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History of College Square

Submitted by Rhonda Rusk.


Settlers who came to Henry County saw the need of an education for their children and this is reflected in the design of their towns.

The Court laid out the town of Cambridge, the county seat, as follows:

"The town was centered around two public parks instead of the usual Courthouse Square. One park called Court Square was a rectangle area the size of two city blocks on which public buildings were to be erected; the other, to the east of this and separated by Main Street, was College Square, the size of one city block, to be used for educational purposes."

The town was designed so College Square would serve the educational needs of Cambridge. This fact is also reflected in the naming of the square College Square.

College Square has served this purpose since 1843.

The search for a county seat for Henry County had only begun in March of 1837 when the state approved the enabling act, which appointed Commissioners to locate and name a county seat.

Cambridge did not exist when the search was begun, this area was known only as Section 7 of Township 15-3, but its central location and the fact that it was owned by one of the county's few elected officials made Cambridge the county seat. A bill signed on February 21, 1843 approved this site just west of Sugar Tree Grove.

In September of 1843, the County Commissioners ordered the courthouse building be moved from Morristown to Cambridge and it was placed on the southeast corner of College Square. The County Commissioners agreed that Cady and others [namely the trustees of schools] would have the use of said building for schools or other public purposes when not wanted by the Courts for a term of three years while the true courthouse was being built on Court Square.

Also in September 1843, the County Board of Commissioners ordered that Joseph L. Perry, Stephen Cady and Joseph Tilson be appointed Trustees of School Lands in Township fifteen north Range three East 4th P.M. It is documented in state records that Mr. Tillson, serving as school commissioner, paid the taxes for the property.

These same trustees issued bonds to build the ‘old brick’ in 1857. In 1876 the district again issued bonds, not to exceed four thousand dollars, for an additional building (the third school house built by the school on this property.) In all, there were four additional school buildings built on that property, with the last one standing in 1968.

Not once during the past 159 years - since the Village was platted in 1843 has there been any reason to question the ownership of College Square.

The school itself was aware there was no formal record of this land transaction in 1917. It was stated in the Cambridge High School annual of 1917 that: "The Village of Cambridge has had some advantages for not only did we use the county buildings for our schools; but we have also appropriated our grounds which are part of the Pillsbury tract given in 1843."

Many of the senior residents of Cambridge can tell you in 1968, when the school was removed from College Square it was because the building could not have any other use than for education. But the school has utilized this property for recreation and sports for Cambridge students.

Just because there is no deed does not mean the property belongs to the county. Under escheat laws and state statues the property belongs to the school district.

The Illinois Department of Revenue has accepted and recognized the school as owners of the property and accepts a copy of the original plat and surveyors description of the town as documentation of this fact. The State still recognizes the school as owner of the property as it has continued to grant the school tax exemption on the property.

I whole-heartedly feel that the school is the rightful owner of the property commonly known as College Square. I also believe the school should have the final say in regards to the use of this property.

I am going forward in my efforts to obtain complete documentation that the school owns the property and I hope to have the schools support in this effort. I believe it is up to the school to sell or lease the property to the city. I hope the property will remain intact as it was originally platted 20 rods by 20 rods and will continue to serve the needs of the children of our community.