Just over 160 years ago, Pottawtomi Indians lived on this prairie land we call Westmont. Present day Ogden Avenue and Route 66 mark the paths of their major westward trails, and later, stage coach routes passed through the prairie following Ogden Avenue and Naperville Road. With the passage west of the Indians, the promise of fertile soil, abundant water and nearby timber attracted settlers. The demand was so great that by 1847 an acre of good farmland went for nearly ten dollars.
The building of the Chicago-Aurora line of the C. B. & O. Railroad began in 1862, taking two years to complete. Then, in 1871, the sky to the east glowed orange as the city of Chicago burned. From its rubble rose one of the greatest impacts on the development of Westmont. More than 50,000 years earlier, the glaciers heaped huge clay deposits in this area, increasing the elevation here to 740 feet above sea level. Seeing a business opportunity, brick men purchased large parcels of this land of clay, to provide fire-proof building materials to the devastated city of Chicago.
One of these men was William L. Gregg. His Excelsior Brick Co. was positioned on 73 acres along the C. B. & 0. A smart businessman, Gregg took advantage of the elevation: steam engines rotted easily downhill toward Chicago carrying a full load of bricks. Mr. Gregg set down roots along this 'west mound'. He built a house for his family (now the Westmont Historical Museum). Trains stopped here at Gregg's Milk Stop Station so farmers could send fresh milk to the city. Livestock were herded down Gregg's Road (now Cass Avenue.)
Further development came in the person of Arthur T. McIntosh, who began an active campaign at the end of World War I to subdivide the prairie. In the spring of 1920, cinder sidewalks and trees began to sprout. Cottages were selling for $2500-$3500. Lots could be purchased for $5.00 down and monthly payments on the balance.
City folks were attracted by the wide open spaces, manageable financial terms and a desire to have a few chickens, pigs and maybe a cow or two on land to call their own. Most were foreign born, looking for opportunity in a new country. Life for these newcomers was tough, there were no paved streets; lighting was by kerosene lamps or candles; wood or coal stoves provided heat. A lucky few had sunk wells, while the rest carried water daily from the public pump near the tracks. No one had a car, but even if they had, the rutted, muddy roads offered a challenge to any driver.
The new village of Westmont was incorporated in 1921. That summer there were 5 stores, 200 families and about 600 residents. Pride wasn't the only thing flowing through this new town! The first running water was provided to the residents along Norfolk and Adams Streets!
The first school house in the village was built in the summer of 1921 on lots donated for that purpose by the Mclntosh Co. It was a two room structure which was built in back of what is now Manning School. Five hundred dollars in materials and all the labor were donated by the citizens for the erection of the building. Because of the town's rapid growth two more rooms were added a year later. By 1924, the student population had mushroomed from 250 to 500 students. The shortage of cash and overcrowding necessitated scattered school sites. Ninety fifth and sixth graders met at the Community Church.
Middle grades used the newer four-room school building referred to as "the Central school." First and second grades met at the North Acres School (now the location of the north side fire station on Cass). A portable building was built just north of the Central location to help alleviate overcrowding.
Old school boards and staff faced familiar problems. Adequate heating of the portable classroom was one concern. Regular student attendance was a goal, as farm children were often required to remain at home and help with chores. Heavy spring rains or Illinois snowstorms made travel to school difficult. Many months found teachers spending some of their salaries for things they wished to have in the classroom. Available monies for schools did not keep up with the growing needs.
In 1926, Mr. Arthur Hancock was made superintendent. Salaries were lowered, bills were paid and somehow the schools did not close. The board was able to negotiate for bonds for a new, badly needed building. The first unit of the red brick building was built in 1927. The new Central School was ready for use in the fall of 1928.
The PTA for all of the Westmont Schools was organized in l927. Mrs. Mary Peters was elected the first president. Shortly after, a quick, serious illness took place at the South School. There were no telephones in the schools and it was quite a task to get in touch with a parent or doctor. The PTA decided there should be telephones in the schools. Funds were raised by selling homemade donuts at 10¢ a dozen. For several years, the PTA paid for the telephone service.
The school was the social center of the community. Most cultural events, guest speakers and social gatherings were tied to the PTA and school activities. The children commonly performed or recited at the monthly meetings. Spelling Bees were popular and parents were included in the competition!
Time marched on. By the middle 30's, Model T's were more likely to be seen along Cass Avenue than horses and buggies.
In 1946, an addition to Central School was proposed to provide a new gymnasium/auditorium, seven new classrooms, a kitchen and library. Westmont voters overwhelmingly supported the improvement project. The addition was completed and dedicated in 1949.
That same year, the PTA purchased an "electrical type refrigerator unit" for 400 bottles of milk, making it possible to have milk for the children at 40 degrees for the mid-morning and hot/cold lunch at noon. "Milk at the North and South Schools..." would continue to be "... iced in warm weather."
Six years later, in 1955, the new Jr. High building on the north end of the Central School was completed. Its modern facilities included 4 new classrooms, a music room and executive offices.
The next big change took place from 1964 to 1983, with James T. Manning as superintendent. The ambitious school board undertook the building of a new Jr. High and a High School, located in the northeastern section of Westmont, the Oakwood subdivision. The state-of-the art high school facility ended the need for our children to "leave town" to attend high school. Until then, students east of Cass attended Hinsdale Central, and west of Cass attended Downers Grove North.
In 1983, Central School's name was changed to memorialize the accomplishments of Mr. James T. Manning, Superintendent of Schools.
The past 100 years have been an era of rapid change and development for this 'west mound' along the C. B. & Q. (now Burlington Northern Line). Though much of our history is camouflaged by modern conveniences, and a growing population, we are closely linked in time with our past as we soar through time, reaching for the stars. It is good that we seize this moment in the present to recall with pride and celebration the history of our school and its people.
Contributors: Grant McElroy (Manning Alumnae), Shelly Zabielski (former Manning teacher) Written for the Manning School 60th Anniversary celebration