The founding of Greeley School was the result not only of the successful development of southeast Winnetka, but also the decision of the School Board that the younger children of the community would be better served in a neighborhood school setting as opposed to a centralized school, a philosophy that continues to be viable today. In 1911 the Winnetka School Board determined that the Horace Mann school could no longer accommodate the growing population of the Village and that its location, in the area of the current post office, was geographically undesirable for the younger children to the east as there was great concern regarding their safety in crossing the railroad tracks. The Board had acquired property on Fairview between Hawthorn and Elder Lane around 1908 and in 1911 proposed to the Village that a school be built at the site. The architectural firm of Otis and Clark designed an eight classroom, two story brick building with the entrance facing the intersection of Hawthorn and Fairview. The school originally housed children from kindergarten to grade 5, with the older children attending Horace Mann School. The cost to the District was $45,000.
The design, a corridor with rooms along one side, was considered to be an unusual arrangement and one that assured the best possible ventilation, a feature of utmost importance due to the health concerns of the time. Windows across one side of the room would avoid cross light and prevent eye strain. The school was configured in such a way that future additions could easily take place and original space, such as the assembly hall on the first floor, could be adapted into classroom space if necessary.
The school was named for a Winnetka citizen, Samuel Sewall Greeley, who had encouraged the community to build the school and was held in high regard. At the school's dedication in 1913 Mr. Greeley, described as a modest man who reluctantly accepted the honor, was drawn in state by Boy Scouts from his home to the school in a carriage covered with flowers. In his remarks at the dedication Mr. Greeley emphasized the importance of a good teacher who could reach out to her scholars, "heart to heart, mind to mind." He stated, as recorded in The Messenger of the Congregational Church, "Good teachers come high, but, believe me, no other stock on the list will pay such dividends."
The foresight of the architects of Greeley School was soon realized in an addition to the building in 1921. Otis and Clark designed a second wing for the building to the southeast which contained an assembly room and a new heating plant as well as provisions for another extension. In 1954 new kindergarten and primary classrooms were added as well as overall modernization of the older areas of the building. The population growth of the mid-1960s necessitated the use of three temporary classrooms in the parking lot. The next addition was completed in 1968, the highlight of which was the Resource Center. The most current renovation was completed in 2009.
Today, Greeley School is the oldest operating public school in Winnetka. Its growth and physical changes through the years mirror the continued commitment of the community to the concept of neighborhood schools and the importance of providing the type of setting that enhances the educational opportunities of the children in Winnetka.