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History of the Alton Schools

Madison County ILGenWeb Coordinator - Beverly Bauser





The first schools in Alton were private schools that required payment. In 1836, Miss Martha O. Dunn opened a school in the vestry of the Presbyterian Church, where reading, spelling, defining and writing, georgraphy, grammar, history, arithmetic, drawing, philosophy, astronomy, rhetoric, and composition were taught for $15.00 per quarter. Another school was held in the Baptist Church, with Miss Brown as teacher. There the students learned spelling, reading, writing, geography, arithmetic, grammar, history, astronomy, and philosophy for $7.00 per quarter. Other private schools opened, such as a school for young ladies in Middletown, taught by Miss Sophia Loomis in 1837; a female school in a stone building at Market and Broadway, taught by Miss Mary P. Rand in 1838; a school taught by Mr. and Mrs. D. A. Richardson for both boys and girls in Middle Alton, in 1842.



In 1837, the State Legislature granted the city of Alton a charter, which provided for the establishment of free public schools. Meetings were held in 1837 to discuss the building of a school, but no action was taken at that time. A free school was established in the former Methodist Episcopal Church. In May 1842, a meeting was held in the "schoolhouse," to discuss establishing a second school for the lower part of District No. 2.  It was decided to establish a free school in a frame building known as Manning's House, above Hunter's Spring. The students were to furnish their own desks and seats. A free school in District No. 1 was established in 1842 in "the old courtroom" (Riley's building).


SCHOOLHOUSE NO. 2 (first public schoolhouse constructed) (Named No. 2 after the Ward it was located in.)

Schoolhouse No. 2 - AltonWhile meetings were held as early as 1837 regarding building a schoolhouse, it was not until July 1843 that any action was taken by the City Council. At that time, $100.00 was appropriated to purchased land in Pope's Addition. In 1845, the first free public schoolhouse was constructed on Alton Street. It was a 2-room brick schoolhouse, which cost $590.35. The schoolhouse was thirty feet square, with twelve foot walls. It was surrounded by a fence. The first teacher was Rev. L. S. Williams, a returned missionary, and opened in September 1845. Those who were unable to pay tuition for their children were advised that they could obtain provision from the city of Alton. Thirty six students were present on the first day.  Rev. Williams, upon an occasion when he had to correct an unruly student who had thrown an inkstand at the head of his teacher, gave the youngster a "taste of the birch," and then knelt down and prayed over him, tears streaming from his eyes. It was a scene long remembered. When Rev. Williams retired, Mr. W. F. Guernsey replaced him. Guernsey taught for several years, then returned to the East for his health. A school report, in September 1846, stated that the first year of school ended with about 81 students.  As the population grew, a 1-room frame addition was constructed. In the early days of Alton, the schoolhouses were named after the Ward they were in. Consequently, the first schoolhouse was named No. 2, even though it was the first public school. A school report in 1858 stated that the school was called  the "Central School," and looked old and sere (threadbare or worn), although the location was beautiful and was in a central position of the city. In May 1866, Schoolhouse No. 2 was razed, and Lincoln School was erected in its place.


The second schoolhouse erected in Alton was in 1851, at the corner of Fifth and Langdon Streets, in "Fountain or Mechanics Square" (also known as "Seminary Square."   It was named Schoolhouse No. 3, after the Ward 3. This schoolhouse was a large, two-story brick building, and was the second schoolhouse erected by the city of Alton, and cost about $2,000 or $2,500. Although the city owned the entire block, little had been done to the grounds. There was not a tree or shrub on the entire square. In the back of the schoolhouse was a large sunken depression in the ground, which filled up with water during rainy times, making a dead pool. Later this school was named the original Garfield School.


The third schoolhouse erected in Alton in 1851, and was located in Ward 1 on State Street. It was called Schoolhouse No. 1. The school opened in January 1852, with Mr. W. F. Gurnsey as Principal. The building was two stories with a basement, and could hold about 150 students. In 1862, a visit was made to Schoolhouse No. 1, where three departments were in successful operation. The "little wee ones" were in the basement, with Miss Carpenter as teacher. The average number of this department was 30 students. The second department consisted of about 40 students, with Miss Hazzard as teacher. The third department was taught by Mr. Waterman, and had 42 students. In 1883, Irving School was erected on this property.

