Elmwood Township
Southport School
District #24

One of the earliest settlements of Peoria Country was the village of Southport.  The history of this little settlement goes back to 1830.  Men by the name of Rowley, Walker and Gibbs were the early settlers.  In the year of 1830 these men promoted the idea of getting more people to settle in the vicinity in order that a school district might be organized.  Gibbs at this time lived about 3 miles East of Southport.  Mr. Rowley gave Mr. Gibbs an acre of ground and helped move his house by means of oxen to Southport.  In 1840 the school building was erected on land donated by George Polisher who had been in the settlement almost from the earliest times.  The building was a frame structure facing the Charleston (Brimfield)-Harness Road.  The building did not possess an entrance hall; the children hung their wraps on hooks around the wall of the one and only room.  A bench was built against the north and south walls.  In front of the bench was a row of double desks.  There were seats between the two rows of disks, which were used by the beginners.  In the center of the room was placed a crude cast stove, which kept those near too warm and allowed those near the outer edges of the room to become uncomfortable cold.  Windows were placed on the north, the east and south sides of the building.

The school year consisted of two terms; in the winter it was impossible to get enough agreeable attendants to make it worth while.

A few interesting historical facts about the community might be added here.  In 1848 a store was opened and a few years later a post office was granted the community.  There being no train or stage running through Southport, the storekeeper, postmaster, etc., made a tip to Oak Hill, the nearest town which had train service, and brought the mail back.  At the time the town had 22 homes in it.  In 1890 Grange Hall was built but it was only used a short time.  The fact that Southport had not train service and also had no special attraction of labor other agriculture probably is the best explanation as to why it has only five families in it at the present time.

Elmwood Schools
District #25

The history of education in and around Elmwood dated back to about 1836 when the first log schoolhouse was erected one mile and a half south of what was, and is, the business center.

Elmwood has been fortunate throughout her history in having educators of ability to conduct the training of her children.  The pioneers from the east early realized the need of a higher education to supplement that of the small district schools, mainly primary character.  Mr. Phelps, one of the earliest settlers in this community went back east and secured the services of Miss Anna Somers of Mr. Holyoke University who returned with him and conducted a private school of a higher grade in the upper part of a brick store.  The nature of her training and influence may well be gleaned from the brief inscription on her tombstone in the Elmwood Cemetery.  It reads:  “Her life was a sermon.”

The railroad brought prosperity in numbers and quality to permanent citizens from New England, New York, Ohio, Ireland, England and Germany.  The New Englanders were Congregationalists who were anxious not only for religion but learning as well.  In 1854 they erected a church, which still stands facing the public square.  It is a two-story edifice, the upper floor of which was used for the church and the first floor was the old Elmwood Academy which flourished for a number of years under the management of Don Carlos Taft, a graduate of Amherst College.

Mr. Taft, a man of striking personality, acquired more than a local fame as an educator.  His son, Lorado Taft, has since won a worldwide fame as a sculptor.

Miss Somers became associated with Mr. Taft in the Academy.  Elmwood was thus fortunate in having two such able educators offer the advantages of a high school course at that early period.  Under their leadership the academy should have become a larger and finer institution but the demands of the Civil War and some local strife disrupted it.  Nevertheless the influence of those who attended it has been felt in making our present school so efficient. 

The Academy was a private school however.  The early history of the public schools is involved in much obscurity.

There were originally two districts, --No.2 on the east side and No. 3 on the west.  In November 1893 the directors of these two districts met and voted to unite them into one, to be call Union District No. 2.  The first election by the people to elect directors, tax to build a schoolhouse, etc., was held on the first of August 1864.  In 1865 by a vote of the people the present building site was chosen and in 1866 a pretentious wooden structure of three stories was erected.

The work of this school was divided into a first and second primary, a first and second intermediate, a grammar grade and a three-year high school.  The first class of eleven members was graduated in 1872.  Since that time the Elmwood School has been sending out men and women of ability, many of who have distinguished themselves in their life work.

On October 23, 1895 the building was destroyed by fire.

