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History of Geneseo's Schools

"Portrait and Biographical Album of Henry County Illinois", 1885

Copied by Linda Lang; Transcribed by Susie Martin-Rott


The Earliest Schools

Miss Susannah Stewart, daughter of R. R. Stewart, taught the first school in Geneseo, in 1837. The school-house was made of round poles, had a puncheon floor, and was covered with the wagon covers that the people had used in their travels to the new country; and teachers and pupils had to keep a sharp lookout for rains and storms and flee to the nearest cabin for protection. This was not only the first public school in Geneseo, but it was also the first one in the county, but only for a very short time; for while Miss Susannah Stewart, afterwards Mrs. James M. Allan, was teaching this tent-covered school, her sister Narcissa, afterwards Mrs. Wells, was teaching a school near Dayton, at P.K. Hannah's house, and another sister Parmelia, now Mrs. Dr. Hume, of Geneseo, was teaching in Wethersfield. There is no question but that the Stewart girls were the pioneer school-teachers in Henry County.

The roll of Miss Susannah's school in Geneseo is well worth preserving for posterity, and was as follows: Emily Ward, afterward Mrs. Olmstead, of Galesburg; Orlo Mannville, went to Kansas; Roderick S. Mannville, deceased, Newton Mannville, emigrated to Iowa; Harriet Cone, now Mrs. William Miller, of Geneseo; Clarissa Cone, married Elisha M. Stewart, March 9, 1848, and removed to Wichita, Kansas, in the fall of 1879, and is the happy mother of five children, three boys and two girls; Alonzo Cone, deceased; Lafayette Stewart, removed to Wichita, Kansas; Mary Bartlett, afterwards Mrs. Hiram Cady; George Bartlett, deceased; Amanda Bartlett, married Mr. C.M. Taylor, and removed to California; Orin Bartlett, of Mercer County, Augustus Bartlett, deceased; and Sarah Ann Bartlett, of Mercer County.

In the fall of 1838 a frame school building was erected on the site of the Congregational Church lot, which was a school and church building for some time, until the seminary building was erected in 1846. Miss Narcissa Stewart taught school in 1838. In 1839, Mr. Holmes, who had been sent by Rev. Jason Chapin, taught school. In the spring of 1840, Mr. Chapin came and took charge of the school, and so continued until his death in September, 1846.

There was a provision in the original town plan that plainly indicated the deep interest of the early settlers in schools. It was provided that in the sale of lots a certain per cent of the lots should be set apart for the building of a seminary of higher learning.

The Geneseo Seminary School

One of the rarest cases of self-denial was exhibited in the building of the brick seminary at Geneseo. The people had no money, and they subscribed their labor. They worked in the brick yard and at the carpenter benches; they tended the masons, hauled the sand and water, and dug the foundations. The building when completed was "without money and without price," for it was the labor of love of every able bodied man in the community. Some of the young men, hardy of age, subscribed as much as $200 each, to be worked out at a small per-diem. Then just as the walls were up a storm blew down the sides, and, nothing daunted, they were rebuilt; and completion crowned their labors, and the building was thrown over to the public use and a school commenced in the fall of 1846.

The Legislature granted a charter. It was called the Geneseo Manual Labor High School; this name was afterwards legally changed to Geneseo Seminary. Rufus Hubbard, E. Cone and Jarius Wilcox, incorporators as the first Board of Directors. Hubbard was President of the Board.

After Mr. Chapin's death, for seven years, the institution was under the care of Rev. A. Lyman, by whose untiring labors, persistent industry at home and abroad, funds were raised for the completion of the seminary, he having procured $3,000 from friends in the East, and this, added to the generous contributions of friends here, and Mr. Lyman contributing his salary as minister for years, an ample fund was finally provided. Too much credit cannot be accorded to Rev. Lyman for the foresight, zeal and abilities that for years he devoted to this institution, and all the time working amid the greatest deprivations and a rigid economy in order that his loved school might live and prosper. His accomplished assistants in the school were Miss Pomeroy (married F. Bascom), Miss Hooker, Miss Foster and Miss Earl.

