FIRST PERIOD. 1831-1355.

Strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true that for nearly a quarter of a century public schools in Monmouth, as well as throughout the state of Illinois , were supported without taxation. No man living in Illinois prior to 1855 ever paid a dollar of tax for the support of schools, to be expended in the erection of buildings or in the payment of teachers' wages.

Through the generosity of the government two funds were created which furnishhed the only support of the schools tor more than two decades. These funds were respectively known as the Township fund, arising from the sale of the sixteenth section, and the School fund proper, arising from the gift to the State of Illinois, by the Federal government, for school purposes, of three percent, of all the money accruing from the sale of pubic lands within the state. This fund is also known as the Three Per Cent. fund . From the interest of these two funds, and from a tuition, called a "subscription," paid by the parents of scholars, public schools in Illinois were supported during the first period of their existence.

The characteristic feature of this period was the private school. It flourished side by side with the public school, sometimes for healthy rivalry, often to its great detriment. The first school in Monmouth was private, and was taught by Robert Black, a native of Virginia , who came here from Massey's Creek. Ohio . He was an elder in the Seceder church, and taught the children to read the Bible, and to repeat the Shorter Catechism.

In addition he gave lessons in the A B C's. reading, writing and arithmetic, and especially spelling, using Webster's old blue back spelling book and such other books as the pupil happened to have. This school was taught during the summer of 1832 in the old log court house that stood on the corner of North Main street and Archer avenue . Forty-four scholars attended the school, some of them walking three and four miles, and Rollin Andrews from beyond Cedar Creek.

Their names were: Quincy B. McNeil. Daniel McNeil, George McNeil, James A. McCallon, David C. McCallon, John Hargrove, Solomon Hargrove. Emiline Hargrove, Solomon R. Perkins, John Black. John Wallace. Joshua Wallace. Milton Wallace. George B. Wallace, James Wallace. Thomas Gibson. Samuel Gibson. Sarah Gibson. James Gibson. John Gibson. John Kendall Gibson. George Ragland. Mary A. Raglaud. Sarah J. Ragland. Rollin Andrews, Hugh Rust, Derna Rust. Lottie Rust, Valencoor Kendall. Sarah J. Kendall. Martin J. Kendall, George S. Kendall. Eliza Kendall, Jane Kendall. William B. Kendall. William A. Kendall, William Kendall. Jane Pollock, Robert Hodgens. Azro Dennison. New­ ton Dennison. Elmer Dennison. Thomas I\l. Dennison, Nancy J. Dennison. But one of these first pupils yet remains in Monmouth. Mrs. Edward Jones, or Martha Ann Kendall as she was then.

The second school was opened in the fall of 1832 and was taught by Alpheus Russell in the court house, and in 1833 Samuel L. Hogue taught in a log cabin near the present Catholic church. He was a fine man and a good teacher. Later he was sheriff of Warren county. In 1834 a young man named Elifret taught in the old court house. He was in delicate health and soon gave up teaching that he might go south.

He was followed in 1835 by a wild Irishman named MoElroy, who was equally proficient in penmanship, prayermeeting and whisky drinking. Taking a pen in each hand he would write with both right and left hand with equal facility. He established a prayermeeting in the old court house, where his earnest prayers and groans soon made him the center of at­ traction; but his intemperate habits soon drove him from the school room. The Seceders would not allow their children to attend the prayermeeting—not because of the man's. habits, but because he was a Methodist. A little later Lydia Webster and her sister, Mrs. Eliza Brown, taught a private school in a house on A street north of Dr. Webster's office.

The private schools were in constant session from 1832 to 1855, and were taught not only in the court house but in the Christian and Presbyterian churches, in unoccupied store rooms and cabins, and in more than one instance the spare room of a dwelling house was used for a school. Robert Gibson taught where the Fatten block now is; W. B. Chamberlain and afterwards Amanda Paine taught on A street between First and Second avenues; Miss Watson taught in the Bar Parker house on. South First street , and Hutclnason from Kirk-wood taught somewhere unknown. In 1848 Richard Hammond taught a public school en the Y. M. C. A, lot, whilp \V. B, Jenks taught near the Commercial house, and Mrs. Mary Byron taught in the Babcock tavern.

A popular form of school in the early '40s and '50s was the select school. It was a private school in which the higher branches were taught. One of tie first of these was taught by Robert Armstrong Gibson in the old court house in 1841. Mr. Gibson had been educated for the ministry in the east, and probably gave the boys and girls of Monmouth their first taste of Latin, Greek and Algebra. Mrs. Margaret Montgomery and Sarah Boardman taught one of the earliest select schools. Miss Boardman was from Knox county and taught the higher branches.

These select schools rapidly srrew in importance, and able teachers were employed to conduct them. Miss Maria S. Madden opened a select school in the Christian church in February, 1852, and the next autumn W. B. Jenks opened one in the basement of the Presbyterian church on South Main street . There was connected with Mr. Jenks' school a teachers' institute for the purpose of examining and qualifying teachers, as Mr. Jenks was at that time school commissioner of Warren county. His was the most notable of all the select schools. Many men and women prominent today in business and social circles both in this city and elsewhere attended.

In May, 1853, a Grammar School or Academy was established under the patronage of the Second Presbytery of the Associate Reformed church, which later developed into Monmonth College . The Academy opened in the following November, and the next summer Mr. Jenks' school was consolidated with it. "With the coming of the college, private- schools may be said to have disappeared from Monmouth, for the select school could not compete with the college, nor the subscription school with the rapidly growing public schools.