The following year a new and modern brick building of three stories was erected at a cost of $25,000 and was a dedicated in January 1897.

The builders of that day planned for the future for although the course of study has been strengthened to meet the demands for a broader education this same building accommodates our present system of eight grades and a four year high school.  Only a few very slight changes have been necessary.

It seems fitting to mention here a most valued member of our system Mr. Joseph DeBacher who has been the faithful and efficient janitor of the building for the thirty-five years since its completion.

For many years the grade and high school districts embraced the same territory, District 25.  But in 1916 a Township High School No. 154 was established.  Along with others this was declared illegal in the early part of June 1919.

In the same year the present Elmwood Community High, District #200 came into existence.  The first Board of Education for this school was elected November 15,1919.  The Grade School still exists as District No. 25. `

In 1928 the taxpayers of this district voted to erect a gymnasium across from the school building.  This fine structure was dedicated December 12,1923.  The need of a place to further carry out the work of physical education, to hold games and stage entertainments had been realized for some time.  This new gymnasium fulfills all purposes.

The Elmwood School has always maintained a very high standard of work, equal to that of much larger schools.  The High School offers one of the best courses obtainable and is fully accredited.

Thus, with a school of this high standard, at which every one is given an opportunity to get a good education, the reason is easily seen why Elmwood has acquired such prominence in the educational field.

Phelps School
District #26

Among the earliest schools of Peoria County is the one in Elmwood Township now know as Phelps School, District 26.

In 1834 three years after the first settler, John Ewalt, came to this township, a log schoolhouse was built at the northwest corner of Section 20.  As a number of settlers had arrived by this time, a school was necessary to take the place of class instruction in the homes that had been used before.  The first directors of this log school, school committee as they were then called, were W. J. Phelps, Fountain Watkins, and John Ewalt.

Daniel Fash was the first teacher.  The early teachers were dependent on donations from the patrons for their income, and, as money was scarce, received whatever the settlers had to give.  It was customary at this time and even later for the teacher to board around with the various families of the pupils as a part of their compensation.  Later a system was worked out of paying teachers a certain sum per pupil, each family paying for its own children.  Not until after the Civil War was a salary paid from a common fund raised by taxes to which all contributed.

In a few years this first schoolhouse was replace by a brick schoolhouse, built on an acre of ground donated for school purposes by W. J. Phleps.  This new school ground lay across the road and few rods south of the old log school on Section 10, the resent site.  This new schoolhouse was built of hand made bricks that were made on the farm of Mr. Phelps about a mile away.

This building was used until 1876; then, as it was much too small for their needs and as the soft bricks were in a crumbling, unsafe condition, a new schoolhouse, which is the one in use today, was built.  This building is larger and higher and made of machine pressed bricks from the Phelps brickyards in Elmwood.  It is still in excellent condition.  The cost of the last building was $1700.00.

In the earlier days almost every forty acres had it log cabin, and large families were the rule.  The school attendance numbered from thirty-five to fifty pupils with an extreme limit of sixty-one year.  The boys were handicapped from attending regularly by farm work.  Many were privileged to attend school for only three months in the winter, as it was not unusual for them to go until they were twenty-one years old.

Rebecca Ewalt, born in 1834, was the first pupil born in the township to attend this school.  William E. Phelps was born and received his early education in this district.  He was one of the founders of the city of Elmwood.  He and his wife led by their great love of nature, named many of the streets in Elmwood after trees.  He was appointed by Abraham Lincoln as consul to T. Petersburg, Russia during the Civil War.  He afterwards was a member of the State Legislature.

Some of the early teachers of his school were Anna H. Summers, who later taught in the Elmwood Academy, E.B. Allen, who taught here before he became County Surveyor, and Rachel Bird, who taught the first year in the present schoolhouse in 1876.  Joel Bryan was also another early teacher.  Ed. U. Henry, late of Peoria, taught his first term of school in this district.  Mabel Ryan, I. M. Casper, and Ella Flannigan were early teachers also.  Edson Dalton of the Recorder’s office attended this school and afterwards taught here.

The social activities of the earlier schools were not many.  Spelling bees and singing schools were the most important.  In later years box-suppers and socials were about the only events.

