Early Institutes of High Learning

Dixon, Lee County IL


Dixon College and Normal School postmarked January 8, 1909 Postcard by Karen Holt

Colleges and universities were a part of Dixon, Illinois in its early years. Frank E. Stevens in his book History of Lee County Illinois states "As early as 1855, several enterprising gentlemen sought to give Dixon the advantages of a first class educational institution."

The following chronological summary provides a brief look at most of the various institutes of higher learning in Dixon from 1855 to sometime into the 1940s. The two largest schools were at two locations: one on the East end of First Street and the other on the West side at what was then the end of Second Street. Additional schools specialized in business and music education. The term "normal school" referred to in the following describes a school formed for the purpose of training high school graduates to be teachers.

Historical Chronology of Institutes of Higher Learning

A building was built at the East end of First Street and used by several institutes of higher learning. Between 1882-1889 it stood empty and became unsafe. It was demolished in 1889. The schools that used this building over the years were as follows: 

1855 - 1858 Dixon Collegiate Institute

1855 Jan 30 Planning Meeting
1855 May 7 W.W. Harsha commenced the first term under Rock River Presbytery in the basement of the Lutheran Church.
1855 Jul 4 Cornerstone was laid
1857   Incorporated by a special act of the state legislature
1857 Aug 27 Prof A.M. Gow took charge to reorganize the school. At this time, two stories and basement were all that were completed.
1858   The property passed into other hands.

1861 Female Seminary

1861 Apr 18 Rev. O.W. Cooley purchased the building for a female seminary.
1861 1863 The building was completed sometime between these years, a five story brick and stone edifice.

1863 - 1875 Dixon Seminary

1863 Sep 9 Dixon Seminary opened by Rev. S.G. Lathrop and Rev. M. McKendree Tooke.
1865   Described in Academies and Seminaries as “a five-story brick edifice” with 150 pupil.
1872 Apr 18 The Northern Illinois normal school was established by the state legislature.
1872   Listed in Smithsonian Institution publication of various libraries and colleges.

1875 - 1880 Rock River University

1875 Nov 1 Name changed to Rock River University. O.G. May, President; M.M. Tooke, Regent
1876 Apr 6 The Rock River University was chartered under the auspices of the Rock river college association, composed of members of the different religious organizations of the state. The university appropriated the property of Dixon seminary as a foundation. It also named the Northern Illinois normal school its normal department.
1877   470 students enrolled in normal, business, classical, scientific and music courses.
Unknown   Mr. Tooke lost the property and title passed to George L.S Schuyler
Unknown   Management of the university changed several times
1880   Jay R. Hinckley, President; W.H. Chamberlain, Business Manager
1880   Rock River University ended

1881 - 1882 Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College

This campus was located on the West side of Dixon on Hancock Street (this street no longer exists) at what was then the end of 2nd Street. This school is referred to by these several names in various publications including postcards, flyers, biographical sketches and other articles: --Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College, --Dixon College and Northern Illinois College and Business School, --Dixon College and Normal School, --Dixon College.
1881 1882 Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College began. At first they used the building located on the East side previously used by the schools listed above. John C. Flint, President; Jesse B. Dille, Principal. They leased the building for one year and began construction on a new buildings on the west side of Dixon on 4 acres of land.
1882   Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College moved to 2 three- story brick buildings, one a Ladies' Dormitory
1884   Incorporated "for the purpose of giving instruction in branches related to the art of teaching"
1888   The Gentlemen's Dormitory was completed.
1891   Enrollment 1200 students from all over the United States and Canada
1898 1901 Largest Law School in Illinois
1903   A total of 1,639 pupils, of whom 885 were men and 744 women, receiving instruction from thirty-six teachers. The total value of property was estimated at more than $200,000, of which $160,000 was in real estate and $45,000 in apparatus.
1912 1914 Owned and operated by I. Frank Edwards.
Unknown   Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College ceased to exist.
Unknown   Campus sold, buildings torn down, divided into residential lots.

1882 - 1906 Steinmann Institute

The building was located on the north side of Dixon where Myrtle Avenue & Prescott Street are today. It eventually focused on areas related to business.
1882   Charles A. Steinmann, Director. First located in rooms in downtown building
1895   Constructed own building located on banks of Rock River adjoining Assembly Park on the north in the area of Myrtle Avenue and Prescott Street.
1901   Ladies dormitory built
1904   Site of the school contains "a campus of forty-three acres, fine athletic field, pure water, excellent drainage, magnificent surroundings."
1904   Listed in Patterson's College and School Directory published 1904. Also known as Steinmann Business College
1906   Steinmann Institute went out of business
Unknown   Building used by A.H. Stoddad's Conservatory of Music
Unknown   Building used by Rock River Military Academy a boys boarding school conducted by Maj. F.B. Floyd.
1915   Building destroyed by fire

