evelyn Adams, Bud Johnson, Corwin Goodman, Jane Ullom and Harry Engelhardt.

In a few years the youngest generation will take over and find their own passion to save a piece of their history. It could be the park, the old gym or any number of things. The footprint of the town may change, but many times its foundation can still be found.

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