Hillsboro Academy A Proud Beginning

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

The once famous Hillsboro Academy, that stood on what is now known as Edison Park
The once famous Hillsboro Academy, that stood on what is now known as Edison Park

The Academy, founded by John Tillson Jr., Hiram Rountree and 20 other early Hillsboro settlers, served as an educational center for 50 years - from 1837 to 1887. During its half century history, the two-story frame building served as an academy where courses between common school and college were taught, as a "Literary and Theological Institute" known as Lutheran College, and later as both a grade school and a high school.

Its history dates back to 1834 when Mr. Tillson, Hillsboro's first merchant, the first county treasurer, first county postmaster and a land agent of means, began promoting the establishment of an academy here. Mr. Tillson, who came from Boston and built the first brick house in the county, wanted to make higher learning available to the youth of his time, both male and female.

He had been responsible for establishing the Presbyterian church in 1828. He gave the site, occupied by the present church, and financed most of the construction of the first church built in 1831. He offered to do the same to bring an academy to the county seat, fashioned after those on the east coast.

Receiving the promised support of others, he had a friend, Dr. Benjamin Shurtleff of Boston, design an academy building patterned after the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. The white frame structure, with its massive four-pillared entranceway, small-paned windows, and green shutters, stood facing Main Street, then known as Coffey Street, between two rows of stately elm trees. On the first floor was an entrance vestibule, a large assembly room and a library area. A wide stairway led to four classrooms on the second floor, divided by a hallway.

Mr. Shurtleff also designed and built the house on South Main Street now owned and occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Albert Tobias and later established Shurtleff College at Alton, the first Baptist college in Illinois.

Association formed

After arranging for the design of the building and estimating the cost of construction, Mr. Tillson met with those willing to underwrite a part of the project. It was on January 10, 1836 when the 20 original supporters formed an association and agreed to finance the project by the sale of capital stock.

At the meeting 127 shares of stock at $50 a share were subscribed to, with Mr. Tillson purchasing 85 of the shares. Mr. Rountree bought six shares, Lloyd Morton, Israel Seward, Charles Holmes, Jr. and John S. Hayward subscribed for four shares each, two shares were purchased by Andrew M. Braley, William S. Russell, Lucius Kingman, and the Rev. Daniel Scherer, pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran church.

Single shares of the $50 stock were subscribed to by James W. Holmes, John M. Holmes, Thomas Sturtevant, William Witherspoon, the Rev. Thomas A. Spilman, pastor of the Presbyterian church, Jothan Hunt, Abner Hope, Edwin A. Casey, John Watson, John Kercheval, Francis H. Hereford and Matthew M. Cushman. All agreed to pay extra assessments, if needed, to operate the Academy.

Mr. Tillson also agreed to give the lot, now bounded by Main, School, Rountree and Pleasant streets, as the site for the academy, to pay for a piano, provide the equipment needed for laboratory courses and to guarantee the salaries of the first faculty members. Later he purchased an additional 35 shares of stock to make his stock investment $6,000. George Burnap also became an early underwriter of the house of learning.

Mr. Tillson was elected president of. The newly formed association, John S. Hayward was made secretary, Lucius Kingman, treasurer and Israel Seward, Charles Holmes, Jr. and Thomas Sturtevant were named as members of the building committee.

Matthew M. Cushman was engaged to supervise the construction of the Academy at a fee of $2 per day. The total cost of the building and furnishings, by the time it was completed in the summer of 1837, was $8,144 .38.

While the building was being erected the underwriters voted to form a corporation with a board of 15 trustees to operate the Academy. The corporation was approved by the State Legislature on March 4, 1837 in session at the then state capitol in Vandalia. A charter was issued by A. P. Field, secretary of state, on March 28. Named as first trustees were stockholders Tillson, Seward, Morton, Hayward, Charles Holmes, Rountree, Russell, Cushman, Hereford, Spilman, Scherer, Burnap, Casey, Sturtevant and Witherspoon.

Academy doors open

The trustees met September 4, 1837, and set November 10 as the opening date for the first term, with classes to be in session for five months. Advertisements were ordered placed in the Vandalia Register, Alton Telegraph, Sangamon Journal, Shawneetown Advocate and Missouri Republican announcing the date of the opening of the new Academy and listing tuition rates.

