Historical Society intern compiles database of old rural schools in Adams County

Joel Koch, a senior history major at Western Illinois University, shows a couple of the photos of old rural schools in Adams County that hes found during his internship at the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County. (H-W Photo/Michael Kipley)
Posted: Nov. 19, 2011 5:29 pm Updated: Nov. 29, 2014 3:15 am
A teacher and her students at the old Prairie School in Gilmer Township in 1904.


Herald-Whig Staff Writer

A key piece of Adams County's educational heritage is being preserved for future generations.

Joel Koch, an intern with the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County, has compiled a database of nearly 200 rural schools that once operated in the county.

All these schools ceased operations in 1948 or earlier, and most of them have disappeared from the landscape. But the database provides information on where each school was located -- right down to the township section number so the site can be pinpointed on a plat map.

Koch also has been gathering photos of the former schools and is hoping to find even more of them with assistance from the public.

The goal is to preserve some basic information about the buildings so people researching family histories will be able to find at least something about the schools that their ancestors attended.

"That's why I wanted to make a list -- so people would still remember where their parents or grandparents went to school," said Koch, a senior majoring in history at Western Illinois University. "It's kind of nice to know that kind of thing, especially when you're out in the county."

At last count, the database contained listings for 188 schools in 22 of Adams County's 23 townships. Koch purposely did not focus on Quincy Township because there is already a significant stockpile of information about the various schools that have existed in Quincy through the years.

But information about rural schools is sparse, and memories of those schools are disappearing as the schools' former students get older, move away or die.

"There's a lot of people who went to these schools, and many of them have died already," Koch said. "If their children or grandchildren are doing family research and they run across a reference that they went to a certain school but don't know where it was, they can refer to our list and get that information."

Koch said many of the schools listed in the database were built in the 1800s, with at least one dating to 1854.

Koch said many rural schools went out of existence in 1948 after legislation led to the formation of unit school districts throughout the state. Small rural schools were closed, and students attended the nearest unit district.

Koch noted that although many of the old schools have been torn down, many others still exist.

"A lot of times they were bought by families and renovated into houses or sheds or something," he said.

Koch, a 2006 graduate of Quincy High School, is now majoring in history at WIU and hopes to get into some sort of history-related career, possibly at a museum or in research. He decided to take a history-related internship this fall "to get some hands-on experience."

That's when he hooked up with the Historical Society and decided, at the urging of local historian Jean Kay, to take on the school-database project "to show my adviser I actually did something worthwhile."

Koch had some help in putting the database together. When he started on the project in late September, he looked through as many sources of information as he could find. This included a listing of many former schools in the Historical Society's archives. He also consulted the Adams County Retired Teachers Association, which also had a partial list of country schools. He even consulted the Great River Genealogical Society, former regional superintendent James Steinman and longtime Quincy educator Fred Bloss.

Koch also started compiling photos of the old schools. He dipped into the Historical Society's archives and even consulted the Four Star Library in Mendon, which shared many photos collected by historian Floyd J. Edmonson.

"We're still looking for pictures to add to the database," said Reg Ankrom, executive director of the Historical Society, who commended Koch for his work in establishing the database.

Koch said he already has photos for nearly half the schools, but he hopes the public will share others from family archives. Anyone with a photo of a former Adams County rural school can bring it to the Historical Society headquarters in the John Wood Mansion Visitors Center at 12th and State in Quincy. The photo will be digitally scanned and returned to the owner. The center is open 10 from a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. The phone number is 222-1835.

The database is already available online through the Historical Society's website -- Pictures are not yet posted as part of the database, but school-database project intern Joel Koch said the goal is to give the public online access to all of the photos eventually.




Students and their teacher at Pin Oak School in Richfield Township is shown in 1931.