Public grade school education in Pekin through the years

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in May 2014, before the launch of this weblog.

Public grade school education in Pekin through the years

By Jared Olar

Local History Specialist

The founding pioneer settlers of Pekin believed it was very important to provide youth with a good education. So it was that in 1830, the year of Pekin’s founding, the town’s first school opened. A log cabin built by Thomas Snell, it was located on the west side of Second Street between Elizabeth and St. Mary streets, at the southwest corner of Elizabeth and Second. Snell’s son John was the teacher.

Pekin’s first school house also has the distinction of temporarily serving as a fort during the Black Hawk War of 1832. The town’s inhabitants quickly threw up a stockade around the building. Thankfully, Fort Doolittle, as it was called, never had to be used, which was an especially good thing since, as the publications on Pekin’s early history relate, the fort’s builders had forgotten to provide it with a water supply.

A few years later, Pekin’s second school, called the Cincinnati School, was built at the corner of Franklin and Third streets. A one-story frame house situated near the lower end of the long vanished Bitzel’s Lake (which later would be drained to make way for the railroad), Cincinnati School would get surrounded by water every spring, so temporary bridges would be placed to enable the students to get to the school, or else the shorter pupils would have to be carried by the taller ones.

Pekin’s first brick school was Pekin Academy, a two-story building on Tharp Place where a Baptist elder named Gilbert S. Bailey taught young men and women. The structure was erected in 1836, according to William H. Bates, and later historical works say the academy opened in 1852.

Bates also quotes from early town records from 1840 that refer to a school that operated out of the old Methodist Church. In addition, the St. Matthew’s School opened in the early 1850s, a private school that operated as a reformatory, known in town as the “bad boy’s school.”

These early schools were the predecessors of the Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District, which in turn was ancestral to the present District 108 and District 303. The 1860 U.S. Census says Pekin then had 12 school houses and 503 pupils – a tally that includes religious schools. The next year, the 1861 Root’s Pekin City Directory listed six “free schools” in Pekin and Cincinnati Union School District. Those schools were:

  • The Brick School House, built in 1849 on Ann Eliza Street between Third and Capitol, which would serve as Pekin’s first high school
  • The Cincinnati School, at Franklin and Pleasant streets
  • The Yellow School House, at the corner of Second and Susannah streets
  • The Second Street School, between Court and Elizabeth on Second Street
  • The Frame School House, at the corner of Capitol and Ann Eliza
  • The German and English School, on the east side of N. Fourth Street between Market and Caroline

While the city’s public schools were operated collectively as a school district, the formal organization of a state-recognized public school district did not come until the General Assembly passed the Pekin School Charter & Law in 1869. That law governed the operation of Pekin School District until the 1920s, when the city took steps to separate the administration of the high school from the elementary schools, creating District 108, legal successor of Pekin School District, and District 303, the high school district.

A year after the formation of Pekin School District, the 1870 Pekin City Directory lists the following public schools:

  • Second Ward School
  • Third Ward School
  • Fourth Ward School, built 1867-69 at the present site of Washington Intermediate, burned down Dec. 2, 1890. The old Washington School was then built, which served as the high school until West Campus was built in 1916, and then became a junior high.  It was replaced by the current Washington Intermediate building in 1930.
  • Bluff School, built in late 1869 (later called the Fairmount School and the Allen School), at the site of the later McKinley School

Subsequently, the school district would build a succession of elementary and junior high schools, many of which have since been demolished: Lincoln School (1876, extensively remodeled and expanded in 1913, later became Good Shepherd Lutheran School, demolished in 2010), East Side School or Douglas School (1881-2, replaced in 1924, demolished in 1988), Garfield School (1894, demolished in 1981), Franklin School (1923, replaced in 1936, now a private office building), Jefferson School (1906, replaced in 1976), McKinley School (1919, demolished), Roosevelt School (1923, demolished), Fearn Wilson School (1949), Edison Junior High School (1954), C.B. Smith School (1956), Sunset Hills School (1962, recently renamed Scott Altman School), Willow School (1962), L.E. Starke School (1966), Broadmoor Junior High School (1976), Dirksen School (1984, housed in Broadmoor), and most recently, Wilson Intermediate School (built adjacent to old Wilson).

