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Daily Journal
     May 7, 2021      #66-127 KDJ

Recreating history: Bourbonnais takes next step

By Jeff Bonty

BOURBONNAIS — The village of Bourbonnais uncovered a significant piece of its past in 2011 when trustees acquired a parcel of land at the corner of South Main and Coyne streets.

The village purchased the parcel with the hope of future development on South Main Street, said Laurie Cyr, the village’s assistant administrator.

Mayor Paul Schore said the parcel was “important to us.”

But, there was a house on the land and it was in poor condition, Schore said.

“I was concerned it would burn down,” he said. “The village stepped in and purchased the land.”

The village slated the house for demolition. There was speculation as to the historical significance of the house.

“When we walked through the home, you could see the logs from the basement,” Cyr said.

Turns out those logs happened to be from a 1½-story schoolhouse built in 1837 by Thomas Durham when the village was known as Bourbonnais Grove. The historical structure was just 20 feet by 20 feet.

The village made the decision that the logs must be saved.

“I couldn’t let it go,” said Schore, whose favorite subject in school was history. “We had to do it or it would be gone forever.”

The logs were preserved and stored.

“They had to be surgically removed,” Cyr said. She said they were able to salvage 60 percent of the logs, which showed bark still intact, as well as meticulous woodwork.

The project

Schore has made it a goal to help rebuild the schoolhouse for current and future students to learn the experience of students generations ago.

The historical society is spearheading a fund drive for the $120,000 estimated cost to have the school professionally rebuilt. Since 2012, an estimated $60,000 has been raised.

This week, trustees heard the first reading of an ordinance to allow for the design and plans for reconstruction of the school. This part of the project will cost $8,500, with $6,000 coming from a grant.

It will be located on about an acre of land owned by the village west of the George Letourneau Home, which is rented by the Bourbonnais Grove Historical Society for $1 annually.

The schoolhouse will be reconstructed near the historical home and museum on East Stratford Drive.

Plans are to begin construction later this year or in 2022, said Jim Paul, president of the historical society and member its board of directors.

“When I first moved from Limestone Township to Bourbonnais, I never paid attention to the history of the village,” Paul said. “It’s important to know what the village was like in its early days.”

The project will accomplish that for future students. They’ll learn that students used a small slate board with chalk to do homework and more.

“It was a school when it was not a God-given right to go to school,” Schore was quoted as saying in a November 2017 article in the Daily Journal.

“It was a school when English was not the primary language in this area,” he said. “My hope is that one day we will have classes spending a day inside to learn about the community.”

Long history

Paul said there were 10 male students that attended the school. In 1848, students moved to another school closer to what is now Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, 308 E. Marsile St.

The schoolhouse was used by the Methodist church for a time. It was purchased in 1848 by French-Canadian blacksmith Joseph Lesage, according to the historical society. It later became a home for several families.

The final homeowner was Ralph “Red” Marcotte and his wife, Mary. The owned the home from the 1970s to 1998. Marcotte served on the village board in Bourbonnais for 16 years and also for a dozen years on the Kankakee County Board. Marcotte died in 2011.

Many additions were built onto the house, which also served as a gas station.

Jeff Bonty is a reporter for The Daily Journal. He can be reached at jbonty@daily-journal.com and 815-937-3366.

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