The burning of the home J. M. Wiley a few years ago destroyed all the earlier records of this district.

I am indebted for the record here given, to the “Atlas and History of Peoria County” by A. T. Andress, published in 1873, and to the only survivor of the early pioneers in this district, Mr. J. M. Wiley, who still retains a clear memory of his pioneer days.

Lehigh School
District #27

The following information concerning the Lehigh School, District #27 comes partly from records kept by the school but for the main part we will give the credit for the information to B. P. Higgins, who was the oldest settler in the district and who spent practically all his life there, being a very young man when he moved on the farm across the road from where the school is located.

The money, which paid for the first school building, was raised by subscription.  The farmers in the district did the building themselves, thus cutting down on part of the expense.  The land for the school yard was donated Mr. Hangerford with the understanding that school house might be used for the purpose of holding church services.  The building was far too small to accommodate the pupils in the district and an addition was built.  This building was equipped with long hard benches and no desks.  The students who attended this school range in age from to 5 to 20 years.

In the year of 1860, some of the residents of the distract started an agitation for a new and more fully equipped modern school.  This caused considerable disturbance in the community for some time as many of the people did not think they could afford a new school.  It was thought that the taxes would be greatly raised, and as to settle the argument, an election was called and everyone in the community turned out to vote.  The vote was very close and new school was passed by one vote.  The old school building was sold to Mr. Swats for $50.00 and moved across the road where it was used for many years as a dwelling house.

The new building, which was erected, was constructed of brick and was very modernly equipped for those times with a hall across the front to hang the wraps in.  This building was in use until 1925 when it caught fire and was destroyed.  This school while in use had as many as 65 students at different times.

In the year of 1925 bonds were used for the erection of a new school building.  This new building is of frame construction and one of the finest school buildings that is in a rural community.

Mr. J. A. Hayes 
Graham Chapel School
District #29

John Ewalt, the first settled of Limestone Township, came from New York State on the first of May 1831.  He settled on Section 29.  In 1835 he secured a land grant in Section 26 from the government, the tract on which the district schoolhouse now stands.

The schoolhouse was built in 1856.  Some time before this, the land where it is located changed hands and became the property of Lucian Kerr. It is most interesting to note that the present schoolhouse is the one built seventy-five years ago.   One of the earliest teachers was Miss Maria Kerr.

Some 25 years ago there was a discussion in the district as to whether the schoolhouse should be remodeled or a new one built.  The former was decided upon and many new improvements were made on the original building.

The earliest social organizations were debating teams, a singing school, and spelling bees.  Church services were held in the school for a number of years.  In 1850 a Methodist Episcopal Church was built across the road from the school.  S.S. Graham donated the land, and the church was named Graham Chapel in honor of the Grahams.  The school has since been known as Graham chapel. 

The need for additional improvements came a few years ago.  Since them a Rudy Furnace has been a installed and some minor repair of the schoolhouse and outbuildings.  In early years the seats were double and many times were made to seat three children, due to the growth of the district.  Later single seats were put in and this spring four adjustable seats have been added.  A newly graveled road is the latest benefit to Graham Chapel. 

John Hayes
About 1930

Harkness Grove School
District #30

In 1830, in District Number 30 of Peoria County and in Elmwood Township, away back in the timber that existed then, a little log hut was erected for the purpose educating the schoolchildren of four families.  The number of families increased with each year and so also did the number of children.  The cabin was built of unhewed logs and put together without the aid of nails or wire.  At one end was a large fireplace, at the other a window, small but better than most buildings had at that time because it contained glass, most of them were filled with a strip of greased paper.  Along the wall the builders place a split log bench and in front of this bench attached to the wall, another split log was suspended in such a way as to provide a desk, which the pupils could write upon.  Those logs were smoothed with a band axe so one could hardly expect them to have the smoothest of glass.  This school was operated on the subscription pay and teacher drew a salary of about $10.00 per month and boarded around among the families having children.

