pages 84 - 92
SCHOOLS BY INDIVIDUALS AND COMPANIES.
I have not been able to learn that the French population of Peoria ever had a school in this place. I believe they had none. Several of them could read and write, but I presume they learned that in Canada. When I came here there was no school in the village, nor was there any worth the name for several years afterward. This was not because of there being any opposition to education, but it was partly owing to the smallness of the number of children in the village, and partly to the fact that the people were too poor to build school-houses. They could with difficulty get shelter for themselves.
There never was, since the Americans settled here, a party opposed to education, nor has there been one opposed to public improvements, though there has much dispute as to the mode; but particularly between those who wish to make money off the public by every thing they do, and those who wish to protect the public against such cormorants; and as education and public improvements have always been popular, those who desired to prey on the public have generally carried the elections, and had their own way in these matters, by raising the hue and cry against those who were equally zealous for education and public improvements, but who wished to protect the public against them, and charging them with being opposed to both. In the matter of schools, one of the most iniquitous modes of robbing the public has been for those intrusted by the public with these interests to combine with book-makers, and every few months condemn the present books, and require new ones, or new editions of old ones, to be bought. Still, as any schools are better than no schools, and as it is better to have schools at an enormous expense than not to have any, we may congratulate ourselves on our public schools.
I believe the first school ever attempted in Peoria was in the fall of 1832. The author, seeing some children about, and learning that there was no school in the village, rented a room and opened a school; but it was so badly patronized, for want of children, that in a, short time it was closed. Several other attempts of this kind were, with more or less success, made by young ladies. I remember very well when Miss Morrow (who will be remembered by the old settlers, as the sister-in-law of the Burlingames and the first wife of Mr. Amos Stevens) came to Peoria, in 1834, she could not rent a room in the village to keep school in: finally the author hereof let her have, for that purpose, a small frame house he had built for an office, on the lot on which has since been built, by Mr. Herron, a block of stone-front stores. George E Quigg, who will be remembered by the old settlers, but more by the writer hereof, came in competition with the young ladies in this business, in 1834 or 1835. The greatest trouble was the scarcity of houses.
Among those who established private schools, in early times, was Rev. David Page. He called his school the Peoria Academy, and opened it for the reception of pupils on the 7th of January, 1840. In his advertisement he said " Children of every age are admitted, from those in the alphabet, and upwards through the whole circle of sciences, so far as they are taught in any academy. The branches that have been taught, above the ordinary branches of common schools, are geometry, algebra, surveying, natural philosophy, chemistry, botany, celestial geography, astronomy, history, logic, rhetoric, composition, declamation, and the Latin and Greek languages. Very small boys, in their first attempts at going to school, are some times placed in the female department." . . . . "Almost any kind of property is received for tuition, at a reasonable price, provided arrangements be made at the commencement of the quarter." This advertisement was published on the 1st of May, 1844. At that time Mr. Page had purchased a house, and deemed his prospects sufficient to justify him in expanding a little; but before that he had, in an unpretending way, taught in a hired house. Others, from time to time, did so also, and in that way we were pretty well supplied with common schools until a system of free schools was introduced, which to some extent superseded all private schools. There have, however, always, to the present day, been some private schools supported by those who preferred them.
In 1855, C. C. Bonney, Esq., now a lawyer of Chicago, established a high school, which he called the 'Peoria Institute'. It was located in the Baptist Church. This, however, was of short duration.
The Methodist Church, in 1851, by virtue of a charter from the legislature, ushered into life, with the sound of trumpets, 'The Wesleyan Seminary of Peoria, Illinois'. They purchased the Mitchell House, at the corner of Fulton and Jefferson streets, and put forth a large programme, with a list of no less than twenty-three trustees; but this thing went down, before it was fairly up.
Our Methodist brethren were so unwise as to put a very sanctimonious but a very immoral man at the head of this institution. The people were greatly pleased with the prospects of the seminary, and but for that unfortunate selection, it would hardly have failed of success. They were just going into operation, when it was suddenly ascertained, from unmistakable facts, that he who was appointed to educate our daughters was a vile hypocrite— a filthy debauchee. He fled from the state, and the institution sunk without an effort to save it. The Methodists saw at once that, although we had confidence in them, as a Christian community, we could not trust them to select teachers for our daughters.
In 1850, Rev. J. S. Chamberlain bought the large house built by Capt. W. S. Moss, but now occupied by Hon. G. C. Bestor, and opened what he called 'St. Mary's School'. The school, however, did not prove a success.
In 1855 and 1856, an effort was made, under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church, to establish the 'Peoria University'. An act of incorporation was obtained, and a large amount of funds raised, with which an eligible site, on the bluff, was bought, and some progress made toward erecting suitable buildings; but the whole thing finally, before completion, as did the two academies, as below stated, fell into the hands of the school inspectors.