Advanced School - basement of the Unitarian Church




 In 1855, an "advanced school," or high school, was opened in the basement of the Unitarian Church, at the northeast corner of Third and Alby Streets. James Newman was the first principal. In 1862, a visit was made to the school, and found Mr. Adams and Mrs. B. Newman as teacher.








Washington School, Common Street, Alton



In 1856, a four-room schoolhouse was erected in Ward 4 on Common Street, between East 16th Street and Euclid Place. This was first named Schoolhouse No. 4, but later known as Washington School. It cost $20,000. A visit was made to the schoolhouse No. 4 in 1862, and found Misses Chickering and Pleace was teachers. This schoolhouse was used until 1896, when a new Washington School was constructed on Minor Street. This building was used as a mission school for awhile.








In 1856 a second schoolhouse, designed by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger, was erected in Ward 5 in the Hunterstown area of Alton, on the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth Street. This was named Schoolhouse No. 5, and was later the location of Humboldt School. Each room in the two-story building was furnished with a blackboard on the wall, with recessed bookcases. There were three large windows in each room which furnished light. In the upper story, the four rooms were separated by a sliding panel door, which could be opened to make two rooms. At first, it was intended to use only the eastern half of the schoolhouse, and a furnace was installed only in the eastern half. It was necessary, however, to use one of the rooms in the western half of the building, and an iron stove was installed to heat that room. The lot was nicely graded with a brick walk in the front. In the basement were two large playrooms for use during rainy or cold weather.


A school for African - American students existed as early as May 1858. It was taught by Mr. John Robinson, and adopted as a city school by the Alton City Council. In May 1858, the school held a celebration of May Day. Between 11 - 12 o'clock, they students, teacher, and guests walked to a grove between Alton and Upper Alton, on the bank of Shield's Branch, where they crowned a "Queen of the Day." (Shields Branch ran from Rock Spring Park to the Mississippi - this grove may have been at Rock Spring Park.) Students held their recitations, and then were allowed to play in the nearby woods and green fields. Mr. Hardin was called to then preside over a meeting, and Mr. C. C. Richardson was introduced as the speaker. He addressed the subject of the importance of education. The children then sang, and Mr. R. J. Robinson addressed the audience. They then passed resolutions, giving heartfelt thanks to the Alton Mayor and members of the City Council for their unanimous decision in making the school a city school. 


In 1866, a Board of Education was established, apart from the Alton City Council. Moses G. Atwood was acting Superintendent of Schools.


Lincoln School, Alton - 1866

Work began in May 1866 to erect the Lincoln School on Alton Street, between Tenth and Eleventh Streets - where the first Alton Schoolhouse No. 2 had been located. Lincoln was officially opened February 4, 1867. The school building cost about $40,000.  Lincoln School was a three-story building, and had 12 classrooms, and at the time of construction, it was considered one of the finest public schools in the State. The high school students were moved from the basement of the Unitarian Church to the third floor of this building.





In 1876, the Board of Education secured the services of E. A. Haight as Superintendent of Schools. He served in that position for ten and a half years. At the close of his administration in 1881, school enrollment was about 1,200, and twenty-three teachers were employed. R. A. Haight, brother of the outgoing superintendent, was elected as the next superintendent. During the years that followed, Alton was quickly becoming an industrial center. The Alton school system found it hard to keep pace with the growing population.


Humboldt School  



In 1879, Humboldt School was erected where Schoolhouse No. 5 stood, on the corner of Central Avenue and Sixth Street. It cost $10,000, and had eight rooms.







Irving School, Alton, Illinois   



In March 1883, Irving School was erected on State Street, where Schoolhouse No. 1 had been located.






