History of Hillsboro Illinois Schools

Hillsboro Academy
Hillsboro Academy

In the fall of 1825, the first log schoolhouse was built on the brow of the hill overlooking the natural spring which still gushes forth in Central Park - the same spring discovered by Mrs. Nussman.

This schoolhouse was used for all public assemblies, including religious meetings. It was built of scalped logs, with the cracks chinked with mud. The floor was of puncheons, the benches of split logs. The site was surrounded by forest trees and hazel thickets, furnishing sufficient protection for horses as well as switches for the unruly. Hiram Rountree described the early means of education as follows:

In the early days, it must be remembered that schools were private institutions and that each parent felt it his duty to raise and educate his own family, at his own expense, and consequently he felt it to be his interest, as well as his duty to see that proper teachers were employed and that they gave their pupils proper instruction; to see that the teachers taught the pupils not only what was to be found in books, but also how to behave in the world.

One of the earliest teachers in Hillsboro was Nancy Crumba who was a sister of the first wife of David B. Jackson, pioneer resident of Hillsboro. Girls were sent to her from Vandalia, Carlyle, and Edwardsville, so that she might put the finishing touches to the education they had received at home.

It was a custom with Miss Crumba, that each scholar, on entering the school room should, if a boy, gracefully removed his hat, make a silent bow - first to the teacher and then to the rest of the school; or if a girl, should make a gentle graceful “curtsy,” and such was the usual difference of obeisance of the sexes in that day and generation.

Many good and useful teachers were to be found in Hillsboro teaching private schools or classes, from the time our town was founded in 1823 until 1836, the year our people united their purposes together in a private way and built what was then esteemed a truly magnificent building, the Hillsboro Academy.

However, private schools flourished to some extent for several years after the building of the Academy. The Montgomery Herald of October 11, 1857, announced that Miss Eunice Clark would respectfully inform the citizens of this place that she is still engaged in teaching at the Frank Dixon place. Terms: Reading & Spelling, $2.50 per quarter, Arithmetic & Geography, $3.00 per quarter. On January 2, of the following year, the same publication reported that Prof. W. D. Gunning would resume the charge of his high school in the basement of the Lutheran Church.

In March, 1880, Miss Maggie Beck advertised that she would teach a select school in the basement of the Lutheran church, commencing the first Monday in May and continuing for ten weeks with tuition $2 to $3 per term. In addition to the regular studies, instruction was given in fancy work and plain sewing.

The Academy opened in November 1837, John Tillson gave freely of his time and money, both in the erection of the building and in the securing of excellent teachers for the staff. He brought from the East the first superintendent, Isaac Wetherell, his wife, who served as an associate teacher, Professor Edward Wyman, and Miss Elizabeth Hadley, instructor of instrumental music.

In 1846 the name of the Academy was changed to the Lutheran College, although it continued to be referred to as the Hillsboro College, or Academy. In 1852, the Lutherans, seeking a larger center of population for their school, moved it to Springfield. Finding inadequate support at Springfield, they eventually moved the institution to Carthage, where it has since been known as Carthage College. But the Academy continued to receive students, and no other school building was erected in Hillsboro until the free (Winhold) school was constructed in 1861.

After the introduction of the free school system, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the Academy on a sound financial basis. According to the News of October 4, 1867, the Academy was operated on a year by year basis.

Notwithstanding the fact that it was not known till nearly the middle of the month that there would be exercises in the Academy this year, there are now enrolled in the institution upward of forty students. Three fifths of the number are young men over eighteen years of age. A certain number, both young gentlemen and young ladies have made known the fact that they will enter the Academy in a short time. The academy is located in one of the most pleasant parts of town. It is certainly encouraging to know that here in our home institution, classes have been organized in Latin, Greek, Algebra, Geometry, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Natural Philosophy.

The year 1880 marked the end of Hillsboro’s only college. The News of March 12, 1880, stated:

The Academy closed last Friday and its principal, Prof. F. H. Helsell, left Monday for Obebolt, Iowa. He claims to have lost money while teaching in the Academy, the receipts not being sufficient to meet the current expenses.

The other school officials and citizens of Hillsboro did not give up without a fight. Immediately after the departure of Professor Helsell, the trustees announced that Miss Emma Cromer would teach a select school at the Academy for a term of twelve weeks. Tuition for children, $5.00 per term, Advanced students, $8 per term. But the Academy failed to open in 1881, and eventually the building was moved to another part of town and converted into a barn. In its last days its walls, which had once heard learned professors expound classics and Milton’s Paradise Lost, echoed to the grunting of pigs and the lowing of cattle.

The public school system of Hillsboro also encountered financial difficulties. When the term opened in the fall of 1858, under the superintendence of Mr. And Mrs. J. A. Douhit, formerly of Shelbyville, the Montgomery Herald commented:

We understand that they are efficient teachers and that their services are engaged for six months. We are also informed that there are funds now in the treasury to keep the school up nearly that length of time.

The building of a new schoolhouse was looked upon by many citizens as an unnecessary expenditure. Although the Winhold school was talked of in 1858, a tax for the purpose of building a common schoolhouse, was defeated on July 10 of that year by a 68-40 vote.

We have not built even one school for the establishment of a free school, said the Montgomery Herald and have kept up a free school only part of the time. The Academy has been used hitherto for the purpose, but it does not accommodate the upper portion of the town.

Through the perseverance of the directors, A. H. H. Rountree, J. T. Eccles, and William Witherspoon, and through the interest of other Hillsboro residents, the North School was erected in 1861. The building was later renamed in honor of Miss Mary Winhold, who taught in the Hillsboro schools from 1860 until 1897, when ill health forced her resignation.

The same year in which the electorate voted down the construction of a free school, the teachers of Montgomery County asked for a meeting of all instructors interested in organizing a “Teachers’ Institute.” On Saturday morning, October 23, 1858, teachers from town and rural schools met at the Academy and held Montgomery County’s first Teachers’ Institute.

The High School was organized in 1881. Since the Academy had closed its doors, the old building was rented for school purposes until 1888, when the new Edison School was ready for occupancy. The need of a separate building for high school purposes became more acute each year. In 1904 land was purchased from Arthur Kinkead, and work begun on the present Junior High School. The building, erected by F. M. Garthwait, contractor for the Hillsboro Library, was to have been completed by October 15, but some delay was experienced, and the students moved into their new home in December, after holding school for a few weeks in the basement of the Presbyterian Church.

In 1912 the school board found it necessary to enlarge the Edison School, and four more rooms were added to the east side. In May 1915, the Hillsboro firm of Johnsey and Nichols was awarded a contract to build another school, and in the following year, Burbank, named in honor of the scientist, Luther Burbank, was ready for Hillsboro’s growing school population.

The new high school was begun in 1920 and occupied in the fall of the following year.

Many persons have contributed to the success of the Hillsboro schools. H. J. Beckemeyer, superintendent of the grade schools, came to Hillsboro as a teacher in 1910. George Girhard, principal for the community high school, has been here since 1913. Walter F. Grotts, with his office in Hillsboro, is serving his second term as county superintendent of schools.

The Parent-Teacher Associations, the first of which was organized in March 1916, at the Winhold School, with Miss Elizabeth Coale as president, have been vital factors in the advancement of the Hillsboro educational system. Each school has an organization of parents, deeply interested in the welfare of the school child.

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Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society