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New Trier Township High School in 1912. Photo courtesy of the Winnetka Historical Society.


Our History-How Schools Shaped the Township


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The New Trier Township office takes several calls every day from people who want to talk with someone at New Trier Township High School.

The similarity in the name is, no doubt, the reason for the confusion.

The high school, which serves an area that is almost coterminous with the boundaries of New Trier Township, has its own elected Board of Trustees, as do the other school districts within the Township.

In early days, many children were home schooled. Several early settlers—William Foster, John Garland, Bartholomew Hoffman, the Peck family and others— built one-room log school houses and hired teachers to educate the local children. School attendance was not mandatory until 1883 when state law required 12 weeks of school each year for children between the ages of 8 and 14. The Township was chartered in 1850; the first municipalities were chartered in 1869. By 1861 there were five school districts within the Township boundaries, but none offered a high school education. Evanston Township High School was established in 1883, and some students from New Trier Township paid tuition to attend Evanston. Building and maintaining a high school was expensive, and the young municipalities were grappling with the expenses of building water and sewer systems. Wilmette, particularly, was deeply in debt and had little chance of expansion. One solution put forth was to annex Wilmette to Evanston so students could attend Evanston High School.

There was also talk at the time (1892) of annexing Rogers Park to Evanston, but the residents there voted to be annexed to Chicago. Many Evanstonians adamantly opposed being part of Chicago because their town was the center of the temperance movement. They feared their power to prohibit saloons would be lost. The famous four-mile boundary drawn by the temperance-minded Methodists around Northwestern University had prevented the sale of all alcoholic beverages for many years. They also looked with disfavor at the saloons in Gross Point.

A 1894 referendum to annex Wilmette to Evanston was defeated by only three votes after a bitter campaign. The Township election in 1897 was hotly contested and included a referendum to form a high school that was defeated by 10 votes. About half the voters did not even bother to vote on the issue. The real estate operators were in favor of annexation because they thought it would increase land values and home prices. Many people in Evanston supported the idea. Two years later, voters approved the organization of New Trier Township High School District and a high school Board of Education was elected. At that time the Township had a population of about 5,000. Half of those eligible voted on the issue.

Land speculators who saw the advantage of a high school serving the area hopped on the bandwagon. They negotiated land for the building and access roads. The Township provided many loads of gravel. On a snowy February day in 1901 New Trier Township High School welcomed its first class of 76 students. In 12 years, a third addition to the original building was needed to keep up with the growing student population of 600. At the 1954 Annual Town Meeting, the Township voted to appropriate $350,000 from the Town Fund for the purpose of erecting a Memorial Library at the high school to honor those who gave their lives serving their country.

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