River Forest High School

River Forest High School
A brick building with a fence in front of it

Description automatically generated with low confidence
currently Lincoln Elementary School

The History of River Forest High School

The village of River Forest is located in Cook County and is one of the suburbs that has Chicago as a border. River Forest is accessible from Illinois Route 43 (Harlem Avenue) and Illinois Route 64 (North Avenue), as well as Interstate 290 (the Eisenhower Expressway). The town has an historical feel to it and is an Illinois Main Street Community.

Education in River Forest dates back to 1850 in a school located on Lathrop and Lake Streets. A new school was built in 1859, which was where the high school was taught in beginning in 1890. This school, called the Harlem School, took in students from River Forest, Maywood, Forest Park, and the western part of Oak Park, which was called Harlem.

Much of the high school portion of the school’s history in mainstream medium has not been documented, and when it was, it was mentioned as an afterthought. Bell’s 1938 history of River Forest goes into greater detail than books of it’s time regarding former high schools.

According to the book, a man by the name of Henry Clarke became the head of the River Forest school district, and started a high school the next year in the Harlem building. This school was a four-year course until 1894, and thus there were only two graduates of the high school. They were Henry Todd Richards and Marion Barton. Afterward, the school only had a two-year curriculum. The reason for the move to two years came with a new superintendent, John E. Adams.

After the first two years were completed, students had a choice to attend either Oak Park High School or Austin High School (Note: at that time Austin was it’s own city and was annexed into Chicago in the 1900s). This new version of the school continued until 1899, when a merger of the Oak Park and River Forest schools (“OPRF”) was realized.

The new merger, however, came with controversy. River Forest and Oak Park are located in two different townships in the county. The decision to merge the schools required a decision by the courts. Most River Forest students went to Austin until 1900, when all River Forest students went to Oak Park.

Chicago’s suburbs began to grow during the early 20th century. Nearly 50 years after River Forest lost its high school, residents wanted their own high school district. In 1946, a new district was created for River Forest, and high school students attended OPRF on tuition payed in part by the district until a high school building could be built. However, by 1949, a site could not be found and the effort was abandoned altogether.

The Harlem school still stands proudly, and is still used as a school today.

River Forest High School “Quick Facts”:

Year opened:      1890

Year closed:        1899

Nickname:           unknown if existent

School Colors:     unknown if existent

School Building:  still used as a school

Seeking More Information

What we have here are the historical basics of the school. However, there is much more to history than facts and dates. Memories are often tie in to the history of the school, especially for one with a short timespan like River Forest. We are always looking for historical pictures, any athletic and extra-curricular information, and even students of the school if possible.

You can always add more about the history of the River Forest High School by dropping us a line via E-mail at ihsgdwebsite@comcast.net – or regular mail at the following address:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 N. Neva St.

Chicago, IL  60631

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