Laying the Groundwork for Wilmette's District 39
By Lydia DeLeo
Real Estate Agent with Compass 475.125122
Much of Wilmette’s first 75 years were a period of growth and expansion, with the total population reaching a high of 32,000 in 1970. Part of the increase can be attributed to the absorption of Gross Point Village in the mid 1920s, which at the time was composed primarily of farmland.
The second wave came around the postwar era, where the need for housing, along with the expansion of the Edens Expressway led the way for the development of West Wilmette. The housing boom transformed the area west of Ridge Road from farmland into residential subdivisions. Tracts of ranch-style and bi-level homes with distinctive names like “Young Modern” and “Skylark” reflected the upbeat sentiment of the day.
The influx of young families to the area created the need to expand the number of primary schools. It was also during this period that New Trier High School’s board determined the need to build a new campus to accommodate the surge in projected enrollment. New Trier’s West Campus opened its doors in 1965, initially serving underclassmen (9th & 10th grade); however, in 1967, the building was dedicated as a separate four-year high school. It closed temporarily in 1985.
The inflation & economic boom of the late 60s and early 70s boosted real estate prices considerably, to the extent that by the mid-seventies, fewer young families were able to afford to become homeowners. The national trend toward smaller families, along with double-digit interest rates, led to a decline in the school-age population in our area. Wilmette’s School districts found the need to reverse expansion plans as they factored in fewer students and a declining budget. As a result, they closed several schools.
The nineties brought about a renewed interest of young families in the area, with Wilmette’s District 39 in need of more space. Both Highcrest Middle School, and several years later, New Trier’s West Campus were re-opened, resulting in the current system we have in place today. Did You Know….
Howard Park (1927-1983) was once home to Howard Junior High School, Grades 6 & 7. The steeple is the last remaining vestige of the middle school that was demolished in the early 80s, falling victim to declining school enrollment.
McKenzie Elementary School used to go by a different name. Formally known as Logan Elementary School, it began as a one-room schoolhouse in 1893. The school underwent the name change in honor of the longstanding and well-revered principal Louisa E. McKenzie, who served from 1950 to 1978.
The Wilmette Community Recreation Center was once Bell Elementary School, built in the mid-60s in response to an influx of young families moving to the area. The school shuttered its doors in 1977, and was acquired by the Wilmette Park District in 1993 to become the current Community Rec Center.
Highcrest Middle School (built in the 1920s) was closed down in the mid-70s, and was slated for demolition. Fortunately, the Village chose to repurpose the space, and it served as the Wilmette Park District’s Community Recreation Center and the Wilmette Historical Museum before returning to a Middle School in 1994.
New Trier’s West Campus was closed in 1985 and rented to a number of entities, including serving as a senior center and used as a backdrop in several of John Hughes’ well-known 80s movies, including: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Home Alone & Uncle Buck.