Shown below are photographs and images of many of Pekin’s former schools which have been razed and/or replaced.

The brick structure, which was built in 1836, formerly stood at the northeast corner of Haines and Tharp (now St. Joseph’s Place), and was the home of Pekin Academy which opened in 1852.
Four of Pekin’s old schools — including two of Pekin’s old high schools — are shown on this page from Pekin photographer Henry Hobart Cole’s “Souvenir of Pekin.”
A vintage photo of the Fourth Ward School, which served as Pekin’s high school until in burned down in 1890. The school stood at the current site of Washington Intermediate School, 501 Washington St.
Another view of the Fourth Ward School, which served as Pekin’s high school from the latter 1860s until in burned down in 1890. The school stood at the current site of Washington Intermediate School, 501 Washington St.
Shown here is a photograph of Old Washington School, which served as Pekin’s high school from 1890 to 1916. This school stood at the present site of Washington Intermediate School.
Another view of Old Washington School, which served as Pekin’s high school from 1890 to 1916.
This early view of the 1916 Pekin Community High School on Broadway (later known as West Campus) shows the school as it looked before the addition of its west and east wings.
Pekin Community High School is shown with its west wing addition in this photograph from circa 1930.
Lincoln School, 333 State St., was first built in 1876 but was extensively remodeled and expanded in 1913. It later served as the home of Good Shepherd Lutheran School.
Shown here is Old Douglas School, originally called East Side School, which stood from 1881 to 1926, when it was razed to make way for a much larger Douglas School on the same site.
The second Douglas School, 200 S. 10th. St., stood from 1926 to 1988, when it was torn down and replaced by K’s Super Saver grocery store (now Schnucks).
Garfield School (1895-1983) formerly stood at 1115 State St.
A view of Old Jefferson School, 905 S. Capitol St. The school was built in 1906 and was replaced by the current Jefferson School in 1976.
A view of the rear of Old Jefferson School, 905 S. Capitol St. The school was built in 1906 and was replaced by the current Jefferson School in 1976.
McKinley School, 2115 Court St., was built in 1919 on the former site of Bluff School.
Roosevelt School (1923-1970s), 212 Sapp St., later demolished.

#allen-school, #bad-boys-school, #bluff-school, #brick-school-house, #broadmoor-junior-high-school, #c-b-smith-school, #cincinnati-school, #dirksen-school, #district-108, #district-303, #douglas-school, #east-side-school, #edison-junior-high-school, #fairmount-school, #fearn-wilson-school, #fort-doolittle, #fourth-ward-school, #frame-school-house, #franklin-school, #garfield-school, #german-and-english-school, #gilbert-s-bailey, #good-shepherd-lutheran-school, #jefferson-school, #john-snell, #l-e-starke-school, #lincoln-school, #mckinley-school, #old-brick, #old-douglas-school, #old-jefferson-school, #old-washington-school, #old-wilson-school, #pekin-academy, #pekin-and-cincinnati-union-school-district, #pekin-high-school, #pekin-high-schools, #pekin-history, #pekin-school-district, #preblog-columns, #roosevelt-school, #scott-altman-school, #second-street-school, #second-ward-school, #st-matthews-school, #sunset-hills-school, #third-ward-school, #thomas-snell, #thomas-snell-school, #washington-intermediate-school, #willow-school, #wilson-intermediate-school, #yellow-school-house

The old Tharp burial ground

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Two months ago we recalled the history of one of Pekin’s early industrial businesses, the A. & J. Haines Harvester Factory that operated at the corner of Broadway and Ninth from 1849 to 1890. As a busy and noisy mid-19th century factory, the Haines manufacturing outfit was located in the midst of the sparsely populated fields and meadows of what was then Pekin’s outskirts so as not to disturb the city’s residents.

But this week we’ll turn our attention to the Haines factory’s much quieter next-door neighbors, who slept so soundly that no industrial cacophony could rouse them. These were the “residents” of the old Tharp Burial Ground, which was located at the corner of Broadway and 11th from the 1830s until the 1880s. The Tharp Burial Ground was one of the early cemeteries from Pekin’s pioneer days that is no more, the burials having been later moved to make way for the expansion and development of the city.

