Some time ago, Alan Johnson used some material at the museum to write the following article. We thank him for allowing us to publish it now.
The History of Lawrenceville Township High School
by Alan Johnson
The area around Lawrenceville was part of the Northwest Territory, with Vincennes as its capital, until 1818 when Illinois became the 21st state in the Union. Because of the threat of attack by hostile Indians, not many people settled very far from the Wabash River until William Henry Harrison signed a peace treaty with Tecumseh in 1815. Soon after the treaty, Toussaint Dubois acquired most of the land now occupied by Lawrenceville. In 1817, Dubois built a grist and saw mill on the spot the water works now occupies on 12th Street. He built a dam across the Embarrass to provide water power for his mill. In 1821, Lawrence County became the 21st county in the state, with Lawrenceville as county seat. At that time, the meager settlement on top of the hill was more of a maple sugar camp than a village. In 1835, Lawrenceville was incorporated as a town. That same year, the school trustees purchased a lot to build the first school in the town.
By the end of the 1800s, Lawrenceville’s school-age population had grown sufficiently to require a multi-story brick consolidates school, called Central School, located between 11th and 12th Street on Collins Street. It served all the grades, including high school.
In the spring of 1908, a vote was taken in Township 3-11 on the question of building a new township high school. The vote carried with a large majority. The Board of Education consisted of the following members: G. W. Lackey, J. 0. Smith, J. F. Snyder, P. W. Barnes and J. W. Warner.
The building was begun in the fall of 1908 and was completed March 15, 1909 on 8th and Walnut, the location of the present high school. During the term of 1908-09 school was held in a residence on the east side of the square, and the work was carried on under great difficulty.
H.W. Hostettler was elected first principal of 1908. Then in 1910 E. V. Tubbs succeeded Hostettler and F. W. Cox was elected principal in 1912. The growth of the student body was shown by the fact that more teachers had to be employed. In 1908, four teachers were employed with a student population of 56. There were eleven teachers for the 1915-16 school year and the enrollment had increased to 216 students.
On April 1, 1914, the high school building was struck by lightning, burned and was completely gutted. The township had to vote whether to have another building or not. Those in favor of rebuilding won by a majority of eight to one. A month after the fire, workmen cleared away the debris and started rebuilding the school on the same site.
Two days after the fire, word was received that the Lawrenceville Township High School had been admitted to the North Central Association of colleges and high school, a rank that gave its graduates special credit in entering the University. With this standing as support, efforts were undertaken to make the work as effective as possible. By the work of the teachers and principal and the patrons of the high school good results were secured although the loss of the greater part of the library and laboratory equipment and text books made the work very difficult.
The board hoped the high school would be completed by the opening of the 1914-15 term, but it was not, so the pupils and teachers went back to their same old quarters to begin a new year. Although the quarters were not up to the standard, they made a very effective term out of it.
The new building was completed in the middle of the summer of 1915. That year's term opened September 1, 1915, in the new building. With its complete equipment, its artistic decorations and general beauty, the building was one of the best in the state. With a splendid gymnasium, athletics were being supported better than for several past years. The well equipped laboratories stimulated enthusiasm for science. The library with volumes provides material for recreation and research. In all respects, the new building was considered a success and was appreciated by all connected with it.
As the growth of the student population approached 600 in the late 1930s, the school board authorized an addition be added to the high school more than doubling its usable space. The new addition, built in 1938-39, included classrooms, a new library, a manual arts shop, an agriculture workshop and a modern gymnasium.
The new gymnasium was designed and built by Oscar Baird and Sons of Sumner and could seat 2,000 spectators. At the time, it was the most complete gym in Southern Illinois. The hardwood playing court measured 50 by 80 feet and the high ceiling was covered with Celotex to provide good acoustics. The gym included a large stage for plays, band concerts and commencement programs. Complete gymnastics apparatus were installed including rings, ropes, horses and spring boards. Showers and toilets were located in the spacious locker rooms.
The school population remained nearly constant around 600 through the Class of 1953, with 137 seniors pictured in the 53’ year book and 135 names showing up on that year’s Commencement Program. By the 1960s, the student population started to decline, reaching approximately 350 students in the 2012-13 final school year in the 100-year-old high school building.
At the end of the school year in late May 2013, workmen will start moving the books, files and equipment from the old high school to the new Lawrenceville High School located on 20th street. The fate of our beloved high school building has not yet been determined, but it is sad to realize that there won’t be high-water marks from the yearly floods of the Embarras River on the goal posts at the new high school.