|Aledo Academy School Building – (Photo Taken 2008)|
|Courtesy of Timothy Jarman|
The Aledo Academy
Written by Eric Long, ‘98
When first approaching the venerable old house from S. E. 6th Street in Aledo, Illinois, one forms the image of a stately large nineteenth century home. Once inside, however, a person sees how the former Aledo Academy made a top rated prep school. High ceilings, narrow hallways, spacious box-shaped classrooms and transoms above the doors give the building an air of dignity reserved for old schools. One can imagine students pounding hardwood floors, running up and down the twisting staircase of the home at 210 S. E. 6th Street in Aledo. Behind this impression of the past is an interesting story.
The Academy was built in 1874, by the Wylie brothers, John M. and James Renwick Wylie, because of an interesting land lease from the lot’s proprietors, John McKinney, Sr., Tyler McWhorter and Harvey S. Senter. The agreement stated that the Wylie brothers could acquire the land if they would construct a school on Block Number 132 Aledo. Some specifications of this contract were that the school must be completed within seven months from the date of the contract (June 13, 1874), and then qualified teachers procured to perform classes for one academic year. All of this could have an expenditure of not less than two thousand dollars. Upon completing these tasks, the brothers would come into possession of the land.
Why would the trustees of this lot want to make such an agreement? Probably, because of late 1800’s efforts to transform Aledo into a bustling hub of academia, a high school institution of high quality was needed.
The Wylie brothers succeeded and ran a very proficient school. Subject matter was the usual expected of a high school in the 1800’s. English, Latin and German were taught by John Wylie while his brother James taught math and science. Both were efficient instructors possessing great knowledge of their subjects. The school even had a telescope and astronomy was taught. The student body came from Aledo and towns and country nearby. Sixty to Sixty-five students were usually enrolled, but at one time eighty attended (102 students were attracted the first term). The curriculum required three years completion. More than seventy teachers were educated there and many of the graduates attended colleges like Knox or Monmouth, after attaining their diplomas from the academy. Many of the graduates became important cogs of the surrounding communities. Large numbers of the students were United Presbyterians as were the Wylies. However, the school was non denominational.
Normally three sessions were held each year. The Fall Term began in early September while the Winter Term began in early December. The final term was the Spring Term and it began in April. In an advertisement in the Aledo Weekly Record on August 19, 1874, the Tuition was announced. The Fall and Spring Terms cost $10.00 each while the Winter Term cost $12.00. The advertisement also stated that the tuition needed to be paid in advance.
These early accomplishments were in danger of going unheeded when John sold his share to his brother and he went into the ministry. Reasons for the change were unclear. At any rate, James became the sole proprietor of the Block 132 with its school house in 1879.
The History of Mercer County (1882) tells us that James R. Wylie, the remaining brother, was a member of the Mercer County Scientific and Historical Society in the early 1880’s. He spoke to the group on the Metric System, Crystallography and also Embryology. Remember that James was the science teacher.
A former student of Mr. Wylie’s was R. G. Pinkerton, and he was a 1883 graduate of the academy. Mr. Pinkerton complemented his old teacher when he said that Mr. J. R. Wylie was, “one of the best and most efficient instructors I ever knew. He taught me how to think and get to my feet and tell what I knew.” In 1915 Mr. Pinkerton visited his old teacher and friend along with his wife in Denver where they later resided.
However the Aledo Academy did its duty as a fine school until the Aledo High School became an academically stronger institution. Because the academy was a private school requiring tuition, it could not compete with a free school and fell by the wayside, closing for good in 1893. The property was sold shortly to Mrs. Della McWhorter Harr.
One interesting side note of the school was the story of its bell. The bell was cast in 1848 in Ohio and installed on the steamship Saint Ange. Ice on the Mississippi destroyed the ship in 1854. An Oquawka businessman, John McKinney Sr., one of the original proprietors of Lot 132 in Aledo, bought the salvaged bell in Saint Louis and installed it on the Oquawka church he attended. McKinney left the river town of Oquawka in 1873 and established a bank in Aledo. The bell soon followed McKinney to Aledo, to the Wylie Academy. At the school the bell helped teach punctuality, but more importantly it called students and community together for the Friday evening socials. The bell later was installed at the Messiah Lutheran Church.
Thus the 1893 closing, ended another chapter in the history of Aledo, Mercer County, Illinois. Now the former Aledo Academy (also called, by some, the Wylie Academy) is the Aledo home of Mr. and Mrs. Bill Kaempfer.
Aledo Academy Quick Facts
Year Opened: 1874
Year Closed: 1893
OUR SINCERE GRATITUDE
Goes out to Timothy Jarman and Eric Long who provided the entire block of information for this page!!
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