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History of Western Military Academy, Upper Alton



In 1879 Wyman Institute opened on a fifty acre tract known at Bostwick Place on Seminary Street in Upper Alton. Edward Wyman was a leading St. Louis educator. After Wyman's death in 1888, his primary assistant, A.M. Jackson, took over running the school and Col. Willis Brown purchased the school in 1892 and changed the name to Western Military Academy.

In 1896 Col. A.M. Jackson and Major George D. Eaton bought the school from Col. Brown and ultimately the Jackson family took full control. Col. A.M. Jackson was succeeded as superintendent by his assistant, Col. George D. Eaton, and he in turn by Col. A.M. Jackson's son, Ralph Leroy Jackson. For three generations the Jackson family owned and operated Western Military Academy with Ralph B. Jackson taking over in 1952 and remaining superintendent until the end.

In 1892 Western Military Academy became the school name and the institution continued under that name until 1971. Since the closing of Western Military Academy the campus has seen a major decline in its physical plant with only one of the five barracks remaining. Only "C" Barracks, the Administration Building and the lower gym of the field house remain. Before the last remnants of the bricks and mortar are gone it is hoped that this proud and distinguished history may help to once more breathe life into what was once Western Military Academy.

During its 92 year existence nearly 4,000 cadets graduated from Western and over forty are known to have given their lives in the service of their country. At least ten general officers came from our ranks and more than 500 served in World War I and 1000 served in World War II. The exact number serving in Korea, Vietnam and beyond is unknown. For a small academy, the fame of many of its graduates is significant.


Source:  Western Military Academy Cannon Project





Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, January 16, 1900

Lieut. G. Soulard Turner, U. S. A., is a visitor at Western Military Academy. The lieutenant is a graduate of W. M. A.  Lieut. Turner is in the United States on furlough leave from Cuba, where his regiment, the Tenth Infantry, is stationed.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 2, 1900

Capt. W. H. C. Bowen of the Fifth U. S. Infantry, has been detailed by the War Department to make the annual inspection of the Western Military Academy. The academy being under the military regulation of the army, an annual inspection is made to keep it up to the standard. Capt. Bowen will probably make the inspection some day next week.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 8, 1900

A mimic battle of San Juan Hill will be one of the features of the commencement at Western Military Academy next Wednesday. The plan of the battle is being laid out by Dr. H. R. Lemen, who participated in the battle. Cavalry, infantry and artillery branches of the service will be brought into the play during the sham battle. The annual inspection of the Academy by the army officer detailed to make the inspection will take place in a few days.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, June 14, 1900

The W. M. A. commencement exercises closed with all ceremonies usual on such occasions. The drills preceding the sham battle were of unusual interest, and showed a thorough knowledge and interest on the part of the cadets and their commandant, Major Drury. The sham battle representing the taking of San Juan Hill was quite realistic. A block house, upon which the Spanish flag floated, had been erected on the hill north of the barracks. The American soldiers advanced with much firing of guns and heavy artillery, and succeeded in putting the Spaniards to flight and in setting the block house on fire. Lusty cheers rent the air when the flames broke from the block house. After this battle came the dress parade. The cadets came out quite fresh in their duck suits. One of the most interesting features of the afternoon exercises was as the cadets were lined up, a letter was read which was received at noon. The letter was signed A. Buffington, Brigadier General of the U. S. Army, which contained the information that military stores at the amount of $4,399,86 would be sent immediately to the W. M. A.  This magnificent donation on the part of the U. S. government was received with great delight. The young men of the graduating class were given their diplomas, commissions and warrants at the close of the parade. The White Hussar Band was stationed on the ground and played at intervals throughout the afternoon. The uniformed cadets and the beautiful gowns worn by the ladies was an animated scene, and many praises were spoken of the success of the exercises. Among the visitors present from a distance were Hon. and Mrs. W. A. Northcott of Greenville; Mrs. F. H. McGuiggan and daughter of Montreal, Canada; Mrs. P. D. Scott, Van Buren, Arkansas; Mrs. G. F. Sparks, Ft. Smith, Arkansas; Mr. H. A. Urban, New Castle, Indiana; Mr. William Jackson, Kinswick, Missouri; and there was also a large representation of the alumni.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 25, 1900
The old Jolly homestead has been bought by the W. M. A. [Western Military Academy]. It is being remodeled for their use. A curious incident of the work is that the workmen found a board bearing this inscription in chalk - "B. Green, July 5th, 1838." B. Green built the house and owned it at one time.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 19, 1902