In April 1856, notice was given the voters of district 9, which takes in a part of Elmwood Township and a part of Trivoli Township, and was later changed to District 30, that an election of a school board would be held and the matter of organizing the district taken up.  The meeting was held in the old school building.  Three directors were elected and a decision was reached to erect a new school on the farm of J. B. Dixon, who was willing to give the district a title to the land as soon as the plot could be fenced in.  Later in the same month, the directors met and let the contract for erecting a new school building.  The cost was $635.00 and the desks were extra.  The building was built of stone and was large enough to accommodate 60 pupils.  Double seats and desks were installed, with long benches taking care of the overflow.  The room had a large cannon stove in the center and platform in the front, where the master sat.  There were several windows and a door through which light could enter.  This building did service until 1905, when after careful examination by the school board and an inspection by other people of the community, the building was considered not good enough to let stand and a new building was planned.

In the summer o 1905, a new frame building, modern in every respect for that time, was erected.  The seats and desks were single, the windows were large, and new maps and reference books were purchased.  The one thing, which still had an old appearance, was the stove in the center of the room, a thing that caused the teacher no little bit of trouble because the students would get behind it and play all manner pranks.

One afternoon in 1913, day which the writer of this history will never forget, a fire broke out around the chimney of the stove.  It was recess time and the teacher and most of the pupils were out in the yard playing some game.  The season had been quite dry and as there was no well at the school, and no fire extinguishers available, the school burned to the ground in a little less than an hour.  The pupils and a few of the men, who got there early, carried the books and wraps out to safety but the furniture were practically all lost.

The rest of the winter, school was held in a little frame building on the farm of E. J. Schmidt across the road from the school site.  The building was used by him during the summer for a summer kitchen and was a very rough structure but in two or three days the men of the neighborhood fixed this building up, painted the inside and set the seats and desk.  About one week of school was lost because of the fire.

The following year a cement block building was erected, as near fire proof as a building could be made.  The building is built all in one room with cloak closets, built in each corner to the front.  The school has a full set of maps, single seats, a room furnace, a large library, the playground is large, the shade is ample and now with all the modern equipment, the enrollment has each year got less until five pupils are in attendance, three of which will not be there next year.

John Hayes

Gibbs School
District #31
Justus Gibbs, pioneer settler of Illinois, lives in a log cabin on his farm some distance to the southwest of the present site of Gibbs School.  As there was no school where his family of eleven children might be educated, he hired a teacher to come to his home and teach his children and those of his one neighbor.  This process took place for a number of years until he moved to a new home which he built of stone and which known in the community at the present time as Gibbs Old Stone House.  When he moved to this place, he took a small frame building which he had had for a farm building of one type or another, and moved it near his new home with the idea of using it for a school building.  The community now consisted of five families.  An old house which is larger superseded this building and served for a few years.

In 1839,school was started in Southport and children of the community were sent to this place.  In 1857, this school had grown too large and that coupled with the fact that it was too far away, promoted the idea that this community should have a school of its own, so Mr. Gibbs donated a piece of property, where the present school building was erected and it may be said also that this is the same building, with moderations and many improvements. 

A new foundation had been put under the building, new floors laid, new desks installed, cloakrooms added, a new chimney erected for the new heater, book cases built in and a great amount of new equipment purchased, such as books maps, etc.   The school also has had a new well drilled in recent years which insures the pupils, pure cool water to drink, an item which is absent at so my county schools.  During the past year the school has reached a place where it could be put on the standard list, much to the joy of the directors who have been working for several years toward that end, and especially one of the directors who is a great grandson of the founder of the first school in what is now District #31.

John Hayes

Southport School
District #24

1951 #25 Elmwood
1969 #322 Elmwood

Elmwood Grade School
District #25

1969#322 Elmwood

District 26

1951 #25 Elmwood
1969 #322 Elmwood

Lehigh School
District #27

1955 #25 Elmwood
1969 #322 Elmwood

Texas School
District #28

1947 #139 Trivoli and                #304 Logan
1969 #324          Farmington(Fulton County)

Graham Chapel School
District #29
1955 #29 (part)
1958 #25 Elmwood
1969 #322 Elmwood

Harkness Grove School
District #30
1955-58 #324 Farmington

Gibbs School
District #31
1952 #25
1969 #322 Elmwood

Teachers 1945-1946

Southport #24  No School

Elmwood #25 R.E. Bickford, Supt.

