The early schools of Paris

Posted 11/4/19

The first settlers arrived in Edgar County in 1817 shortly before Illinois became a state. In 1820, the first school was built in our county on the farm of William Whitely, and Amos Williams became …

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The early schools of Paris


The first settlers arrived in Edgar County in 1817 shortly before Illinois became a state. In 1820, the first school was built in our county on the farm of William Whitely, and Amos Williams became the first teacher.

Edgar County was formed Jan. 3, 1823, and a few months later Paris was beginning to become known as a small village. The first school in Paris was a log cabin built on the land owned by General M. K. Alexander on the alley that divided the south side of the square behind the Alexander home.

Amos Williams not only surveyed and laid out the tract for the town of Paris, he was the first teacher in that building. In 1828, Samuel Alexander became the teacher.

Williams had a subscriber school Aug. 21, 1824, with an agreement between Williams and the parents to offer a six-month school at the rate of five dollars per student. Payment was half in cash and half in trade.

The term of the subscriber school was to start the first Monday of October if enough students were found. The subscribers also pledged to keep enough firewood on hand for the winter and to keep the building in good shape.

Another school is documented in 1835 as one room of a building just south of the Baptist Church.

In 1825, the state authorized the formation of school districts that were partially financed by a small fund from the landowners of a township. It also allowed for a board of directors to hire teachers and oversee the courses taught. Many times subscription had to make up for the rest of the funds needed for the school district.

In 1833, the teachers were responsible for keeping track of student attendance so any students they served between the ages of five and 21 counted toward how much the state and the township owed the district. This form of payment lasted from1829 until 1855 when the state legislature passed the Free Public School Act for Illinois.

Subscription payments ended for those who attended public schools, but not those in private schools. It wasn’t actually free for the landowners, because a tax was still levied on the land within the school district. The rest of the money came from a law creating a school fund based on two percent of the state’s net revenue. It also established standard requirements for teachers to be certified.

The first public school system in Edgar County started in the Paris and took in the city and the surrounding farming area. There was one southeast of Paris, one east of Paris and one in the town. This area is basically what became Paris Union School District 95.

The Edgar Academy was founded in 1841 on a tract of land where St. Mary’s Catholic Church now stands. Mr. and Mrs. H. I. Venable started this venture that was supposed to be mainly for females, but because of the number of male applicants it served both genders.

The Rev. Venable was the principal and some of the teachers were Mrs. M. Baird, Miss Jane Warren, Miss Nancy Stout, Mrs. Venable, Miss Jane Dayton, John Cozier, James Crane, George Webster, James Steele and Simon Andrews. This school was under difficult financial constraints and became associated with the Presbyterian Church, which continued it until 1868.

In 1843, Col. John Mayo was selected as the school commissioner for Edgar County. The Methodist Seminary started a school in 1848 on grounds that Mayo donated in a block of land east of the square between Wood and Court Streets.

A two-story brick school was erected with a third story added by the temperance society for a meeting hall. The Rev. Jesse H. Moore was principal and the school flourished for several years.

In 1866, Professor Jesiah Hurty arrived in Paris and was in charge of the schools in Paris until 1871 when he set up his own academy.

The City of Paris was chartered in 1869 and that same year the Paris Union School District was formed. The First Ward (Sanford) School was also built in 1869 on a lot where Carolyn Wenz School is now located.

A series of changes followed the formation of the Paris Union School District. The Seminary school on the Mayo property was sold to the school district in 1872, and the Hurty Academy merged with the Paris Union School District in 1872 and became a high school.

By 1879, there were four large public buildings that were used for schools in Paris. What was known as the first Mayo School was erected in 1881 to better serve the students on the John Mayo site and replace the Seminary as that building was in bad shape.

The names of the schools were taken from people who were early supporters of education or landowners in Paris.

A new Tanner School was built in 1899 on Chestnut Street, and it was also called the Fourth Ward School.

State law changed in 1905 making the taxpayers of the school districts responsible for a major part of the school funding and the district levied the taxes. During the following two years, the Paris Union School District purchased the Vance and Redmon properties for building purposes.

The Vance School property was acquired from the Presbyterian Church, and the Redmon School grounds were purchased from the Poulter family.

A new Paris High School was built in 1909 to replace the use of Mayo as a high school. During the next two years both Vance and Redmon Schools were built.

A 1917-18 listing of the schools of Edgar County shows the superintendent being O. Rice Jones. At that time Sanford, Tanner, Vance and Mayo Schools had all eight grades.

This takes us up to 1920 and the story continues in two weeks.