Succeeding Rev. Lyman, Rev. S. H. Waldo was in temporary charge of the institution for a few months. Then M.S. Croswell, fresh from Amherst College, was at the head of the school for a short time. He shortened his usefulness by heeding the call of his country, and enlisted in the army, where he served well four years, and when mustered out went to California and is preaching there. His successor was Mr. Bartlett, who was assisted by Miss Humes and Miss Sarah Andrews.

In the meantime Illinois had perfected her grand system for free schools--furnishing every child in the State, without costs, schools and school buildings that in many modern comforts and advantages far surpassed the oldest and wealthiest schools in the country. They were wholly non-sectarian (by some zealous in pious dogmas they were thought to be non-religious, and were sometimes called "Godless schools,") and in small places often the State schools abundantly supplied to public demands, and it was very difficult to maintain private institutions.

The Geneseo Seminary found itself, even with the splendid record it had already made, laboring under great disadvantages in this respect. Its managers had anticipated the future, in a considerable debt was hanging over the institution. The Trustees wisely concluded to merge their school into the public-school system, and they sold the brick seminary and grounds to the city, to be used as the Public High School, and the Rev. Lyman's and his coadjutor's labors were not in vain, as their loved institution has been and is still devoted exclusively to the cause of higher education.

The Central School

The Central School-house was built in 1856, the year the State system of graded schools was put into operation. This building contained four rooms. The next year the Seminary was purchased, and the two buildings at that time gave ample school facilities for the village. Prof. Abbott was then the Superintendent.

Prof. G.G. Alvord was Superintendent in 1877, and he was followed by Prof. E.P. Burlingame. The last two, when they left Geneseo, by a singular coincidence each went to Cairo and became Superintendent of the schools there. Burlingame succeeded Alvord there as he had done here.

In response to the public necessity, in the year 1866, the school building, a commodius brick structure, on the north side, was erected, containing four rooms. But the rapidly growing necessities required an addition of two more rooms, which were added in 1871. And it was found also to be necessary to have still more room, and the basement of the Unitarian church was procured, at a rental of $200, and fitted up for school purposes.

Thus, in 1876, there were three school buildings, and the school property was then valued at $20,000. That year the expenditure for school purposes was $8,191.03. Fifteen teachers were then regularly employed: three in the High School, three in the Grammar Schools, four in the Intermediate and five in the Primary. The enrollment was 1,021; average attendance, 711. Attendance in the High School, 121; Grammar School, 136; Intermediate, 346; Primary, 418.

The public schools of Geneseo are not surpassed in the country. There are four elegant school buildings, furnished with all modern improvements and a corps of able teachers. The total school enrollment is 800, and there is an average attendance of about 600. There are 15 teachers, distributed as follows: In the High School are Charles Riley, Miss Fanny L. Tee, Miss Abbie F. Steele. Attendance in High School rooms; 60. In grammar room is Miss S. E. Elwell; attendance 60. The other 12 teachers are in the following rooms: In the rooms south are Jennie M. Bliss No.6; Mary Entrikin, 5; Ella R. Hanna, 4; Alice R. Rosenstone, 3; Hattie M. Waite, 2; and Ida Whitney, 1. In the north rooms are Nelly McCarthy, No. 6; Minnie Bradley, 5; Ethel Lambert, 4; Nora Blackiston, 3; Jennie Wells, 2; Tella Worrall, 1.

A commendable feature of the public schools is the evident economy the present Board of Education has introduced, and that has not imparied the efficiency of the schools. For instance, in 1882 the total expenses for teachers' hire was $7,840, and in 1885 that was reduced $1,000.

Geneseo Collegiate Institute

Geneseo Collegiate Institute was chartered by the Legislature as an institution of Learning Nov. 21, 1883. The charter directors of the school were J. T. Atkinson, J. A. Sawyer, Thomas Liken, Josiah Moore, C.T. Powell, J.W. Stewart, J.K. Rekard, S.S. Cryer, T.W. Johnson, J.W. Hosford, I.N. Wilson, W.F. Small, H. Biglow, D.F. Sargeant, Mead C. Williams, N.H.G. Fife, Alexander White, Payson Trask, W.C. Brown, J.B. Moderwell and E.L. Williams.

Incorporators--J.T. Atkinson, W.P. Cook, G.E. Waite, A. White, N. Gaines, Henry Youngs and E.C. Moderwell.

