Lee County Illinois
Part of American History and Genealogy Project

History of Lee Center Academy

By Prof. L. W. Miller, Superintendent of Schools

The following history of the Lee Center Academy is from the pen of Mr. Sherman L. Shaw, whose abilities and residence in this village qualify him as the logical authority for his contribution:

During the period between the years of 1850 to 1860, one of the best known schools in this section of the state was the Lee Center Academy.

The location being on one of the best known and most traveled east and west stage roads in northern Illinois made it easy of access from all points. There were students in attendance from Rockford and Mount Morris, towns that had academies, as well as from other towns and even from outside the borders of the state.

The academy at one time employed four instructors and had an enrollment of about two hundred.

The people were fortunate in securing some very able instructors during the early days of the school. The one man among all the list that is given most credit for building up the school was Simeon Wright, who afterward became state superintendent of schools.

The village of Lee Center was laid out in 1846.

Roswell C. Streeter, father of Allison J. Streeter who gained prominence in the Greenback party and in the Grange, donated the location for the academy.

About the years 1847 and 1848 a two-story brick building was erected. School opened in the fall of 1848.

The first teacher was Hiram McChesney from Troy, New York. His days of usefulness were few.

During a noon hour one of the pupils wrote a note and dropped it where it could be found by the teacher. McChesney was offended by the contents of the note. One of the older boys, an innocent party, was accused of writing the note. His denial angered McChesney, who attempted to administer punishment in the good old-fashioned way. The young man, however, secured a handful of the teacher's whiskers, separated him from some of his raiment, and on the whole had rather the best of the argument. The affair created so much feeling that the teacher did not finish his term.

Following McChesney came H. C. Leonard, who with his wife and her sister lived and kept house in the upper rooms of the school building.

The attendance increased until it was necessary to build a stairway on the outside of the building to make more room.

It was during the time that Simeon Wright had charge of the school that the building of the stone part was agitated and as the result of his energy and work it was built.

In addition to the primary and common school branches the curriculum included courses in the sciences, languages, and music.

Henry C. Nash, probably the most popular and best loved of any of the teachers, died before his term of school had ended. His widow taught in the primary department for three or four years after his death.

Mr. Nash was succeeded by Professor Monroe. One of the old students writes: ''Professor Monroe was a genius in certain ways; a brother was principal at the East Paw Paw Seminary in those days, and occasionally visited the Lee Center Academy, his coming being in the nature of a high class entertainment. The two brothers were devout worshipers of Sir Walter Scott and could spout the Lady of the Lake by the hour. Apparently they had at their tongue's end every dialogue and recitation to be derived from the voluminous writings of the Scot, and when they foregathered and unlimbered we were not obsessed pro tempore with the idea of anything but a classical education, the stimulus for the same being furnished without stint until the close of the session for the day. It was customary at the close of the winter session of the school to have an ''Exhibition,'' and the one which signalized the end of Professor Monroe's winter term was the limit. The various departments of the school entering into the preparation with unusual interest, the result being a program of more than two hours, delivered to an audience that crowded to repletion the lower room of the old stone building.

The next principal, Professor Springstead, was a minister, who did not believe it necessary to indulge in mild theatricals, and before another exhibition was given by the school, the war tocsin had sounded and many of the older students had marched away to the ''music of the fife and drum."

Among the other teachers were Reverend Barrett, Rev. James Brewer, Joshua T. Reade, E. W. Newton, C. L. Nettleton, Miss Lottie Kellogg, teacher of music; Misses Sarah and Minerva Loomis, Misses Carrie and Lottie Whitcomb, Miss Spaulding, Miss Mary A. Wright (Mrs. C. F. Lynn), Miss Seraphine Gardner (Mrs. E. C. Smith), Miss Harriette Hatch (Mrs. Dr. Prank Gardner), Miss Katie Franklin (Mrs. E. W. Newton), and a number of others.

History of Lee County Illinois, Schools
List of Schools by Town

Lee County History


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