1905 - 1940s Coppins Dixon Business College and Normal School

This school was first located on the second floor at 215 First Street. It's location after that time is uncertain. Mr. Coppins had been "continuously connected with the Steinmann Institute until 1905 when he organized this school."
1905   William H. Coppins, Founder
1922   Listed in Blue Book of the State of Illinois, 1921-1922.
1940's   School still in existence but no other details

1911 - 1922+ Strong's College of Music

Mr. Strong had been associated with the Dixon College between 1890-1903 and then again in 1907-1911. He then "organized W.F. Strong's College of Music, giving instruction in all branches of music and granting diplomas in three graduating courses. The degree of Bachelor of Music is conferred upon those completing the classic course."
1911   Established by William F. Strong, Director
1914   Listed in Patterson’s Educational Directory: College and School Directory.
1918   Listed in International Who’s Who in Music and Musical Gazetteer.
1922   Still in existence
Unknown   School ceased to exist

Summary
These early private colleges of higher education in Dixon met with varied success. The Northern Illinois Normal School lasted the longest and had the highest enrollment. Approximately 40,000 men and women were enrolled at this school during its 33 years. One report indicates that one year they had a total of 1,639 pupils--885 men and 744 women with 36 teachers.

L.W. Miller, Superintendent of Schools in his article entitled Education History of Lee County Schools indicates that Dixon College drew "students from nearly every section of the United States, as well as from Canada." He adds that this school enjoyed "merited popularity as the leading educational center of northern Illinois." In his book Dixon, A Pictorial History, George Lamb writes that "hundreds of graduates of the Dixon College Law Department went on to become lawyers, judges and high ranking holders of political office.”

These small private colleges located in a small town operated for profit. They could not compete with the emerging institutes of higher learning operated by the State of Illinois. Under act of Legislature of 1895, the Northern State Normal School was established at DeKalb. That school opened in the fall of 1898 with 16 teachers and 139 students. Other similar schools opened in several other locations in Illinois. These schools were committed to providing an affordable education for Illinois families and provided steep competition to the private schools. In just a few years the enrollments in many of the private schools of higher learning not only in Dixon but across the state saw significant decline and soon ceased to exist as students were drawn to these schools less expensive state colleges.

During their existence, these various private schools served a significant purpose to the many thousands of people who sought to better themselves through additional education.

References:
1. Dixon Collegiate Institute, Dixon Evening Telegraph - 100th Anniversary Edition 1 May 1951 http://genealogytrails.com/ill/lee/leeschooldixoncollegiate.html
2. Dixon Seminary. Academies and Seminaries of Various Grades and Courses. General Assembly of Illinois at its 26th Session convened January 4, 1869 Vol. 2. Springfield: Illinois Journal Printing Office. 1869.
3. Northern Illinois Normal School. The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Biography of McHenry County Citizens. Bateman, Selby, Coburn. 1903 http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hallhistory/northern_illinois_normal_school.htm
4. Dixon College 31 Dec. 1904. Illinois Libraries, College Institutional and special. by Katherine L. Sharp. University of Illinois, The University Studies, Vol. 2. Published by the University, Urbana, Illinois. 1909.
5. The Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and Biography of McHenry County Citizens. Bateman, Selby, Coburn. 1903
6. 1904 History of Lee County Illinois edited by Mr. A.D. Bardwell.
7. 1914 History of Lee County Illinois by Frank E. Stevens, Volume 1. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company. Chapter 13 The Dixon Schools & Chapter 14 Education History of Lee County Schools by Prof. L.W. Miller, Superintendent of Schools.
8. 1914 Patterson’s Educational Directory: College and School Directory. Vol. X1. Compiled and Edited by Homer L. Patterson. American Educational Company. Chicago.
9. International Who’s Who in Music and Musical Gazetteer. p806. Edited by Cesar Saerchinger, Secretary Modern Music Society of New York, Managing Editor The Art of Music. First Edition 1918.
10. Dixon, Illinois – Description and travel Views, 1921.
http://www.archive.org/details/dixonillinois00dixo
11. 1921-1922 Blue Book of the State of Illinois. Edited by Louis L. Emmerson, Secretary of State. Springfield, Ill. 1921.
12. 1922 Patterson’s Educational Directory: College and School Directory. Vol. 19. Compiled and Edited by Homer L. Patterson. American Educational Company. Chicago.
13. Dixon, A Pictorial History by George Lamb. 1987.
14. Miscellaneous post cards and flyers.

Research and article by Karen Swegle Holt, 2009.

History of Lee County Illinois by Frank E. Stevens
Volume 1. Chicago: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Company 1914. Chapters 13 and 14
Transcribed by Karen Swegle Holt 2009

Chapter XIII THE DIXON SCHOOLS Pg 193-194

As early as 1855, several enterprising gentlemen sought to give Dixon the advantages of a first class educational institution. To that end on May 7, 1855. W. W. Harsha, a Presbyterian minister commenced the first term of Dixon Collegiate Institute in the basement of the Lutheran Church then located on Crawford avenue between Third and Fourth streets.