Western Military Academy will observe Founder's day in memory of Edward Wyman, the founder of the school, Thursday, April 24. The program will be started at 1:30 p.m., with a band concert by the W. M. A. band under the direction of A. Don Stocker. Exercises in the assembly room will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m., and an excellent entertainment will be given. Many St. Louis people will be present and a general invitation is extended to Alton people.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 6, 1903

The Western Military Academy is a total wreck! Fire consumed Wyman Hall and Barracks B Thursday night, and on January 19 fire destroyed Barracks A, leaving nothing now on the ground but scattered frame buildings unsuited for barracks or school use. Col. A. M. Jackson unhesitatingly authorized the statement while the fire was going on, that the school was being pursued by some malignant enemy, and that the fire was unquestionably due to incendiarism. Three times since Monday had the building been discovered to be on fire. Monday someone put an incandescent light bulb in a bed, the current turned on, and when discovered the bed was afire. Wednesday a coal oil lamp, the flame turned high, was found in a closet filled with clothes in Barracks B, and the fire was put out. On account of these fires, rigid rules were enforced against the cadets, and several were dismissed from the school for carelessness. Thursday night at 5:45, while the cadets and officers were at supper, Sergeant Major Dunham Scott of Ft. Smith, Arkansas, discovered fire in a bedroom closet of Barracks B, on the south side, second floor, near the rear of the building. The fire call was made after the boys had finished supper, Major Lowe assembling the cadets on the campus. They were told to save what they could of their personal belongings, and the cadets in order and quietly, considering the circumstances, went to their rooms and tried to save their clothing, but smoke and flames soon drove them from the building. The flames worked from the back of Barracks B forward, and by 8 o'clock had destroyed the barracks and were eating their way in the roof of Wyman Hall.  Col. Jackson and Captain Eaton made a bold stand on the roof of Wyman Hall, directing the firemen, in the hope of saving Wyman Hall. The Alton fire department was sent for, and one company responded. The firefighters did everything in their power to save Wyman Hall, but water pressure was insufficient and the distance from fire hydrants was too far. Steadily the flames crept toward Wyman Hall, the oldest and biggest building on the grounds, which was connected with Barracks B.  Col. Jackson and Capt. Eaton were driven from the roof and made their way down a fire escape to the ground. Within ten minutes thereafter, the whole roof of Wyman Hall was a furnace of flame and the interior of the building was a seething mass within a half hour. It was midnight before the fire was out. The best of order was preserved during the fire. It was impossible to go in the building to accomplish any salvage because of the dense smoke and the darkness, the electric wires being out. When the fire call was given, the cadets were assembled on the campus and the roll was called. No one was missing, even the sick cadets being carried out of the building. Then the boys were allowed to save what they could of their clothing and other possessions, but the salvage is very light. The families of the officers lost heavily. The cadets and the family of Maj. W. G. S. Lowe, who occupied Barracks A before the last fire, are doubly unfortunate, as they had replenished their wardrobes after the other fire, which had made them homeless. The building destroyed last night was the home of nearly all the cadets, as they had been crowded in there after Barracks A burned January 19, entailing a loss of $12,000. All the furnishings destroyed in Barracks A had been replaced with new furnishings in Barracks B and Wyman Hall, and the loss is heavier on that account. The reason for the persistent and finally successful attempts to destroy the school are not known. Col. Jackson says he can offer no suggestion as to the identity of the person. When Barracks A was buried it was supposed that incendiarism might have been responsible, but that theory was not given much credence until the events of this week gave confirmation. If the culprit is caught, he will be dealt with vigorously. Immediately when it became evident that the entire building was doomed, Upper Alton people offered to take in the cadets. They were provided with temporary quarters last night, and this morning Col. Jackson sent the boys away to their homes. The school had in it nearly one hundred students. It was estimated today that the loss is about $40,000, with $30,000 insurance. The business loss to the institution will make $50,000, about the figure of loss due to the fire.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 7, 1903

