History of  Washington Irving School

  • 1910-1911: Washington Irving Elementary School first opened to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It was designed by noted architect E.E. Roberts, was recognized as the very best in school design, and was the first school in Oak Park to use fire-proof construction and sky-lights in the roof. At the time, the district had a total of 3,109 students, 49 of whom were housed at Irving along with three teachers. The Oak Leaves newspaper observed at the time, “This school is in a rapidly growing but hitherto sparsely settled section of Oak Park and like the proverbial prophet at home, it has not been particularly noticed by parents and tax-payers of the school district”. 
  • 1918: a three-story addition was put on the south side of the building and a hall and heating plant to the west. The three-story building addition still exists and is next to the playground on the north end of the school.
  • 1931: a new kindergarten classroom and a library were added to the second floor.  Irving Elementary School enrollment had grown and the school now employed 28 teachers.
  • 1959: the original 1910 building and the 1918 Irving Hall were demolished. A new section was designed by Perkins and Will that featured an addition to the south end of the school. This addition included the current auditorium and gymnasium. The building provided accommodations for a complete educational program that included the unified arts, the graphic arts and the home arts. Irving School continued to educate students from kindergarten through eighth grade.
  • 1974: the first grade pod and the current library/media center were added to the south end of Irving Elementary School. 
  • 1976: Hawthorne and Emerson elementary schools were converted to junior high schools; seventh and eighth grade students left Irving to attend Hawthorne.
  • 2002-2003: A new and larger middle school replaced the junior high school and the 6th grade students left Irving Elementary School.
  • 2010-2011: Today, 5,500 students are enrolled in District 97. Irving Elementary School currently has 444 students and 57 staff and teachers.  As additions were built to the school the surrounding community grew as well.  Community and School have continued to grow together year by year over the last century.


Irving Elementary School was named for Washington Irving (April 3, 1783 – November 28, 1859), an American short story writer, essayist, biographer, historian and diplomat. Washington Irving is best known for his short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.”

Washington Irving was born at the end of the American Revolution and named for George Washington, the hero of the Revolution. Washington Irving greatly admired George Washington, personally met the man, and would go on to publish a five-volume biography of George Washington. 

Washington Irving was also the first American writer to work in Europe and gain an international following for his work.  He encouraged other American authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow to go to work and release their writing in Europe and each author gained international critical acclaim.

As the editor of a major historical magazine, Washington Irving was also instrumental in having the Francis Scott Key’s poem “Defense of Fort McHenry” named the United States national anthem – we know this poem as the song the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Oak Park History