Jewish congregation keeps century-old schoolhouse alive

Posted By on April 9, 2014

CRYSTAL LAKE From schoolhouse to synagogue, Marian Michaels has been integral in much of the Ridgefield School Buildings 100-year history.

Michaels, who first moved to Crystal Lake in 1959, served as a substitute teacher in the two-room schoolhouse until it closed in 1980. It was not long until she returned, this time as a founding member of the McHenry County Jewish Congregation that purchased the building in 1981.

Never in a million years, Michaels said of thinking her classroom would become a place of worship. When the synagogue bought the building I couldnt believe it. But it has a great charm to it and how wonderful that it is still being used after 100 years.

Now Michaels, who was there for the buildings transformation, will have a chance to celebrate the buildings 100th anniversary and the congregations 35th anniversary this month. The congregation is hosting a series of events between April 25 and April 27 to commemorate both the buildings and congregations slow growth from humble beginnings to a community staple.

As the lone rural schoolhouse still standing from the more than 140 in McHenry County 100 years ago, many believed the building would be abandoned and left to crumble after it closed in 1980 from decreasing enrollment as families left farms for more populated areas.

But the slowly growing area Jewish population saw it as an opportunity to create a community close to home and end the multiple trips to an Elgin synagogue that many families made for services and religious schooling for their children, Michaels said.

When we first started there were probably six families, Michaels said. Its just been so exciting to see the growth of the congregation through all these years.

Ellen Morton, education director for the congregation, said that growth has led to roughly 85 families at the synagogue, all who had a part in making this months celebration possible.

Some members have delved into the history of the building, chronicling it from the fire that burned down the original single-room schoolhouse in 1913 to its reconstruction as a brick two-room schoolhouse in 1914 and expansion in the 1950s.

Many of the youth members researched the congregation and explored the crawl spaces of the building, even finding a mural of the building from the 1940s, Morton said.

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Jewish congregation keeps century-old schoolhouse alive

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