The census of 1830 showed a population of 308 in Warren county. These people were gathered into two groups, a small group of merchants and traders at Yellow Banks, now Quawka, and a larger group of farmers about Sugar Tree Grove and in the country north of where Monmouth now is. The people of the eastern group early became restless about the education of their children, and petitioned the county commissioners to sell the sixteenth section, that is, the school lands of the present Monmouth township, that the proceeds might be used for the education of their children.

As a result of this petition. In September, 1831, Alexis Phelps of Yellow Banks was appointed commissioner of school lands, and in the following October, having divided the sixteenth section of this township into lots ranging ia size from ten acres to eighty, he sold a portion of them at public auction in front of the court house, and the remainder at private sale. The entire section brought $927.50. After defraying the expenses, there was a balance left of $850, which was immediately loaned at 12 1/2 per cent, interest, thus creating the first, public school fund in Monmouth. This fund has been preserved inviolate and amounts to $850 today.

In 1883, The legislature of Illinois for the first time made provision for the payment of teachers from the proceeds of school funds. Our people promptly responded by establishing, March 6. 1834. the boundaries of a school district containing sixteen square miles, the election of a board of school trustees, the purchase of a lot, the employment of a teacher. and the opening of a school. The spot on which the public schools of Monmouta were opened is the ground now occupied by the Y. M. C. A.

On September 3, 1832, the county commis­ sioners had set apart this lot—Lot 2, Block 26 —for a public school lot, the deed to be made when the district should pay ?4.00 for the lot. In 1835 a frame school house was erected on the lot, and for many years a public school was maintained there. It was a small structure, eighteen feet square, with an eight foot ceiling. It served its purpose well until 1848, when the growing population demanded a more commodious building. It was then sold for a dwelling, and now stands on South Third street, between First and Second avenues, almost within the shadow of the Central school building, the tiny structure being in marked contrast to its majestic successor, a mute but potent lesson of progress.

December 8, 1836. the school trustees reported to the county commissioner that the school was growing and the building soon would not accommodate all the pupils, so additional lots were set aside for school purposes. They were lot 1, block 38, on the north­ east corner of East Third avenue and South Second street; lot 1, block 47, on the west side of South Fourth street south of Fifth avenue; and the northeast corner of block 46, on A street and Fourth avenue. Only one of these sites—lot 1, block 46, was purchased by the district, $10.00 being paid for it December 5, 1838. It was never used for a school, however, but was sold when the city bought part of block 48 for a site for the old East Ward school building, in 1857.

In 1847 there were 308 children of school age in the district, and the small structure was inadequate to accommodate them. A movement was started to raise money to build a larger school house but met with so much opposition that it was abandoned. The next year the movement was again started. The building was to be 26 feet in width by 36 in length, and to be built in the style of a single room rural school house, with the door in one end and two small cloak rooms on each side of the entrance. The building was to cost $800. and like its predecessor, was to be erected solely by voluntary contribution. It was a large amount for these people, but brave hearts undertook the task, the women coming to the help of the men with a "school house sewing circle," and finally the money was raised and the school house was built. In 1857 it was moved to the West Ward school grounds, where it did service until 1860, and now easily shelters the family of William Cowan on North B street.

These two buildings furnished the public school accommodations during the pioneer period of their existence. In the first rude structure the first public school was taught in the summer of 1834. In October Gilbert Turnbull and James McCallon, school trustees, made the following report to the County Commissioners: "There are in the district fifty children between the ages of five and twenty-one years. There has been a school kept three mouths since the organization of the district. There have been twenty-five scholars. The probable expense will be forty-five dollars."

The following persons are known to have taught in these or in rented buildings during this period:

Alpheus Russell, 1S34, the first public scaool in the county; Eliphalet Elifret, 1S35; W. L. McElroy, 1836: Gilbert Turnbull Elisha A. Smith, 1837; W. R. Webster. 1838; E. M. Wellman, 1838-40; Margaret R. Montgomery, 1838-41; Addison Black, 1839; Cornelia Ann Davidson, 1839; Nelson White. 1839-41: Persia N. Williams, 1839-41: William B. Chamberlain, 1840-41; John A. Smith, 1840: Moses C. Kellum, 1841-42; Mary L. Boardman, 1841; Thomas C. Moore, 1841-42; Ellen P. Phelps, 1842; Koah Randall, 1842-45; E. D. Adams, 1842; Harriet E. Hamlin, 1843; Chauncey Hatch, 1844; Amanda Paine. 1845-46; Eliphalet Elifret, 1846; Richard Hammond. 1848; Amos Harding, 1849-50; William Williams, 1849; Joshua Miner, 1850: William Stewart, 1850; Emily A. Hale. 1850: J. H. Hutchinson, 1S50; W. B. Jenks, 1850-59; Maria S. Madden, 1851; W. W. Home. 1852; Mary A. Ferguson, 1851: A. H. Tracy. 1854.

Mr. Randall was perhaps the most efficient teacher of this period. He was born in Vermont in 1820. and had been well educated in his native state, for in addition to the common school studies of reading, writing and arithmetic, also taught algebra, astronomy and philosophy. He began teaching iu 1841. and taught until 1845, first in the little frame school house on the Y. M. C. A. lot, and after wards in the Christian church on the corner of Second street and Archer avenue.

A characteristic of the early schools was the spelling matches, and these reached their climax in Monmouth in 1849 when Amos Harding was the teacher. He was General Harding's brother, "powerful in spelling and arithmetic," and confined his teaching largely to these two branches of which lie was a unorough master. While no challenge was ever sent it was clearly understood the country round that he and his school were ever ready "to enter the lists." Jonathan French, Dan Shehi and the Weaver girls were the best spellers in Monmouth and before them went down the pride of all surrounding schools.


Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois

Submitted by the Webmaster

©Wini Caudell and Contributors

All Rights Reserved

Illinois Ancestors