Roma Shively 8
Addie Jarvis  7
Louise Anderson 6
Dorothy Jean Bowers 5
Altah Enfield 4
Mary R. Shissler 3
Erma Tidd 2
Marie Ekstrand 1

Phelps #26
No School

Lehigh #27
Anna C. Gibbs

Texas #28
Virginia Boyer
Elmwood Township
No. 10 N., R. 5 E.
Arthur Dalton 1902
Cecil Dalton
Dale A. Threw 1919
Former school was converted into a home and later destroyed by fire.  Current owner is not sure about the future of this shell of the former Phelps School.
Many former students let their mark on these bricks.
Currently used as a residence
Picture taken 11-9-08
New grade and high school opened in 1993 and
former Elmwood School now an apartment complex.               
Elmwood School 1866
School was destroyed by fire October 23,1895.
Elmwood School dedicated 1897
Thanks to Doug Coulter for the picture

Elmwood Gymnasium dedicated in 1929. It cost $39,000.
Edson Smith donated land for an athletic field.
Today the gymnasium is used as a community center.
Texas School
District 28

Texas School, District 7, located in Elmwood Township, N. 9 N. R. 5 &6 E. of the 4th P.M. Peoria county, State of Illinois.

The teacher in the year of 1861 was Thomas Anderson.  He received a salary of $30.00 per month for a term of 4 months from November 4th to March 5th, 1862.  Mr. Anderson had a first grade certificate.  At this time, the school district paid the teacher’s board.  The director elected in 1861 was George German.

In 1875, the taxpayers and legal voters in District No. 7 held a meeting to decide what was to be done about a new school building.  Some of them wanted to repair the old building, while others wanted a new one built in the center of the district.  The legal taxpayers that were present at the special meeting were Otis Bagg, J. H. Wrigley, J. J. Harding, Thomas Lapsley, Thos. Wrigley, and Joseph Wrigley.  At this meeting it was decided to build a new building at the center of the school district.  It is now known as District No. 28.  The land comprising School District No. 28 is in Townships of Rosefield and Elmwood.  In Rosefield Township the west half of Sections 30 and 31.  In Elmwood Township, the whole section 36, and E. E. Quarter of Sec. 24, the S. half of the N.E. Quarter of Section 24, the S.W. Quarter of the N. W. Quarter of Section 24, and S. E. Quarter of Sec. 25, the N. E. Quarter Section 25, the S. E. Quarter of Section 24 and N. E. Quarter of Sec. 35.

A committee of three was appointed to investigate the cost of a new building, which were Thomas Clinch, E. D. Varnes, and G. G. Cremer.  In a few days they called another special meeting for the purpose of transacting business for the new building.  The committee found that the cost of a new would be  $946.61.  The taxpayers ordered this bill placed on the district record.  October 15, 1875, School Bond No. 1 was given to Jack Christy & Co., of Farmington, Illinois for $300 @ 10% per annum, payable March 1, 1876.

November 1, 1875, School Bond No. 2 was given to Major S. Bohanan of Rosefield, Peoria County for $300 @ per annum, payable March 1, 1876.

In 1877 the old school building was sold to J. J Harding for $400.00  He purchased the building to use for a Baptist Church.  This church was used until about fifteen years ago.  It was then rebuilt a few rods north of the old building.  It is now known as the Texas Church.

November 15,1877 Mrs. Sarah Cremer of England, by and through her agent, Robert Wrigley, a resident of Peoria County sold ½ acre of land on the S. E. corner, for the purpose of erecting a schoolhouse in District #28.  The real estate commenced at the S. E. corner of the S. W. Quarter of Section 25 running 10 ½ rds., thence East 9 rds., to place of beginning.

The Texas School is sometimes called “Hazelbrush College”.  The directors at present are William Andrews, William Stalter and Clarence McAllister.  There are fourteen scolars enrolled at the present.