The Western Military Academy Building, destroyed by fire, had once been known as the "most elegant residence west of the Alleghenies," and had been the most ornate and costly mansion in the early days of Upper Alton. The brick structure was completed in 1836 for John Bostwick, well-to-do eastern man, one of the ablest and most enterprising pioneer settlers in the Alton area. He called skilled workmen here from Philadelphia to erect the mansion and assembled materials for it at great expense, such as the Egyptian marble for the fireplace mantels. The cost was $30,000. The Bostwicks occupied the fine home for about 16 years. Mrs. Bostwick, still an Upper Alton resident, had been its mistress, and her children, Mrs. T. P. Yerkes, Mrs. Spaulding of Decatur, and John Bostwick, were born there. Eventually the property was acquired by Dr. Edward Wyman, who founded Wyman Institute, a school for boys that was the predecessor of Western Military Academy, and in which Colonel A. M. Jackson had been an instructor. Because of the fire, Col. and Mrs. Jackson and Mr. and Mrs. Carl Jackson were to temporarily occupy the Jolly place, opposite the academy grounds. Capt. and Mrs. George D. Eaton planned a stay in St. Louis, and Major Lowe and family were to go to Leavenworth, Kansas.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 20, 1903

The owners of the Western Military Academy are having plans prepared for the new building to take the place of the old ones destroyed by fire in the month of January.  Col. A. M. Jackson, president of the institution, said today that plans are being prepared and that when they are completed estimates will be obtained, and if satisfactory, work will be started at once. The plan most favored is to divide the school into four buildings, sufficiently removed from each other to do away with danger of fire being communicated from one building to the other, in case of a conflagration. The new structures will be made fire proof and will be equipped in the most modern manner with all improvements. The owners of the school have practically decided to rebuild at Upper Alton, it was officially said today, but the cost of the new institution is still a question to be settled. All the insurance has been adjusted and it is expected that the money will be paid over within sixty days. Friends of the Academy have so strongly and persistently urged that it remain in Upper Alton, the owners of the school have been encouraged to stay. The location is an ideal one for such a school, and Upper Alton could ill afford to lose it. Under the management of Col. Jackson and Capt. Eaton, the school has come to be a strong power in educational circles, and its reputation is first class among military schools. The success that has attended the efforts of the owners is the best commentary on the character of the men conducting it, and Alton people will be glad with Upper Alton that the school will remain.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 23, 1903

The new Western Military Academy opened today for the school year after being rebuilt. The opening of the new school was a most promising event and a great many more cadets were on hand at the opening than the officials of the academy were looking for. Yesterday the list of cadets that had been enrolled amounted to 115, and this morning at 9 o'clock the list showed 122 and more are coming. Col. A. M. Jackson said that this is a larger number of cadets than the school is capable of accommodating, and that he intends to send some of the boys home tomorrow. Next year when the school is opened another barracks building will have been put up and more students can be taken.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, September 24, 1906

Alejancho Reyes, son of Governor Bernardo Reyes, of the province of Nueva Leon, Mexico, and who was former secretary of war for President Diaz, arrived today accompanied by several other Mexican boys, to be enrolled as students at the Western Military Academy. The boy belongs to a distinguished family, and his father is governor of the largest province in the country outside of the capital. He is a man of great prestige and notwithstanding his reported hostility to America and things American, he is sending his son to the Western Military Academy because he has admired the bearing of the other Mexican boys who have been students here and desires to have his son given the benefit of the mental and physical, as well as military training of this institution. An interesting fact is that the Mexican boys will be taught to speak English at once. To facilitate the learning, the other Mexican boys will be required to speak only English, and a penalty has been imposed at their own request on anyone speaking Spanish for the purposes of social conversation. The number of Mexican boys in the school is limited, as it is desired to avoid any danger of the boys resorting to their native tongue and having a social circle of their own, which might make them slower in learning the language. The party from Mexico, consisting of Miguel Quiroga and son, Miguel, Alberta Ostos Jr., Jose Quiroga and Alejandro Reyes, arrived at 10 o'clock and went to the military academy.



