During the first 18 years of the old Hillsboro Academy's history the county seat was just a settlement with no form of municipal government. Three county commissioners and the county officers guided Hillsboro's governmental affairs from the time it was established in 1823 until 1855 when the residents adopted the city form of government.
When Hillsboro became a self-governing village, Thomas Phillips, an Academy trustee, became the first village president or mayor. Solomon Harkey, another Academy trustee, became one of the first three village trustees, and Robert W. Davis and Benjamin Sammons, the other village trustees, and John W. Kitchell, the first village clerk, were all Academy stockholders. Then began a movement to have the village own and operate the Academy. It took until 1869, when the village became a city under the aldermanic form of government, for the citizens to assume ownership of the school property.
Free school established
After Hillsboro became a village and a part of a public school district the school trustees approached Academy trustees about operating a "free" school in the Academy building. To make the building available the Academy trustees voted on February 4, 1856, to ''tender the use of the Academy building to the directors of the Hillsboro school district for the purpose of establishing a free English school for the term of one year, upon the condition that said Directors employ as principal some person competent to teach all the higher branches of an English education.
The school directors employed William Gunning as the "competent principal" and Miss L. C. Lyman as assistant principal. Available records have failed to reveal how successful the "free" school was, but indications are that financial troubles caused the directors to turn the building back to the Academy trustees in a year and a half.
In October 1857 the Academy was leased to C. H. Burbank and from then until 1880 the school was operated by various "professors" as an educational business venture with the Academy sharing in the profits, if any.
Civil War superintendent
During the troubled years of the Civil War, Professor Edmund Miller operated the school from 1858 until 1865. Following him were the Rev. J.R. Brown, Prof. S.M. Inglis, who later served as state superintendent of schools from 1894 to 1897, and L. F. M. Easterday of Nokomis, who was superintendent when the school was turned over to the city in 1869. At the end of the war the stockholders met on August 5, 1865, at the courthouse and elected 10 trustees to serve with the five holdover members. Robert H. Stewart, Thomas Sturtevant, Thomas D. Washburn, William P. Marshall and Aaron H. H. Rountree, named to succeed his father, were chosen for two-year terms. John L. Hayward, R. W. Davis, Jacob Cress, Jr., William H. Brewer and Jesse J. Phillips, elected to succeed his father, Thomas Phillips, were chosen for three-year terms. The hold-over directors, with one-year terms to serve, were E. Y. Rice, Joseph T. Eccles, A.G. Haskill, William Witherspoon, and Pordice Boutwell.
Literary Society exercise
Three months before the change of ownership took place, the "Excelsior Literary Society" of the Academy presented a program on Friday evening, March 5, at Hillsboro Presbyterian Church. The "exercise'' was under the direction of Professor Easterday and the other faculty members, Fannie A. Kiddoo, Hannah M. Easterday and W. M. S. Cress.
The students, who gave essays, orations, dialogues, recitations, declamations and musical selections, included Jennie Lingofelter, Logan Patton, R. S. Whitten, S. H. McLean, Mollie Cook, James M. Barkley, Addie Hayward, R. M. Lay, W. C. Paisley, M. L. Easterday, Katie Brown, Mittie Bowers, Susie Shirley, R. Wallace Leach, Etta Burnett, T. J. McDavid, Libbie Phillips, Marcella Walter, Edward Taylor, John M. Whitehead, Roxie Lane, Annie Zimmerman, E. C. Richards and C. E. Root.
Turned over to city
Both the retiring village board and the new city aldermanic council approved the city accepting the Academy property and assuming the operation of the school in the spring of 1869. Supporting the change-over were Burrell Phillips, the last village president, and Daniel C. Lingofelter, Paul Walter, James T. Blackburn and Arius Kingsbury, retiring village trustees. President Phillips was a son of Thomas Phillips, first village president.
Accepting the property for the city in 1869 were John T. Maddux, mayor, Daniel C. Lingofelter, F. Weingand, August H. Mey, Fred Noterman, John F. Glenn, Charles B. Rhoads, James T. Blackburn and Bernard Walls, newly elected aldermen.
The last official act of Academy trustees took place June 24, 1869, when a resolution was adopted to "convey by deed to the City of Hillsboro the Academy lot and buildings, in accordance with the recent act of the Legislature of Illinois granting a City Charter to the Town of Hillsboro."
Eight trustees were present when the resolution was adopted and a motion made to have J. J. Phillips, A.H. H. Rountree and Dr. Thomas D. Washburn "carry the resolution into effect and secure as many of the trustees names to the conveyance as possible." An agreement had been made whereby the city council would not be in charge of the Academy's operation but authority would rest in the hands of three trustees to be elected by the voters. The city was to 'impose a tax not to exceed one mill on each dollar of real estate and personal property valuation to provide funds for the upkeep of the property. The Academy was to continue to be operated on a tuition basis. All outstanding debts were to be paid out of tax collected funds.
First city trustees elected
On June 6, 1869, even before the Academy trustees had adopted their last resolution, Hillsboro voters elected James R. Glenn, Robert H. Stewart, and Dr. I. W. Fink as the first city Academy trustees. They drew lots for. one, two and three-year terms. Mr. Glenn was to serve three years, Mr. Stewart, two and Dr. Fink, one year. One director was to be elected to a three-year term each year after that.