Garfield School, Alton, IllinoisIn 1891, a new Garfield School was constructed on Sixth Street, on the north side of Seminary Square. Plans were drawn up by Architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger and Mr. Louis Seibert, of the Theo C. Link Architect firm, which supervised the erection of the new Monticello Ladies Seminary in Godfrey. The new Garfield School was two stories high, 62 x 69 feet, with a basement, and a tower, 76 feet high. The basement would hold two large playrooms for the students, during stormy weather. The first floor contained a wide hall in the center, with a classroom, 26 x 38 feet, on each side. There were also cloak rooms, and a janitor's room. The second floor contained two classrooms, two cloak rooms, a teacher's room, and a storage room. Mr. Charles F. Degenhardt had the contract for the construction of the building, with an cost of $18,000. The schoolhouse opened in August 1891, with about 3,000 - 4,000 attending the large ceremony. The Standard Band played at the ceremony, which had over 500 children in attendance.


Douglass School, Alton, IL




In 1897, Douglass School, for African-American students, was opened on the corner of Market Streets, between E. 9th and E. 10th Streets. It was named after Frederick L. Douglass, one of the most intellectual African-Americans of his generation. It cost $10,000. The principal was Miss Fanny Barbour (sister to Florence Barbour, principal of Lovejoy School), with Georgia Foxx as teacher.







Lovejoy School, Alton, Illinois




 In 1897, Lovejoy School, for African-American students, was erected on the corner of Union and Silver Streets. It was named after Rev. Elijah P. Lovejoy - a martyr of the cause of human freedom. It cost $10,000. The principal was Miss Florence Barbour. Florence died in July 1918, after surgery to remove a goiter in her neck. She was a highly successful instructor and principal, and one of the best known African-American women in Alton at the time.  






      Washington School, Milnor Street, Alton, IL




In 1896, the neighborhood of Highland Park was added to the city of Alton. Washington School was erected at 929 Milnor Street.






Lowell School, Alton, Illinois


On February 26, 1900, Lowell School in Alton was officially opened on Joesting Avenue (off of Washington Avenue). It was named in honor of James Russell Lowell, an American statesman-poet. The four-room building cost $8,542, and was planned by architect Lucas Pfeiffenberger. Henry Schuelle was the contractor. The first principal was Mr. Terry, with Miss Hartman and Miss Kuhn as teachers. Most of the students transferred from Humboldt School, but a number of them resided in Yaeger Park. In 1915, the grounds of Lowell School were enlarged through the purchase of property from the Illinois Glass Company. This gave the students more room for their playground. The school closed in about 1975, and has since been razed.





In 1902, the William McKinley High School - the first school dedicated to high school students - was erected in Seminary Square, just West of Garfield School, on E. 6th Street. It was named after President William McKinley, who had recentlyMcKinley/Roosevelt High School, Alton, Illinois been assassinated. McKinley High School was dedicated November 20, 1902. In 1919, McKinley High School was renamed the Theodore Roosevelt High School, following the death of the President in January 1919. The architect for the new high school was J. W. Gaddis. It was the first Alton school to have showers for students who "undergo violent exercise." During the construction of the high school, contractors had problems finding solid ground to lay concrete foundations. they went down 20 feet, and were still throwing out old tin cans and other trash, indicating they had not reached the bottom of fill dirt. The cornerstone was finally laid in June 1902, with a large ceremony accompanying. McKinley had the first high school orchestra. In 1904, teacher and students raised money for a new gymnasium at the school. In 1905, "The Tatler," a publication by the Junior class of McKinley School, made its debut. In 1905, Alton schools received telephones in every school building for the first time. In 1906, for the first time in history, a high school student - David Harry Prince - was married. In 1908, the new high school paper - "The Piasa Quill" - was released. In 1912, the bell from the Lincoln School was moved to McKinley High School, in order to relieve the aging Lincoln School roof from so much weight. In 1919, after McKinley was renamed Roosevelt High School, a new cafeteria and kitchen was opened at the school. It was located in the basement. All portions were five cents, and a suitable lunch could be had for 10 to 25 cents. In 1920, high school students battled against the high cost of clothing, such as overalls, by attending school in old clothes. Girls wore calico dressed and other clothing noted for plainness.  In August 1920, the M. H. Boals house, located at Sixth and Langdon Streets, was purchased by the Board of Education for $11,000. the building was to be used for classes of the commerical department at the Roosevelt High School.  In 1921, students began receiving credit for Bible classes.


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