The Tharp Burial Ground is named for the Tharp family, who were among the earliest pioneers to settle in what was soon to become the “Town Site” that was formally named Pekin in Jan. 1830. In fact, Jonathan Tharp was the very first white settler here, erecting a log cabin in 1824 on a bluff above the Illinois River at a spot that is today at the foot of Broadway. Tharp’s cabin was not far from the wigwams of Shabbona, leader of the Pottawatomi who lived in a large village here. The following year, Jonathan’s father Jacob and other family members followed him from Ohio and built their own homesteads near his.

Later, the Tharps operated a farm in the area now occupied by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church and School, and a historical marker at the St. Joseph’s Parish Center tells visitors that the Tharp farm was once located there, on the street once called Tharp Place (now St. Joseph Place). If one were to extend the line of Tharp/St. Joseph Place straight eastward out to 11th Street, one would reach the southeast corner of the Tharp Burial Ground, which began as a family burying ground for the Tharps.

The detail from an old 1877 aerial view drawing of Pekin looking toward the south shows the former Tharp Burial Ground on the left edge of the map. The old Haines Harvester factory buildings are shown left of the center of this image. At the center is the plot of ground that is today known as James Field. The farmstead of the Tharp family (at a spot now occupied by the St. Joseph Parish Center) is shown at the right edge of the image.

The Tharp pioneer cemetery is marked with a Christian cross and the word “cemetery” on the 1864 M. H. Thompson wall plat map of Tazewell County. An 1872 map of Pekin in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” also identifies the cemetery as “Tharps Burial Ground.” However, by 1891 the Tazewell County atlas plat shows only the outline of where the cemetery had been.

This detail from an 1872 plat map of Pekin shows the location of the old Tharp Burial Ground at the corner of Broadway and Pearl (now 11th Street). The area is now occupied by the Schnucks grocery store building.

What became of the Tharp Burial Ground? The answer is found in the Local History Room’s index for Oak Grove Cemetery, which the index describes as follows (emphasis added):

“Oak Grove consists of six acres originally under the supervision of Sons of Temperance, instituted April 10, 1848, known as Temperance Cemetery. Warranted by William and Jerusha Stansberry for the sum of $150.00. It is now a part of Lakeside Cemetery Association, located on North side of Pekin, West side of Route 29. Some burials were on the East bluff at the Old Sons of Temperance Burial Ground. They were moved to Oak Grove to make way for the building of McKinley School. Also moved here was the Tharpe (sic) Burial Ground which was at the corner of Broadway and Eleventh Streets, to make way for the building of the Old Douglas School.

The Old Douglas School was built in 1881-2 and was originally called “the East Side School,” and thus on the 1891 plat map of Pekin we find the Tharp Burial Ground replaced by “the East Side School House.” That school building stood until the 1920s, when it was replaced by a larger Douglas School. That school in turn stood until 1988, when it was demolished to make way for a new shopping center, originally K’s Supersaver (now Schnucks).

Construction work at that site in 1988 led to the somewhat unsettling discovery that when the Tharp Burial Ground was closed down and the pioneer remains interred there were moved to Oak Grove Cemetery (now Lakeside Cemetery), a number of burials had been overlooked. In June 1988, anthropologist Alan Hern of Dixon Mounds Museum was called in to assist Tazewell County Coroner Bob Haller with the investigation and removal of the burials. Hern and Haller determined that the burials were probably victims of the cholera epidemic of July 1834 who had been buried in haste.

A video of Hern’s work at the site of the former Tharp Burial Ground was made by retired Pekin police officer and local historian Jim Conover. A DVD copy of Conover’s video is in the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room Collection and is available for viewing at the library.

#alan-hern, #douglas-school, #haines-harvester, #jacob-tharp, #james-field, #jim-conover, #jonathan-haines, #jonathan-tharp, #ks-supersaver, #oak-grove-cemetery, #old-douglas-school, #pekin-history, #pekins-lost-cemeteries, #shabbona, #st-joseph-parish-center, #tazewell-county-coroner-robert-haller, #tharp-burial-ground

The Times visits the East Side School

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

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.

Originally called "the East Side School," the old Douglas School building stood from 1882 to 1924.

Originally called “the East Side School,” the old Douglas School building stood from 1882 to 1924.

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.

#douglas-school, #old-douglas-school, #pekin-history, #pekin-schools