After dealing with buckets of rain and tornado force winds the last few days, the region caught a break and while the winds remained, sunshine made a return offering the community a chance to enjoy God's climate and celebrate the unveiling of a Texas Historical Marker.
People congregated underneath a pavilion, which featured rows of pews and chairs on the exterior, and were able to gleam at the former school where grandparents or parents attended classes, including Norene Dowd and Pauline Parker.
While the community had a school, Valley Branch School District No 14, which once sat where the cemetery sits just off Farm Road 677, it was the work of the Masons who helped build a permanent school. In January 1893, W.W. Wickliffe sold land in the area of Burton Street and Third Street in Illinois Bend for one dollar to the Illinois Bend Lodge 665 A.F. According to the deed from Mr. Wickliffe, "It is further agreed and understood by all parties concerned, that the purpose of building a Masonic Hall, church and school house and furthermore that the upper story of said building was to be used, owned and controlled by Illinois Bend Lodge No 665 for Masonic purposes." The third floor, which was accessed via an exterior door, was where the lodge held their meetings while the first floor was used as a school during the week and a church on Sundays.
As Shannon Gillette came up to the podium, her piercing blue eyes began to glow as she started reminiscing about her grand father J.F. Frazier, who made the bell that hung in the bell tower. The bell rung a half hour prior to "books" or at the beginning of class. Additionally, if the bell rang, it also informed the community that help was needed.
Every September citizens and their families would congregate for a barbeque
Since the school was built before modern conveniences proliferated throughout the country, the building was heated by two large wood burning stoves (one continues to provide heat). Electricity did not come into the community until 1945. By then, the school past its peak. Student enrollment during the 1920's reached as high as 125, but by the end of World War II it dwindled, forcing students to attend school 15 miles south in Saint Jo. In 1987, two decades after the lodge merged with the one in Saint Jo, a group of citizens that remained in Illinois Bend created an organization called the Twin Community Club. Today, it is known as the Illinois Bend Community Club and they continue to meet one Tuesday evening a month and anyone is welcome to attend.
As trucks and SUV's gently glided down the gravel road back onto Texas Spur 677, echoes of children's giggles joined in with the howling winds .