MAJ. MAX VON BINZER DIES IN SOUTH                    Well Known Instructor at Western Military Academy Succumbs to Bronchial Attack

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, April 18, 1918

Maj. Max Von Binzer, for twenty-one years a member of the faculty of the Western Miitary Academy and for six years military commandant of that institution, died at Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, from bronchial troubles, after a long illness. He had been in poor health for a few years and continued to look after his duties up to last Christmas, when he found it necessary to go South. He spent the winter in the South and was so far improved that he was on his way home, expecting to resume his duties at the Western Military Academy May 1. He was taken worse on the train and was obliged to stop at Birmingham, Ala., where his death occurred. Major Max Von Binzer was born in Switzerland in 1858, and was graduated from the Royal Military Academy in Berlin in 1878. For ten years he was an officer in the Prussian Infantry, resigning there in 1888, when he came to America to make his home. After coming to this country he became commandant at the Ohio Military Academy, leaving there in 1891 to go to Griswold College at Davenport, where he remained until 1893. After leaving Griswold he came to Western Military Academy where he remained until 1899, holding the post as commandant. When the Bleese Academy at Macon, Mo. was opened, Major Von Binzer was placed in full charge, remaining there until 1903, when he returned to Western where he held the position of Quartermaster and Instructor of German and Spanish. In speaking of Major Von Binzer, Major George D. Eaton of the Western Military Academy said that the school feels keenly the loss of such a faithful and loyal employee. His death will be learned with regret throughout the country by the old boys of the school, who knew and loved the well known and popular instructor. Western Military Academy this morning had received no word as to funeral arrangements, but it is understood that Mrs. Von Binzer is on her way to Davenport, Iowa, with the body, where services and interment will take place. Major Von Binzer is survived by his wife and one son, Werner Von Binzer of Cornell.



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, August 20, 1918                    World War One
Captain Lyle Gift, a graduate and a former officer at Western Military Academy, is in an American base hospital in France, suffering from the loss of his right leg above the knee. A shell struck the leg, cutting it off. The young officer is improving at the base hospital, and when the letter was written no base result was anticipated. The news of the wound was received by friends in Alton through letters written by Gift while he was in the hospital. The many friends of the young officer knew that he was in the midst of the fighting at the front, but were shocked to learn that he had lost a leg. While at Western Military Academy, Gift made a record for himself as a student, and later was a member of the faculty, being a tactical officer. He was commissioned at Camp Sherman, and shortly after was sent overseas. He has been in France about a year. His home is in Peoria, Ill. A letter published in a Peoria paper, written by Capt. Gift, tells that he was wounded at 6:30 a.m. on July 19. The bullet went through the calf of his left leg, then entered his right leg below the knee. He reached a hospital at 4 o'clock the next morning. Efforts to re-establish circulation in the right leg failed, and the surgeons had to amputate the leg, but Capt. Gift cheerfully says he can get another leg, and a good one, and he will be all right. He had been in France since June 20, 1917. He was a graduate of Western, and was engaged there as senior captain and instructor when he went to the officers' training camp.


