Over 170 years ago, Native American tribes such as the Potawatomi, the Sauk, and the Fox lived on the land where the city of Darien is located today. Following the Black Hawk War Treaty of 1833, people were no longer afraid to settle in the area. The first settlers came from the New England states and paid as low as $1.25 for an acre of land. Two men are credited with being the founding fathers of the Cass Community. The first was Thomas Andrus who built the Tremont Inn as a rest stop for the people who traveled on the Frink’s stagecoach, which came through the area at that time. Every day, sixteen stagecoaches traveled along what would become US Route 66. The inn was located where the current entrance of the Carriage Way West subdivision is now located. Additionally, Thomas Andrus served as Postmaster, Justice of the Peace, Town Clerk, Assessor, and County Commissioner and he named the community he was building Cass; after a senator from Michigan who had run for President in 1848. The second individual who is credited with helping to found the area was a preacher by the name of Reverend Biggs. In 1863 he joined Thomas Andrus to build a log cabin to be used as the Cass Methodist Episcopal Church and schoolhouse. The school district was subsequently named Cass District 63. The two also established Cass Cemetery. The Cemetery is still in existence today and it is located along Frontage Road just West of Cass Junior High School.
The original one room schoolhouse which Reverend Beggs and Thomas Andrus built along Frontage Road was later moved to make room for a larger school with four rooms which was built at the same site, and served as Cass School District until 1958. Each room contained two grade levels: 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, and 7-8. In 1958, Cass School District built a larger building on Bailey Road.
At this time, the area still consisted of two communities Lace and Cass which included four subdivisions called Marion Hills, Brookhaven, Clairfield and Hinsbrook. It was the desire of the residents of these four subdivisions to unite into one city. As a result of these communities’ efforts, the City of Darien was created and incorporated in 1969.
The original school, which had been located on Frontage Road, was sold to the Carmelite Fathers. Before Concord School was built in 1972, the district rented the former schoolrooms from the church to house the kindergarten classes. In 1973, Cass School District expanded. Enrollment had grown and Concord School was built in the subdivision of Hinswood to house the kindergarten through fourth grades. The school on Bailey Road became home to fifth through eighth grades and was now called Cass Junior High School.
At the time that Cass School District 63 became a two school district including Cass Junior High and Concord Elementary the area surrounding the new school was still mostly rural with fields and just a few homes. The past 35 years have been an era of rapid change and development for Darien. Since 1974 both the buildings and the area have undergone major changes. Concord Elementary School and Cass Junior High have had over four additions with complete reconfiguration and remodeling. A growing population has brought about additional changes such as new homes, a golf course, a retirement village, a church, townhomes and an apartment complex all of which replaced the open fields that once surrounded our district.
Though much of our former frontier “history” is concealed by modern conveniences and a growing population, we are closely linked in time with our past as we progress through time. At Cass Junior High, through a project largely funded by grants from both the Cass 63 Foundation for Educational Excellence, the Fine Arts Boosters, Target Corporation and the tremendous efforts of Art Teacher Gail Diedrichsen, a mural depicting the history of Darien now graces the walls of the outdoor courtyard at Cass Junior High School. It is important that we seize this moment in the present to recall with pride and celebration the history of our community’s development, including the origins and founders of Cass School District 63.