Officers of the Board of Directors--Rev. E.L. Williams, President; A. White, Vice-President; J.B. Moderwell, Secretary; J. A. Sawyer, Treasurer.

Instructors---Norbury W. Thornton, A.M., Principal and instructor in Greek and mathamatics; Wm. A. Metcalf, A.M, C.E., commercial department; Miss Lucy Magee, elocution, history and English literature; Miss Susan A Hosford, A.B., Latin; Ferdinand Berger, German; Mrs Gatha Swan, director conservatory of Music; Miss Sarah M. French, drawing and painting.

Although at present a young institution, yet so generously has it been provided for, so generally supported and encouraged by all denominations of Christians and people, who appreciate the advantages of a higher education, that its success is already such that it is entitled to a permanent place among theoldest and best institutions in the State. Its organizers and contributors were from the various religious denominations of Genesoe and surrounding country. It is in no sense a sectarian school, but is in the broadest and fullest meaning a Christian school. As an explanation of the wholesome influences exerted in the institution by the Presbyterian Church, we only deem it necessary to give the following explanation as a part of the early efforts to found the school: A petition for "The Board of Aid for Colleges and Acadamies in the Presbyterian Church of the United States" to locate an academy in Geneseo was signed by representatives of different denominations in the city, and the locating of the academy in Geneseo was strongly endorsed by the Presbytery of Rock River. The expression of feeling was not so united that the Board of Aid for Colleges and Acadamies responded by granting $1,500 to the aid of the institution in its first year. The Geneseo Collegiate Institute is the first institution organized under the new Board of Aid which has manifested special interest in continued success. The institute was formally opened with an address on Higher Christian Education by Rev. H.D. Ganse, D.D., Secretary, Sept 16, 1884.

It was thrown open to the public only a little more than one year ago, and its final annual catalogue is the complete assurance of the great success it has already attained.

The catalogue shows the following; Complete enrollment,181; academic students, 117; art, 14; music, 84.

The Northwestern Normal School

Foremost among the educational institutions of Henry County is the Northwestern Normal. It is beautifully situated in that part of Geneseo known as Park Villa. Early in the year 1883 the people of Geneseo became very much interested in the enterprise of securing and establishing in their city an institution of learning, which should be at once practical, unsectarian and self-supporting. The project was urged by the leading citizens, met with general favor, and a most liberal fund was soon secured for the furtherance of the object. A board of trustees, consisting of Messrs. A. Lieberknecht, H. V. Fisher, P. Schnabele, I.R. Wells, W.P. Blackiston, R. Harrington and H.W. Moses were appointed to act in the matter, and opened negotiations with Profs. W.J. Cook and W. J. Stevens, the result of which was a contract between the parties for the establishing of the Northwestern Normal, and its incorporation and opening on Sept. 4, 1883.

Delightfully situated in the northwestern part of the beautiful "Maple City," removed from the noise and dust of the business streets, surrounded by a large and shaded campus, which extends from College Avenue to Center Street, are situated the Normal buildings: "The Mansion" and "The College". The former of them was built in 1876 by Maj. James M. Allan, one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Henry County. On this spot, his home for many years, he built for himself one of the finest and best appointed residences in Western Illinois, at a cost of $17,000. Here he lived until 1883, when he transferred his beautiful residence and grounds to the trustees as a nucleus for the Northwestern Normal. "The College" was built and furnished in 1884, at a cost above $7,500. The managers expect soon to erect another and a larger brick structure on College Avenue, to accommodate the needs of the rapidly growing school.

The Northwestern Normal was incorporated by the State of Illinois in 1883, and during its first year had an attendance of nearly 300 students. Its second year brought to its doors above 400 students from Illinois and adjoining States. From 10 to 13 instructors are constantly employed, and from forty to fifty classes sustained each term. The school is constantly in session and graduates two classes each year, one in May and one in October. The Bachelor's and Master's degrees of Science is conferred upon all regular graduates. A specialty is made of educating for teaching, business or professional study. Each year, during July, the Annual Teachers Institute is held and is largely attended by those who are preparing to teach. The Normal adds to the trade of Geneseo at least $50,000 per year, besides doing much to elevate the literary, social and moral tone of the city. It is most enthusiastically and heartily supported by all who have experienced its advantages.