The first school in Kewanee was taught in a small frame building built by George A. Morse and donated by him for educational purposes. It stood north of the railroad tracks, on Main Street.
School was held here for a year or two, when the structure was removed father onto town, and placed on the lot then occupied in 1877 by the east school house and later moved to a lot which was later the Parker & Merritt Store. The growth of the town demanding more room, the trustees rented a building of Mr. Austin Stykes, and a room in the upper story of Mr. Schriver's store. These were occupied until about 1858 when the building known as the east School house was erected. This was occupied in the winter of 1858. It contained two commodious rooms, and was ample for the demands at that time. The pioneer school house was sold, and for some time was used as the office of Henry County Dial. Afterwards, removed and used as a Christian Church, and then, as a dwelling. In the year 1865, the East School House had become entirely in inadequate, the building was enlarged and two buildings were erected.
During the vacation of 1866, the east building was enlarged to double it former capacity, and the two brick structures, known as the North and West Schools, were determined upon. They were erected in 1867 and occupied January 1, 1868. Each contained two rooms. The schools were re-graded in 1866 by the Superintendent of Public Instructions. Mr. Etter was principal for about three years and laid the foundations of the grading of the schools which were very successful and carried out by Mr. W. H. Russell, the next superintendent.
The brick building were erected by William C. Loomis, and cost the city about $6,000. In addition to theses, the High School building, erected in 1856, and a one room building were occupied. The latter being named the Northville School.
In 1877 there were 680 pupils enrolled. The average daily attendance for January 1877 was 621. They required the services of 14 teachers, including the superintendent. Their names are as follows:
Mr. W.H. Russell, Superintendent
High School- Mr. E. S. Martin, Principal; Miss Lillian D. Riley, Assistant.
Grammar School- 1st Room, Miss Anna Kellar; 2nd Miss L. A. Searle.
East Building- Intermediate, Miss A. A. Johnson, Miss Alice Barker; 2nd Primary, Miss Lizzie Lewis; 1st Primary, Miss Frank Rockwell.
North Building- 2nd Primary, Miss S. Folsom; 1st Primary, Miss Jennie Halline.
Northville- Miss Mary Bradbury.
The Board of Education consisted of the following named gentlemen; S.T. Miles, President, Adolp Maul, Secretary; W.H. Day, W.W. Stevens, M.H. Hinsdale and Jas. C. Blish.
The annual aggregate expense of the schools amounted to $10,000, which was abundantly repaid in the elevated tone of society and the good morals attendant upon such an outlay of money at that time.
The High School was established in 1856. It grew out of the desire for a higher grade of education the villages of Kewanee and Wethersfield, in the endeavor to secure its location in the midst, the matter was settled by locating the building on the dividing line between them. Mr. James Elliot donated two and a half acres for that purpose, and on this site the building was erected.
Only the upper story was completed and ready for school purposes, the lower being used for lectures, lyceums, and a public hall. Among the prominent persons who lectured there were John B. Gough and Horace Greeley. School was opened under the principalship of Rev. Mr. Waldo, who was assisted by Miss Atwood. At that time the school was furnished with rude pine desks and benches, reaching half across the room, making but three aisles. The oldest pupils occupied the rear row. Among the young ladies were: Lama Pratt (Mrs. Northrop), Lillie Bruns (Mrs. Raymond), Nellie Little, (Mrs. George Perkins), Libbie Cutter, Helen Lyle, Lucy Lay, Ella way, Addie Cheany, Lottie Talcott (Mrs. T. P. Pierce).
Since there were no sidewalks in the earlier years, it was almost impossible in the winter to get to the school house and a large wagon was the general form of conveyance.
At the close of the second year Mr. Waldo resigned. His successor was Mr. Blodgett, who was assisted by Miss Stocking. During his administration an exhibition was held and from the fund raised the school room was properly furnished.
Mr. Blodgett was succeeded by Mr. McPheran who was succeeded by Mr. Bradford. Greek and Latin were among the higher studies of the school at this time and the pupils were fitted for college. Mr. James k. Blish, a lawyer of the town, went from this school to Ann Arbor. Mr. E. B. Wright, the Washington Correspondent for a Chicago paper, went from the academy to Chicago University.
Mr. Bradford was succeeded by Mr. Tabor, who first graded the school, and arranged a course of study which he had printed. He was followed by Mr. Beckington, Mr. Etter, and then Mr. Russell.
During Mr. Etter's administration eighty-three dollars had been raised at a school entertainment, for which to purchase books for the library. This fund was increased by Mr. Russell's time in a similar manner. With this fund a library had been purchased.
In September 1870, the town of Kewanee purchased the interest of Wethersfield in the academy, and had entire control. During this interval, Mr. Gray and Mr. Carver acted as principals. Upon the latter's resignation Mr. Russell was again called, and was appointed superintendent of Kawanee Schools. Mr. E. S. Martin in 1875 was appointed principal of the High School and assisted by Miss Lillian D. Riley.
[Taken from the personal copy of Ira B Keeler's "History of Henry County Illinois, It's taxpayers and Noters" printed in 1877, and transcribed by Kay Hosmer]