WESTERN MILITARY OFFICER KILLED                     Mystery In Death - No Satisfactory Explanation Given

Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 17, 1919

Captain Charles K. Seely, instructor at the Western Military Academy, was found dead on the Wabash railroad tracks at Mitchell, Sunday morning, both legs severed by a passing train and a hole in his head above his right ear, resembling a bullet hole. How he happened to be at Mitchell was a mystery that was not explained Sunday. His body was identified by some receipts of Franklin Lodge, A. F. & A. M., in which he was senior warden. Capt. Seely had been at the Western Military Academy for three years. He had been prominent socially in Upper Alton, had been interested in the work of the Upper Alton Presbyterian church, and was engaged to marry Miss Rose Smith, organist at that church, the marriage being set for next June. Saturday he was on duty at the Western Military Academy, and late in the afternoon decided to make a trip to St. Louis, after going off duty at 6 p.m. He cashed a check at 6:45 p.m., and he bought a ticket to St. Louis, from which two rides had been taken. In his pocket at the time he was found was a program of the Orpheum theater in St. Louis, indicating he had attended the evening performance there. All this but adds to the mystery of the death of Capt. Seely. How he could have come to be at Mitchell was not explained by inquiry among crews of cars on which he might have traveled. None of them recalled his being aboard their cars. He might have caught a local car out of St. Louis, which would have put him in Alton about midnight, or he might have caught the limited leaving St. Louis at midnight. One theory was that he became carsick, as he sometimes did while riding, and went to the back of the car while it was crossing the viaduct at Mitchell, and fell out of the car to the tracks below and was stunned, later being hit by a passing train. Another theory was that he might have gotten off a car at Mitchell, while a stop was made there for the car crews to register and the car came on without him, leaving him to walk home, and in so doing he was killed. A third theory which seemed to be supported by the round hole in his skull, is that he may have caught an Edwardsville car for home, got off at Mitchell and while waiting there for another car to Alton, was shot and killed and his body put on the railroad tracks. Probing in his skull failed to reveal the bullet, if any was there, Sunday. The body of the young teacher was found about 125 feet away from the viaduct. He had not been robbed, as his watch was still in his pocket. It was supposed by some that when the train hit him he was hurled about 125 feet, the distance the body lay away from the viaduct. That any bandit would drag the body as far as it was from the Mitchell station after killing him seemed incredible. At the Western Military Academy Capt. Seely was not missed until the time for the Sunday morning chapel exercises, at which he usually led the singing. The service was proceeded with and just as it closed the Western Military Academy telephone bell was ringing and word awaited that Capt. Seely's body had been found at Mitchell with both legs cut off. The identification of the body was made by the father, Charles L. Seely, and by some friends of the young man who went to Granite City, where the body had been taken. In the party were the father of Capt. Seely's fiancee, also Harry Halton and Charles G. Smith. Capt. Seeley was a young man of exemplary habits and high character. He had a very large number of friends in Alton, and especially was he highly esteemed in Franklin Masonic lodge where he took a prominent part in the work of the lodge and held the second highest office. Harry Halton said, on his return, that the cap of Capt. Seeley was on one side of the viaduct, and the body was found about _20 feet the other side of the viaduct. There was nothing missing from the personal affects of Capt. Seeley such as might have been taken by a robber. There is every indication that the tragedy occurred at the viaduct, from the relative position of the cap and the body. A post mortem was held in Granite City to explore for a bullet, but none was found. The condition of the face and hands indicated the body had been rolled a long distance in the gravel. The skull was horribly ______ured. The ten ride _________ ticket which Capt. Seeley had bought was numbered, and a watch for the return of the coupons correspondingly numbered was requested by the coroner at the office of the Alton, Granite & St. Louis Traction Co. It was believed that in that manner, the identity of the car on which he rode would be established. The inquest will be held tonight at Mitchell. The body of Capt. Seeley was brought back in Alton by Undertaken ____________ [rest unreadable].



Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, February 18, 1919

A man has been located who says he saw Capt. Charles K. Seely fall from the midnight Wabash passenger train at Mitchell Saturday night. The man is Sampson Seibert of 459 Hoelm street, Edwardsville. Seibert is a switchman for the Chicago and Eastern Illinois Railroad, and works in the yards at Mitchell at night. Deputy Coroner Krill of Granite City has subpoenaed Seibert to appear at the inquest which will be held at 6 o'clock this evening at Mitchell. He will be placed on the witness stand and questioned as to his knowledge of the affair. Since Seibert first reported that he had witnessed the affair, he has talked but little of the matter. According to his statements at first made, Seibert is reported to have said that he was working in the yards and saw Captain Seely fall from the Wabash train as it went through Mitchell. He also is said to have stated that he went to the body and assisted in picking it up. Who assisted him in the matter he is not reported to have stated so far. Seibert further reported to have stated that he had a button that came off of Captain Seely's coat. When Seibert reached the body, according to the same information, Captain Seely was dead. Seibert was not relieved from duty in the yards at Mitchell until 8 o'clock Sunday morning, having gone on duty at 11 o'clock Saturday night. After quitting work Seibert is said to have returned to Edwardsville where he reported to friends having witnessed the affair. Seibert is married and has a wife and five children. The body of Captain Seely was discovered by a crew of a Chicago and Eastern Illinois freight train at 8:30 Sunday morning. It was picked up by the crew and taken to Granite City where Deputy Coroner Krill took charge of it. Harry Halton, Master of Franklin Lodge, who made an investigation of the case, has come to the conclusion that Capt. Seely did not board an interurban car Saturday night. According to a young lady who had been in his company during the evening, he left her home at 11:40 p.m., and at that hour did not have time to get down to the McKinley station to catch the last car. Just a short distance from her home was a Wabash station, where he could board a train and he doubtless did board the train there and planned to get off as the train would slow up near Mitchell. Inspection of the ground revealed where the young man had landed when he leaped off the train. The indications are that his coat caught as he jumped and that he was held suspended to the moving car. The ground indicates he was dragged along a distance, then his feet were cut off as he hung. Finally, it appears, he broke loose from the train and fell, striking his head. A stone that is very bloody was found, and the size of the stone corresponded to the hole in his temple. After that there was very convincing proof that Capt. Seely lay still and bled to death. Mr. Halton is convinced that this is the way the tragedy happened, and the explanation given does away with the mystery of how he could have fallen from an interurban car without his presence on the car being noticed, and without anyone knowing of the accident, when there were many passengers aboard the car. Funeral services will be held at 2:30 o'clock. On account of the small seating capacity of the Upper Alton Presbyterian Church, the officers of the College Avenue Baptist Church offered the use of their auditorium this morning, which was accepted. Captain Seely's pastor, Rev. William Thompson Hanzsche, will conduct a Scriptural service at the church. The Masonic quartet of which Captain Seely was a member will sing several selections. The pallbearers will be officers from the Western Military Academy who are also Masons. The Masons will have charge of the services at Oakwood Cemetery where the body will be laid to rest. The cadet corps of the Western Military Academy will lead the military feature of the burial. Captain Charles K. Seely was the son of Mr. and Mrs. C. L. Seely, who recently removed from Colorado to Upper Alton to be near their son. He was a native of La Junta, Colorado, and was born March 21, 1891. He is also survived by a sister, Miss Cornelia Seely of Denver, and two brothers, David B. of Denver and Frank L. of Colorado Springs. Captain Seely came to Upper Alton three years ago when he became an instructor at the Western Military Academy. He joined the Upper Alton Presbyterian Church by letter, and has been active in the work of the Young People's Society of Christian Endeavor as well as the choir. He was also a troop leader of the Boy Scouts. In his Masonic relationship, Captain Seely was the senior warden of Franklin Lodge, No. 25, of Upper Alton. He was a member of the Consistory, the Commandery and the Shrine. Burial will be in the Oakwood Cemetery.




Source: Alton Evening Telegraph, December 5, 1928

The two-story frame house at the corner of Bostwick and Seminary streets known many years ago as the Jolly homestead, is to be removed from the site. The property in late years has been owned by the Western Military Academy, and has been occupied as a residence by Major R. E. Wilkinson, principal of the academy, ever since he came to Alton. With the completion of the new home for the Wilkinson family, which they have been building on a lot west of the old house, the old place will be taken away from this valuable corner. It was said today at the academy office that Major and Mrs. Wilkinson expect to eat Christmas dinner in their new home.





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