Early Teachers of Sangamon County
Submitted by Debbie Quinn
Orr, Wright, and Bergen
The first school in Springfield was taught in the winter of 1821-22 by Andrew Orr. It was a primitive structure of logs in a clearing on the south side of Washington Street, between Pasfield and Lewis Streets, on the location of the present Springfield High School. About 18 by 20 feet, the house was given sunlight by leaving out a log from each side and substituting a continuous pane of glass, which served as a window. A fireplace provided heat on cold days. The pupils sat on backless benches made of log slabs, with stacks for legs. There were no desks - all writing was done on a shelf around the wall - and the few books were piled behind the teacher's stand. A pail of water with a gourd for a cup was used by both students and teacher. The school was in use until 1829. One term of school was held in the old Masonic Hall, situated in the upper part of a two-story cabin on the south side of Jefferson Street, between Second and Third Streets.
Mr. Orr was succeeded as teacher in the summer of 1822 by Erastus Wright, who was remembered for a number of veins as an outstanding personality in the small settlement. He was a New Englander, an outspoken abolitionist. Wright had trained elk which be rode and drove in harness, thus fascinating his pupils. Until the late thirties, two schools, with an enrollment of about sixty each, supplied the educational facilities of the city. Then several smaller institutions were organized. All were conducted individually, without supervision or standards.
After 1825, several terms were held in the frame courthouse on the northeast corner of Sixth and Adams Streets. Then in 1828, a schoolhouse of rough logs was built near the corner of Adams and Second Streets. This also served as a church and the first temperence society in central Illinois was organized there by Reverend John Bergen, pastor of the first Presbyterian Church. Admission to these early schools was by subscription only, parents paying the schoolmaster a stipulated sum for each child $1.50 to $3.00 per 11-week term.