The first house that was built on purpose for a school-house was built by the author in 1846, on Walnut street, between Washington and Adams streets; and a private school was kept there until the public school-house was built, under the school-law of 1857, on Adams street: the same that now belongs to the German Turners.
Those various private schools, in their day, answered the purpose very well, so far as concerned the ordinary branches of education; but a general dissatisfaction arose as to their efficiency in teaching the higher branches of education; and hence the principal citizens organized two joint-stock companies to build and carry on two academies— one for boys and young men, and the other for girls and young women, who were pretty well advanced in education. These companies were composed mostly, but not altogether, of the same persons.
The company for a male academy was organized on the 23d of March, 1854, Of this institution
Hon. Onslow Peters was President;
Mr. Amos P. Bartlett was Secretary;
Dr. Rudolphus Rouse, Director
Hon. P. R. K. Brotherson, Directors
Mr. John W. Hansel, Director;
Mr. H. G. Anderson, Treasurer;
Capt. Thomas Baldwin, Trustee
Mr. William R. Phelps, Trustee
Henry S. Austin, Esq., Trustee;
Hon. Jacob Gale, Capt. Hugh J. Sweeny, Col. C. Ballance, Mr. Charles S. Clarke, William F. Bryan, Esq., Committee to purchase a suitable site for the academy.
the 6th of April, 1854, said committee reported in favor of buying lots 10, 11,
and 12, in block forty-seven, of Monson and Sanford's Addition, for $1800; which
was acquiesced in, and a house authorized to be built, that would, cost $3,300,
which, at a subsequent meeting, was altered to $4,200.
The house was built, the school established, and proved successful, insomuch that the profits of the year 1855 exceeded the expenses by $307.86. This, for so new an enterprise, in so new a place, was remarkable, but not so remarkable as the fact that on the 6th of April, 1856, the directors of this seminary transferred the whole thing— house, lots and furniture—to the School Inspectors of the City of Peoria,—not for the money they had cost, but by the said School Inspectors issuing to each stockholder scrip to the amount that he had paid, payable two years thereafter, without interest for the time past, but six per cent, interest for the time to come.
The female school, in its first organization, was not called an academy nor seminary, but the 'Female School Association'. At the commencement the association was too poor to buy ground on which to build, and leased ground from me on Jefferson street, between Liberty and Fulton streets, at a nominal rent, on a lease of ten years, upon the condition that at the end of the time the lessor should, at his option, buy the house to be built, or sell the ground, at their appraised value. That lease is before me now: it is in Judge Powell's handwriting, and dated April 1st, 1850. It purports to have been made between myself of the first part, and Jacob Gale, Hervey Lightner and Elihu N. Powell, on behalf of the association; but for some reason, which I have forgotten, Mr. Lightner's name is not subscribed to it. This school succeeded admirably, and became a source of profit; but before the lease had expired, some ill-disposed person burnt it down, together with some books and chemical apparatus that had been procured for the school. The parties concerned were so encouraged by this experiment that they bought a lot, and built a much better house (the first having been of wood and the latter of brick); but the same men who swallowed up the male school found room in their capacious maws for this also. By what appears on their records as a fair vote, but which had none of the elements of fairness about it, it was, in like manner, for a like consideration, turned over to the same parties, and they are both in their hands to this day. This created much dissatisfaction, for it was done without the knowledge of the most of the stockholders.
Some refused to receive the scrip that was offered to them for their stock, and talked of suing, and I suppose it was a clear case for the interference of a court of chancery; but no suits were brought, but in process of time the matter quieted down, and all, or nearly all, finally accepted the scrip or the money.
One great objection made to this change was that it was done clandestinely, without sufficient notice to the stockholders. It was even done without the author, who was one of the four directors elected to conduct said school, having any knowledge of it, until it was all over. Yet the most substantial difference between the two plans was this: In these joint-stock companies, none had a voice in managing them but those who had taken stock in them, and then the votes were in proportion to the number of shares owned by each voter; whereas, as soon as the property was turned over to the 'School Inspectors', it was entirely beyond their control. It is true that these same men had a right to vote for the School Inspectors, but that vote was liable to be entirely overshadowed and lost sight of by the great multitude who had furnished none of the money, and who paid no taxes, and yet had a right to vote for School Inspectors. It was virtually taking the money of those who had been industrious enough, and provident enough, to lay up any, and giving it to those who had been too lazy or careless to make any, or who had spent their earnings in dissipation, or, peradventure, in enjoyments that were only objectionable as being beyond their means.
On Second street, near Franklin, is now in successful operation an institution called 'The Peoria German School Association'. They have a large and well-built brick building, and teach the English and German languages. They employ two German male teachers, and one female English teacher. This school was established by a company of German gentlemen, with their own funds, and is managed by them, in their own way.
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