Following him as teachers in that institution were Eli C. Smith, Mrs. E.A. Smith, Mrs. C.L. Harsha and Miss Jennie L. Backus.

On July 4, of the year 1855, after securing endowment for the Dixon Collegiate Institute, of $15,000, the cornerstone was laid with imposing ceremonies. Subscriptions in money, apparatus and lands made by the citizens of Dixon raised the sum to $37,000.

B.F. Taylor of Chicago made the principal address on the occasion. John Stevens and others delivered address too on the occasion. Not very long ago I unearthed the one made by John Stevens.

In 1857 this institution was incorporated by a special act of the Legislature. But from one cause and another the school did not progress as anticipated, and in 1858, the presbytery abandoned it.

Its construction must have been slow because on Aug. 27, 1857, when Prof. A.M. Gow took hold of it to reorganize it, but two stories and a basement were all that were finished.

On April 18, 1861, the building then completed was purchased by Rev. O.W. Cooley, of Wisconsin, for the purpose of establishing a female seminary in it. Just what he did, I am unable to learn; but the next notice I find of it is Sept. 8, 1863, when S.G. Lathrop and M. McKendree Tooke, two Methodist ministers opened the Dixon Seminary. For a time this institution under the management of these two gentlemen, flourished. Large numbers of pupils attended, especially from the farms.

On Nov. 1, 1875, the name of the institution was changed to the Rock River University and O.G. May became president and M.M. Tooke became regent.

But the public school by this time had been brought to such a degree of usefulness that in a small town the small private school could not compete with it and so after a long period of reverses, Mr. Tooke lost the property and title passed to George L. Schuler. After this the building stood empty for a long while and people who desired took up their residence in its rooms without molestation. But after awhile it became rumored that the old building had become unsafe and Mr. Schuler had it demolished.

Architecturally it was a handsome building. Sitting on the brow of a beautiful hill, it was the first building seen from afar. From the car window, it presented a most picturesque appearance. Now the site is the beautiful Bluff Park in which so many beautiful homes have been built.

The last reference I find made to the old Rock River University is on the ending of the year 1880, where the building is spoken of as a five-story brick and stone edifice, on a high eminence in the east part of town, and that the institution had practically settle down to a Preparatory and Military Academy, yet giving instruction in Normal, Business, Musical and Art departments.

The board of management and instruction were at that time, Jay R. Hinckley, president; Maj. H.O. Chase, military instructor; W.H. Chamberlain, business manager; Henry M. Douglas, Mrs. Jay R. Hinckly and Miss Lucy Whiton, teachers.

Chapter XIV EDUCATION HISTORY OF LEE COUNTY SCHOOLS
by Prof. L.W. Miller, Superintendent of Schools. Pg 201-202

In 1855 the "Dixon Collegiate Institute" was opened in the basement of the Lutheran church, under the auspices of the Rock River Presbytery, under the care of Rev. W.W. Harsha. Later, in the same year, the corner-stone of the institute was laid, in what is now Bluff Park. This school was endowed to the extent of $25,000, with generous contributions in grounds, etc. by Dixon citizens. By special act of the Legislature this institution was incorporated in 1857. The school being discontinued, it later became the home of different private schools, and finally gave way to residences.

In 1857 a female seminary was started under the auspices of the Episcopal church, and in 1861 a female seminary was established in the Collegiate Institute building. In 1858, a high school department was added to the course of study of the public schools. In 1862 E.C. Smith became the superintendent of schools. "Dixon Seminary" opened in the Collegiate building in 1863…

The Northern Illinois Normal School and Dixon Business College began its existence in the Seminary building in 1881, with John C. Flint as president and Jesse B. Dille as principal.

These quarters were occupied but one year, when, upon the completion of the new buildings in West Dixon, the permanent home of this prominent institution of learning was established. Scholarships to the extend of $20,000 were subscribed as an inducement to secure its location in the city, and the college building, proper, and the Ladies' Dormitory were completed when first occupied. The Gentlemen's Dormitory was completed in 1888.

This new school was popular from the very first and grew rapidly under its splendid business management until it registered nearly twelve hundred students (1891), with a corps of instructors numbering about forty. Courses in preparatory, teachers, scientific classic, business, music, telegraphy, art, etc., were maintained, this institution drawing students from nearly every section of the United States, as well as from Canada, and enjoying merited popularity as the leading educational center of northern Illinois. This school is today the property of Prof. I.F. Edwards, who for sixteen years occupied the position of county superintendent of schools of Lee county, and is still in operation, with an encouraging attendance.

Steinmann College began its existence in 1882, under the direction of Charles A. Steinmann, who conducted the school successfully for a numbers of years. It is located on a beautiful elevation on the banks of Rock river adjoining Assembly Park, on the north. Maj. F.B. Floyd now conducts a military school here. With most gratifying results.

Coppins' Commercial College is located in the heart of the city, and, under the skilled management of W.H. Coppins, this school ministers to the needs of those desiring work in its lines.

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