Phelps School
Phelps School #26
Graham Chapel School
Graham Chapel Church
Former LeHigh School located on Graham Chapel Rd. and now a residence.
School later torn down.
Lilah Roffey Windish
In 1937 Lilah Roffey Windish began her teaching career at Graham Chapel School Elmwood Township.  She earned $60.00 a month for eight months.  Her second year earned her $70.00 a month for 8 months.

The first year she had 28 students.  Seven of those children were from the Turl family.  Emma, Mary, David, and Edward were the names remembered from that family.  David later died during his service in WW II.  Other students were Dick Korth, Berta Korth, Don Korth, Dick and Loren Fuller, Carol Weyhrick, Hillary Cisel, and Elizabeth Cisel.  Carol’s mother, Mrs. Weyhrick, and William Randle were members of the school board.

Spelling Bees were a popular activity for this school. The children also liked to pick flowers and even went for a swim in the nearby creek. Favorite games were Andy Over and Red Rover.

Every morning Edward Turl would carry water from the nearby Kessler residence. Once a week the children were treated to a hot lunch provided by the student’s parents.  It was usually soup kept warm on the fireplace.  Several of the children were very poor and their usual cold lunch was a lard sandwich.

Children practiced their penmanship using the Palmer Method.  They shared books and the older students helped younger students with their lessons.

After two years at Graham Chapel Mrs. Windish left to start a family.

Told to me by Mrs. Lila Windish June 22, 2009.

Mrs. Lila Roffey Windish moved to Elmwood Township when she was a sophomore in high school.  Since there were no seats available in the sophomore room she was given a seat in the senior room.  Miss Lila Roffey lived about 1 ½ miles from town but was picked up every morning by a member of the Ewalt Wurmnist Family in their Whippet Car.

After graduation from Elmwood High School, she attended college for two years and received her teaching certificate.  After raising her family she taught 1 year at Logan School and then finished her teaching career at Elmwood Grade School.

Mrs. Lila Roffey Windish is 94 years young and resides in Farmington, Illinois.

Graham Chapel School House
Taken from brochure
“Pioneer Homestead: Log Cabin &Graham Chapel School House”

John Ewalt was the first settler in Elmwood Township, arriving from New York in May 1831.  Four years later, he secured additional land nearby.  This is where the Graham School House was built in 1856.

In 1902 people debated the merits of remodeling the schoolhouse to meet modern standards of that time, versus replacing the building altogether.  The former option was chosen and renovations included adding a furnace and new roof, plus improving the out-building. 

The schoolhouse became the social center of the community, hosting debate teams, singing groups, and spelling bees.  Church services were also held at the school for a number of years.  In 1869, a Methodist Episcopal Church was built across the road from the school on land donated by Mr. S.S. Graham.  As one might suspect, the church was named Graham Chapel in honor of the family.  Because of its proximity to the church, the schoolhouse became known as the Graham Chapel School. 

In the early years, the seats were double in size, and many times had to seat three children due to the growth of the school district.  In 1931, single seats were installed, including four adjustable seats.  A gravel driveway leading from the main road to the schoolhouse was also included in the 19312 improvements.

During the 1953-1954 school year, the Graham Chapel District consolidated with the Elmwood School District.  The land where the schoolhouse was located was reverted to the original farm.

At that time, Mr. and Mrs. Gerald Foster owned the farm and schoolhouse. The schoolhouse was purchase at a public auction the Foster family hosted.

In the spring of 1977, The Fosters donated the Graham Chapel Schoolhouse to two honorary educational organizations at Bradley University: Pi Lambda Theta and Phi Delta Kappa.  The little schoolhouse was moved to Wildlife Prairie Park.  Mr. Fred Bologna donated his moving equipment and his time to relocate the building the cost of his laborers was defrayed by the two organizations.

Through these efforts, and volunteers of Wildlife Prairie State Park, the building is maintained to its 1928-1930 authenticity.  Original items in the schoolhouse include a picture of George Washington, a map case with 1937 maps, slate blackboard, and recitation bench.  The building also contains a 1900 world globe.