The Early Years
Deep in the woods, set up on a steep slope surrounded by woods, trails and a creek, sits Belden School, a limestone one-room schoolhouse built in 1859. It served as a schoolhouse and community center for eighty four years. The building was placed near the center of Guilford Township, Jo Daviess County, Illinois, and named after Thomas Belden, an early settler and a school trustee. It was the third one-room schoolhouse to be built in Guilford Township. The stone structure is located off Heatherdowns Lane in The Galena Territory on a thickly wooded hillside flanked by a steep gully on the downhill side. There was no electricity, no running water, and no bathrooms until 1880 when two outhouses were built at a cost of $17.00 each. Declining enrollment and consolidation of small school districts forced the school to close in 1943.
Over the years the empty schoolhouse was sheltered by the woods and forgotten in time. The building remained unaltered so it became a snapshot in time allowing the occasional visitors to see and feel its history. Some volunteer efforts over the years helped stabilize the structure, but time took its toll on the building and it was quickly falling into ruin.
The Belden School Restoration Committee was formed in 2004 by a small group of Galena Territory residents. Active efforts, using funds contributed by many interested and generous people, resulted in the restoration of the building. A five phase restoration plan was developed and the committee showed resolve and perseverance in its commitment to complete the project depicting the schoolhouse as it appeared in 1936. All five phases of the plan were completed by summer, 2009. Belden School operates under the umbrella of the Galena Territory Foundation, a 501(c) tax exempt public charity.
In September, 2009, Belden School reopened its doors as an interpretive center and visitors were welcomed inside. A grand rededication celebration and open house were held to herald the school’s restoration. Now, teachers from elementary schools schedule visits for their students. Specific programs following Illinois State Goals have been developed by the newly named Belden School Preservation Committee. Other groups and organizations also make use of the building to conduct seminars and meetings of educational interest. The school is open on the first and third Saturday of each month, June through October. Volunteer docents are present to conduct tours.
It is so very easy to fall under Belden School’s spell. Just visiting the school and imagining what it was like to attend the one-room country school is a wonderful experience for visitors of all ages. Belden School exists right in the ‘backyard’ of The Galena Territory. It is hoped that everyone who visits Belden School will come away with an appreciation that along with protecting our natural resources, we must protect our historical landmarks as well. We as individuals and as a community have an obligation and an opportunity to help preserve what was left to us by those who lived before us. We don’t inherit the world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. We almost let the small school that taught large lessons slip through our fingers, but . . .
Deep in the Woods ~ Belden School ~ Teaching Again!