Mr. Tillson had engaged Isaac Wetherell of Boston as the first superintendent. Mrs. Wetherell was named as his assistant, in charge of the female department. Edward Wyman was named to the faculty, as was Miss Elizabeth Hadley, who was to teach piano and instrumental music. Hiram Rountree agreed to teach classes in Greek and Latin, while other local private teachers were to be called in to teach other subjects when needed.

The Academy opened on schedule, with a fair number of students enrolled. Some of the students were from distant places for the new educational institution was the only one of its kind in this part of the midwest. Students could enroll in the individual courses they wished to take, paying separate tuition for each course, as low as $2 per term for English classes.

Lyceum Association Formed

A second educational institution, known as Hillsboro Lyceum and Library Association, came into being the fall the Academy opened and played a part for a number of years in the Academy's operation.

David Jackson and other early community leaders formed the corporation in September 1837 to build and maintain a place where lyceum programs, political meetings, dances and other entertainment could be held. Space was provided for a rental library.

A one-story frame building was erected on the present Sunoco service station corner, a short distance from the Academy. It faced north on what was then Knoxville Avenue, later named School street.

Mr. Jackson was president of the association with Josiah Fish, being vice president; Francis F. Hereford, an Academy trustee, secretary-treasurer and Edward Wyman, a member of the Academy faculty, librarian.

The building was used by the Academy at times for the "female department" classrooms, meetings and other events. It was moved in the 1860s to the business district and stood on the site of Heselov's Style Shop until 1910 when it was moved again. It housed the Hillsboro Journal for a number of years and after being moved to the east end of Wood street became a machine shop.

Classes for 10 years

For the next ten years trustees operated the Academy before turning the institution over to the Lutherans. During that period of time Dr. W. B. Herrick, W. L. D. Ewing and Harry Wilton were named as trustees to succeed W. L. Russell, Lloyd Morton and Edwin· A. Casey, who resigned in 1842 after leaving Hillsboro.

Various men served as superintendents of the Academy during the decade, including Isaac Wetherell, Marshall Conant, Edward Wyman, the Rev. Ephraim Miller, J. W. Sunderland and the Rev. A. A. Trimper, second pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran church.

The Rev. Trimper and the Rev. Miller helped instigate the take-over of the school by the Lutheran Synod and the establishment of "Lutheran College" in its place.

Faculty members during those years included Mrs. Wetherell, Mrs. Conant, Mrs. Wyman, who was the former Elizabeth Hadley, the first music teacher, Miss Beulah P. Tufts, Miss Harriet Comstock, Mrs. Susan T. Grant, John P. Sartle, Miss Margaret S. Springer, Miss Jemima Dickson, Miss Mary P. Wyman, Miss Martha Powell, Azel S. Lyman, Jeremiah D. Low, Miss Eunice Clark, William Weere, Jr., Miss Mary Dustin, Mrs. Sunderland, F. Eugene Baldwin and Miss Mary Davis.

Experienced troubles

The trustees, superintendents and faculty members had their troubles from time to time, which often required several meetings of the governing board before the question was solved.

In the spring of 1840 seven of the students, Barton P. Baker, Samuel Shannon, Lewis F. Casey, Aaron H. H. Rountree, Henry M. Leeds, Calvin Baker and Joseph J. Linn, faced expulsion after they got into an argument with faculty members over the right to know who had told the teachers untruths about them. They demanded of the trustees that the teachers be required to furnish the information they were seeking.

This the trustees refused to do and they ordered the youths to apologize to the teachers and the student body for the action they had taken. Aaron H. H. Rountree (Hiram's son) was-also accused of cursing at teachers and was told to make a double


All of the students involved in the incident, except Henry Leeds of Mt. Carmel and Aaron Rountree, made the apologies required and were allowed to remain in school. Leeds and Rountree were expelled until they would drop their "attitude of rebellion" and follow the trustees' order to apologize.

Salary changes history

Had the members of St. Paul's Lutheran Church paid their pastor enough to live on, the old Academy might never have become the "Literary and Theological Institute of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Far West," better known as Lutheran College, in 1847.

The history of the college will be the subject of the next article about the Academy

The Hillsboro Academy ~ Part 1 of 4

By: Tom Bliss 1979


Formerly: Edison (South) School

Currently: Hardee's

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