Illinois' First Lutheran College

Illinois' First Lutheran College Hillsboro Illinois
Illinois' First Lutheran College Hillsboro Illinois

After being operated for 10 years as a center of higher education, the old Hillsboro Academy became the first Lutheran college in Illinois. The change-over was brought about through efforts of the Rev. Ephraim Miller, who had headed the Academy in the mid-1840s, and the Rev. A. A. Trimper, second pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church who couldn't make a living as a preacher.

The Rev. Daniel Scherer, who established the Lutheran church here in 1832 and who had served as a trustee of the Academy, found that he couldn't make ends meet with the salary the congregation paid him. After 11 years of trying, the Rev. Scherer resigned his pastorship in 1843 to become the minister of a larger brick church in Wabash County.

The Rev. A. A. Trimper became the second pastor of St. Paul’s, in June 1844 and he, too, found that he had trouble living on a parson's pay: After occupying the pulpit for two years he jumped at the opportunity to head the Academy when the position was offered him in the spring of 1846.

The Rev. Trimper later wrote:

"In the spring of 1846 John S. Hayward, a wealthy man, and a Trustee of the Hillsboro Academy, called on me to see if I would take charge of the academy for a time. This I regarded as a real Godsend, as by it our wants would be relieved, and I could better support my family. This led ultimately to the offer of this institution to our church, out of which Illinois State University at Springfield and Carthage College evolved."

A Lutheran Synod had been established in 1834 covering the vast area of Ohio. Kentucky Tennessee, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and all of the territory west and northwest of Illinois. It was named the "Evangelical Lutheran Synod of the West." Dr. Francis Springer of Springfield was the synod president in 1846 when the Rev. Trimper became superintendent of the Academy.

College established

Dr Springer accepted a call to become the third pastor of St. Paul’s. He was interested in establishing a Lutheran college and with the aid of the Rev. Trim per and the Rev. Miller. who was a member of the faculty, pulled the necessary strings to do so. Within a few weeks arrangements were made for officials of the Lutheran Synod to take over the academy and establish a college that "shall be located and remain in Hillsboro for the term of twenty years ." The college was to be operated under the name of the "Literary and Theological Institute of the Lutheran Church of the Far West" and a state charter was lo be issued to authorize the synod trustees to do so On October 19, 1846, an agreement to transfer the operation of the Academy to the Lutherans was signed by John Tillson president, John Hayward. secretary, and Hiram Rountree. Thomas Sturtevant, the Rev Daniel Scherer. William Witherspoon George Burnap, Israel Seward, Harry Wilton and W B. Herrick, trustees for the Academy, and J. J. Lechmanasky, president, A. A. Trimper, secretary, and Francis Springer. Thomas B. McNitt and Absalom Cress trustees for the Literary and Theological Institute of the Lutheran Church of the Far West.

The state approved a new charter for “Lutheran College” on January 22, 1847, and Dr Springer became head of the college with the Rev. Trim per as his assistant. The school continued to operate as an interdenominational. co-educational center of learning, supported by tuition fees. To provide for extra funds to enlarge and improve the school, funds were solicited to establish an endowment fund. John Tillson founder of the Academy contributed $9,000 to the fund.

Chair of theology

In 1849 the Rev. Simeon Harkey of Fredricks. Maryland was invited to join the faculty and declined to do so until a chair of theology was created, and a promise was made that he would occupy it. A year later the Rev. Harkey decided to make a chair of theology possible by raising funds, on a percentage basis, to endow it.

Having little luck in raising funds for the college in the east he moved his missionary work to Springfield in August 1851. There he quickly obtained $13,000 in subscriptions from "nearly all the ablest and best-known men in the city," including Abraham Lincoln. That fall he accepted the professorship which had been offered him previously Harkey became immersed in the prospects of moving the college to Springfield and the Rev Miller, who had resigned from the faculty in 1850 and moved to Oregon, Ill., also favored such a move The Rev. Miller said that the Lutherans in his area were asking why the school had to remain in Hillsboro and reported that the German congregations in the north wished their college to be more centrally located.

Moved to Springfield

Pressure continued to be applied to Dr. Springer and other trustees of the college to move the school to the state capitol in Springfield. In the spring of 1852, the Lutherans broke their promise "to remain in Hillsboro for the term of twenty years" and gave the Academy facilities back to the local stockholder trustees.

Lutheran College then became Illinois State University at Springfield. Dr. Springer headed the school in Springfield for a time and in later years returned to Hillsboro to operate the old Academy under local sponsorship.

Illinois State University was under the patronage of the Lutherans from 1852 to 1868 when financial ruin closed the school, and the Lutheran Synod of Illinois was dissolved. The Evangelical Lutherans then shifted their support to Carthage College at Carthage.

Concordia College in Springfield became the outgrowth of Illinois State University. The original university building, into which the college moved after leaving Hillsboro became known in later years as Concordia’s “Coffee Mill.”

The Hillsboro Academy did not die after the Lutherans broke their agreement but continued to operate as an academy and later as a grade and high school until 1887 when the original building was replaced by the old South School, later named Edison.

The last 35 years of the Academy's history, before 1t was turned into a cow barn will be the subject of the next article on Hillsboro’s schools, past and present.

The Hillsboro Academy ~ Part 2 of 4

By Tom Bliss 1979


Formerly: Edison (South) School

Currently: Hardee's

178 views0 comments

Related Posts

See All

Jeff Dunn

Vice President

Historical Society of

Montgomery County

Advisory Board

Illinois State

Historical Society