The new trustees assumed more than $1,100 indebtedness, including $371.25 due Thomas Kelsell of Cincinnati for 76 new desks, which the old board had ordered, and a $500 note held by Obadiah Ware for money he had loaned the Academy board at 10 percent.
For the next 11 years city trustees attempted to keep the Academy in operation.
Dr. Fink served as a member of the board the entire time and others who were elected from time to time were William D. Shirley, Dr. Thomas Washburn, Charles W. Jenkins, R. M. VanDoren, Dr. P. S. Field, William Abbott, Aaron H. H. Rountree and George B. King.
The trustees maintained the building the best they could on less than $400 a year, the amount collected from the one mill tax. To improve the property, parts of the white picket fence on all four sides of the lot were. rebuilt, two brick privies were built to replace the old wooden ones and a new well was dug north and west of the entranceway.
Ira Millard built the fence in 10 ft., 8-inch panels, 5 feet high for 40 cents a panel; Charles Seymour furnished the brick from his brick yard for the privies and well for $10 per thousand, Frank Frarer built the two privies for $56.65 and Joe McNulty dug the well and lined it with brick for $1 a foot where the digging was easy and $2 a foot through hardpan.
Educators leased building
L. S. Brown, L. B. Whitham, the Rev. Francis Springer, who had been president of the school when it was Lutheran College, the Rev. W. J. McDavid, C. C. Lyerly and Frank Helsell were the schoolmasters who tried to operate the school on a profitable basis.
Mr. Helsell was principal when Hillsboro's old Academy was closed and then became the high school. In the summer of 1879 Aaron H. H. Rountree, William Abbott and George B. King, the city Academy trustees, announced the school would open on September 15 "under an entirely different corps of instructors." The instructors were F. H. Helsell of Iowa, Scott M. Ladd of Sharon, Wis. and Miss Emma J. Cromer of Irving. Tuition was set at $8 per term, plus $3 to $5 for books and incidentals.
The next spring Hillsboro's only Academy and College came to an end. In its issue of March 12, 1880, The Montgomery News announced:
"The Academy closed last Friday and its principal Prof. F. H. Helsell left Monday for Odebolt, Iowa. He claims to have lost money while teaching at the Academy, the receipts not being sufficient to meet the current expenses."
High school established
After the Academy was closed, the building was rented to the common school directors for $200 per year and became Hillsboro High School. John F. Glenn, James M. Truitt and John M. Cress, the school directors, announced the opening of Hillsboro High School on Monday, October 4, 1880.
Besides classes for a three-year high school, eighth grade and primary grades were to be also taught in the building. Named as the "common school" teachers were: J. N. Dewell, principal and high school department; Miss. Emma Comer, high school studies; Charles R. Truitt, first assistant; Miss Mary Winhold, grammar department; Miss Jeddie Arnold, first intermediate; Mrs. Helen Colvin, second intermediate; Miss Mary L. Hood, first primary and Miss Lizzie Whitehead and Miss Belle Middleton, second primary. Non-residents could attend the school by paying tuition of $7 and $8 per term.
First annual commencement
The first commencement exercises were held May 18, 1883, at the Presbyterian church when the first four graduates of Hillsboro High School, the Misses Pauline and Minnie Rutledge, Frank M. McDavid, of Coffeen, and Lucian E. Fish of Hillsboro, received diplomas.
The second commencement exercise was held two years later on May 26, 1885. As there was only one senior in 1884 no graduation service was held. Research failed to reveal who the lone student was. Mattie Allen, Rebecca Sternberg, Joseph M. Baker, James E. Colvin and A. N. Allen were the members of the class of '85 who received their degrees at the second commencement.
Although the building had been rented to the school directors the city Academy trustees continued to maintain the property and operate the rental library which was located in part of the building.
On Sept 15, 1883, the city trustees voted to "open the library for letting out books on Saturday afternoon of each week from 1 to 4½ o'clock." Book rental rates were set at 10 cents a week or 15 cents for two weeks, with the high school students having full use of the library free of charge. Warrick Edwards was named as librarian at a weekly salary of $1, payable out of rental fees and fines_.
Deeded to school directors
On May 181, 1887, the old Academy was deeded to the trustees of the Hillsboro schools with the stipulation that the property would revert back to the city when no longer used for school purposes.
Dr. S. H. McLean was mayor at the time and the aldermen were Louis Wolters, James A. Brown, Thomas B. Brown, R. E. Henshie, Charles H. Witherspoon and Richard Rowe.
The school trustees who accepted the property were James M. Truitt, William Abbott and A. A: Cress.
A two-story brick building, to serve as a combined high school and grade school, was built in front of the old Academy building. After it was completed, the Academy was moved to what is now the IGA parking lot and became a barn. The new school was the second building to be financed by the taxpayers, the first being the old North School, later known as Winhold.
The first school built in 1861 on the corner of North Main and East Brailley streets on what is now the bowling alley lot, will be the subject of the next article on the Hillsboro schools, both past and present.
The Hillsboro Academy - Part 4 of 4
By Tom Bliss 1979
Formerly: Edison (South) School