By Jared Olar
Long-time residents of Pekin will remember Douglas School, an elementary school that was located at the present site of the Schnucks grocery store, which was built in 1988 as K’s Supersaver. When the school was torn down in 1988, the school’s engraved stone lettering was salvaged and were embedded into the front wall of the grocery store.
The school building razed in 1988 was not, however, the first Douglas School. The original Douglas School was built on the same site in 1881-2, originally being known as “the East Side School” since Pekin in those days didn’t extend much further east than that area. In fact, in Pekin’s earliest days the remoteness of the site is why a lot adjacent to the school’s location was chosen for use as a pioneer graveyard, and victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 received a hasty burial there. Some of those burials were discovered during construction of K’s Supersaver.
About four years after the East Side School was built, staff from the Pekin Daily Times paid a visit to the school and wrote a description of the building and its teachers and students. The rather glowing report, entitled simply “East Side School” and published in the Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1886 edition of the newspaper, was reprinted on page 1681 of the Aug. 2016 Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society Monthly, and here follows:
“A special reporter for the Times visited the east side school house last week, and was most cordially received and entertained by those in charge.
“Perhaps few appreciate the beautiful situation of the east school. No where in Pekin could there have been found a more suitable place for the erection of such a building. The building is not large, contains only four rooms, but it is neatly and handsomely constructed. Being built as it is upon a small rising of land it presents a good appearance, surrounded by its large grassy yard, dotted here and there with young, thrifty trees. Upon entering the building we find very pleasant rooms, all well lighted and every facility for good ventilation. We found presiding over the respective rooms, Mr. E. Alexander in the fourth, at the head, a young gentleman well known here. He has enrolled 44 pupils; 27 males and 17 females. In the third, Miss Ida Syfert, a most accomplished young lady. She has served the city as instructor in her present position for the past two years, and has given general satisfaction and proved herself to be progressive and industrious. She has 46 upon her register, of whom 27 are males and 19 are females. Our home teacher, Miss Ida Bates, holds forth in the second, having under her control 58 of our ‘young ideas.’ There are 33 boys and 25 girls. And last, but by no means least, we stepped in to see the primary teacher, Miss Burlinghame, of Delavan, and her 69 ‘little ones.’ Among that number are 33 males and 36 females. In this room we found everything moving quietly and pleasantly, the children yielding willingly to the kind wishes of their teacher. In the other rooms more firmness was required to keep ‘Johnnie at his arithmetic, and Susie’s attention to the recitations in language.’ Some of the boys, we learned, played truant quite often last year, but we are very much pleased to say that this evil is greatly lessened this term. On the whole, the school is in a better condition than last, and bids fair to prosper.”
Subsequently rededicated in honor of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas, the original school structure eventually had to be replaced with a much larger edifice. Old Douglas School was closed in 1924 and a new school, which was to serve Pekin’s families for another six decades, was built in 1926.