The Sunnyland area was originally served by three country grade schools — Hopewell, Lafayette and Union. Hopewell School reportedly originated in 1869 at the north end of what is now School Street and on Aug. 16, 1875, the Township School Trustees purchased one acre of land at the southeast corner of School Street and Hollands Grove Road (now Centennial Drive) and constructed a frame schoolhouse.

The Sunnyland area was originally served by three country grade schools — Hopewell, Lafayette and Union. Hopewell School reportedly originated in 1869 at the north end of what is now School Street and on Aug. 16, 1875, the Township School Trustees purchased one acre of land at the southeast corner of School Street and Hollands Grove Road (now Centennial Drive) and constructed a frame schoolhouse.

Where the name Hopewell originated is unknown because nothing or no one in the area had that name. Hopewell Indians come to mind but the name "Hopewell" wasn’t applied by Warren K. Moorehead until after his explorations of the Hopewell Mound Group in Ross County, Ohio, in 1891 and 1892. The mound group itself was named for the family that owned the earthworks at the time. Hopewell school became Tazewell County District #50 in 1901 and a new concrete block school was constructed in 1911.

The old frame structure was moved across the road and served as a hall for the Hopewell Grange. With the growth of “Sunnyland” a second District #50 school was constructed on Theodore Street in 1939-40 and named SunDoer. It was a three-room structure built by George Doering and so named because it was situated on the border of Doering Park and Sunnyland subdivisions.

Mel Spurgeon attended SunDoer, and recalls as you entered the front door there was a restroom on either side — one indoor/outdoor privy for the girls and one for the boys because there was no sewer system.

Jimmy Ward, who was born in Sunnyland, recalls Harry Whittaker, former Peoria District #150 superintendent of schools, being his grade school basketball coach at Sundoer and selecting the name Wildcats. The name persists today at Beverly Manor Grade School.

With continued growth in the area, Beverly Manor Grade School was constructed in 1951 on a 4 acre tract and was so named for Beverly Manor Subdivision. It was constructed as a four-room school and four rooms were added to Sundoer at the same time. At this time District #50 was divided and the rural area became District #272 and was served by Hopewell School.

District #272, officially named Holland’s Grove School District, survived until being absorbed by Washington Central District #51 in 1963. The Hopewell school building was sold on Dec. 21, 1963, and exists today as an apartment building. The building was built with a belfry but no bell was hung until the tenure of August Esser who taught there in 1920 to 1924. Funds were raised through a box supper and Esser himself hauled the bell to the school on a spring wagon.

The school bell today remains the property of District #51. Beverly Manor was expanded by four rooms in 1953, four more rooms in 1955 and an additional eight rooms in 1971. Hensey Grade School was constructed in 1958 with eight rooms on an eight acre site and was named for former superintendent John L. Hensey.  Sundoer School was closed at that time and remains today as an apartment house.

Union Grade School originated on Oct. 12, 1875, when William Mooberry donated a half acre of ground in the southwest quarter of section 31 to the School Trustees of Washington Township with the reservation that it reverts to him if it were no longer used for a schoolhouse. The parcel is located on the south side of Farmdale Road approximately one quarter mile east of Bittersweet Road. The school may have existed there prior to the formal land transfer because Washington Township School #9 is shown at that location on an 1872 map of Washington Township. This school became School District #55 on July 1, 1901, and on Sept. 16, 1907, a new schoolhouse was opened. It is believed the original structure was destroyed by fire. A concrete block building, built in 1933, still stands and is believed to be the third structure to serve there as a schoolhouse. Union School closed in 1953 and the portion of its district lying in Washington Township was annexed to District #50, the portion lying in Fondulac Township was annexed to East Peoria District #86 and the portion in Morton Township to Morton District #709.  

Lafayette Grade School, Washington Township School District #8 dates to Aug. 14, 1856, when the school trustees purchased one quarter acre of ground from Peter Fleming for three dollars. This school became Tazewell County District #53 in 1901. It was located at the south-east corner of Shuck Road across from what is now Pine Lakes Golf Course. An additional one quarter acre of land was added on July 6, 1916 for a cost of seventy-five dollars and the third school building was constructed at that time. Leroy Sauder relates that his mother Minnie Bessler attended Lafayette Grade School beginning in 1903 and created a real challenge for her teacher – Minnie spoke only German.  

Don Seaton graduated from Lafayette in 1950 and recalls it as a one-teacher school with 28 to 32 students during the four years he attended. Don said they had no playground equipment and the only sport was softball. Each student had a hook mounted on the wall where they hung their metal drinking cup for use outside at the well. Lafayette school closed in 1960 and the portion of its district lying in Washington Township was annexed to District #50 and the portion in Morton Township to Morton District #709. The property was sold on May 31, 1961, and the building has since been razed.

Compiled September 2015 by Frank Borror

The East Peoria Historical Society is located at 324-326 Pekin Ave. It is dedicated to the collection and preservation of local history. If anyone has any information or pictures regarding East Peoria they would share with the community please contact Frank Borror at 696-9227.