Lake County's first school of higher learning was the Waukegan Academy, a place where many prominent citizens became students. (above) The Academy (left) and Baptist Church are shown on Genesee Street in Waukegan in this circa 1870 stereograph. (LCDM 2011.0.236)
Prior to the Academy's establishment in 1846, schooling in Lake County was limited to grade school level courses provided at local one-room schoolhouses.
In July 1846, the Academy's first classes were held in the basement of the county courthouse (shown above) in Little Fort (Waukegan). Henry L. Hatch (1814 - 1892) of Vermont was the teacher. Hatch and his wife Elizabeth arrived in Lake County in 1845, and purchased land in Warren Township along the Des Plaines River.
The Academy was first known as the Little Fort High School and then Little Fort Academy. In 1848, a school building was constructed on the northwest corner of Clayton and Genesee Streets with an oak frame and Portland cement foundation.
The Waukegan Academy building photographed circa 1900. LCDM Collection.
It has long been asserted that Hatch was responsible for the building's construction, but new research shows that Reverend David Root (1791-1873) of New Haven, Connecticut paid for the construction. Reverend Root was an abolitionist and strongly encouraged the teaching of abolitionist ideals. His connection to Hatch is unclear, but Root purchased Hatch's Warren Township land, and moved to the Chicago area about 1851.
Henry Hatch was the Academy's principal and English teacher, Isaac L. Clarke the associate principal and ancient languages and mathematics teacher, Miss Alathea Crocker the preceptress (instructor) and modern languages and music teacher, Miss Calisia E. Branchard the preceptress, Miss Frances A. Shekell music teacher, Miss Sylvia L. Clarke the superintendent of the juvenile department (for very young scholars), and Dr. David Cory the school's secretary.
Interestingly, on March 12, 1855, Reverend Root donated the land and the Academy to Beloit College (in Beloit, Wisconsin) under the condition that it continue to hire a professor of theology who had abolitionist principals.
(above) Isaac Clarke (1824-1863) was the Academy's associate principal and teacher from 1848-1850 when he went to the California gold mines, returning in 1857 to practice law. In 1862, Clarke enlisted with the 96th Illinois Regiment. He was shot and killed at the Battle of Chickamauga, Georgia on September 19-20, 1863.
Scholars, both male and female, attending the Academy could choose college prep classes or a curriculum which emphasized education for future teachers. Tuition was by course and ranged from $2.00 for German, French and Spanish, $3.75 for science and philosophy, and a whopping $5.25 for Greek and Latin.
Rooms were available for boarding in the school's basement for $2.00 per week. Most students found lodging elsewhere, since the building could not accommodate the 140 scholars it had in 1849, and 472 in 1854. About one-third of its students were from Waukegan and the rest from Lake County, Chicago and Milwaukee.
Among the Academy's scholars was Joseph C. Whitney (1833-1914) of Lake Zurich. (above)
On September 29, 1854, Whitney left home to attend the Academy. He wrote to his parents: "We arrived safe and sound, but the dust was so bad that we arrived black as Ethiopians. We went down to Lake Michigan and had a wash which altered our appearance very much. It cost me one dollar to get to Waukegan. We stayed at Dan's the first night... Now we are settled at Mr. Gentzel's boarding house for 14 shillings a week [$1.40]." Later he wrote that the school had: “a complete and excellent board of teachers throughout.” Image of Whitney and quote excerpted from the book "Kiss Clara for Me" by Robert J. Snetsinger.
In August 1862, Jannet Minto of Millburn pouted in a letter (above) to her brother David: "I should like to go [to the Academy] first rate but then I know better than to say any thing about it..." (Minto Collection LCDM 93.45.521.2)
Jannet Minto, circa 1855. Minto Collection LCDM 93.45.75
David was fighting in the Civil War and the family did not have the means to send her to the private school. In the same letter, Jannet went on to say: "I have been kind of bawkey ever since you went away because they would not let me go to [the Academy] I'll pay them for it some time." (Minto Collection LCDM 93.45.521.2)
Photograph of the Academy building before it was razed in 1915. (LCDM Collection)
In 1916, the Academy Theater was built on the site of the former Waukegan Academy, hence the theater's name. The theater was open until 1986, and about 1988 became the Fiesta Palace, a center for Waukegan's Mexican community. In 2004, the theater was destroyed by fire. Postcard of the Academy Theater and Baptist Church, circa 1945. L.L. Cook Company postcard. (LCDM 92.27.453)
Other higher learning schools followed in the Waukegan Academy's footsteps and included: Wauconda Academy (1856 – c. 1866), Lake Forest Academy (est. 1858), Ferry Hall (est. 1869), Waukegan High School (est. 1870), Lake Forest College (est. 1876), and the Northwestern Military Academy (1888 – 1915).
Special thanks to museum volunteer and researcher, Al Westerman.