The History of Belknap High School
Belknap (population 155) is located in far south-central Illinois in the southwest portion of Johnson County. The town his located about 5 miles north of the Ohio River. The main roadway taking you to and from Belknap is County Road 3, located about 3 miles west of U.S. Route 45. Eden Road also takes you to Belknap and connects you to the town just 4 miles east of Illinois Route 37. On the website called MapQuest (www.mapquest.com), Belknap appears to be about 4 blocks wide and 4 blocks long. Belknap sits about 20 miles southeast of Carbondale. According to “Place Names of Illinois” by Edward Callary, Belknap is likely named after William Worth Belknap, Secretary of War for President Ulysses S. Grant. Local legend states that in the late 1800s two sawmill operators ran their operations several miles apart on the Cache River near Belknap. It is said one was named Jim Bell, and the other George Morgan. Morgan would float logs down the river to Bell unless the river became to shallow to do so. When this occurred it afforded the opportunity for Bell to nap or take “Bell’s naps.”
A nice history of the town as told in the Vienna Times in January of 1900 can be found at the web address of http://www.southernmostillinoishistory.info/belknap.html . This artical is copied from the Vienna Times Newspaper on January 25, 1900.
Belknap, Beginning of 1900
Vienna Times, January 25, 1900
Alighting from the train at our depot you will find yourself in a town of about 500 inhabitants. The obliging agent in the office is Mr. Joe Morgan, one of our boys, who has been in the employ of the Big 4 at this place about 3 years. Looking to the left, we take notice how in the past few years South Belknap has grown and spread till it has reached the forest-covered bottom land. This large two story building is our school house. We employ three teachers, and when our children complete the course of study prepared for them they are well fitted for any occupation in life. Observe our broad, clean streets and six foot sidewalks all through the town, with never a saloon to pay expenses.
Turning from the depot up Main Street, we stop at the Belknap House, where we are greeted by the smiling landlord, Uncle Jim Bob Evers, and his wife, who will make you welcome and comfortable. In the front of this building the Herod Brothers keep a large stock of dry goods and groceries.
Just beyond is the large flour mill owned by W. L. Williams and managed by his brother, S. T. Williams. Here you can buy the finest of flour. Farther up the same street we read from a modest sign “Cottage Hotel.” This place is widely known for its wholesome meals and nice treatment of the traveling public.
We retrace our steps across Main Street and enter the store belonging to W. Particular Brown. Now we know why “Particular” is attached to his name, for in his large stock of goods, where you can purchase anything, from a toothpick to a parlor stove, he is particular to have everything in its place and give you the best of bargains.
The next door is W. A. Burns, one of our old citizens, coming here when our town was in its infancy. He keeps a large stock of goods. Back to the corner we pass up Main Street; here is our drugstore. The owner, S. H. Rees, bids you enter where everything has a fresh appearance and he can furnish you with any kind of patent medicine, paints, brushes and jewelry.
The next door is the barber shop, run by Lewis Tapley. This restaurant, where fruit, candy and other good things are displayed, belongs to W. F. Weeks. Just above, we enter the large store of W. L. Williams. Here the post office is kept, also. The clerks, W. H. Gibbons and Miss Myrtle Williams will sell you anything from a side of bacon to the finest silk or satin.
We cross the street and enter the store of our enterprising spokesman, O. M. Fraim. Not many years ago Mr. Fraim came to our town a poor man. Now he owns several hundred acres of land, a large store well stocked with goods__showing what any man can do in Southern Illinois when he tries.
Next door above is the office of Dr. O. P. Martin, where you will find all the up-to-date medical journals, mysterious mixtures and dangerous looking instruments.
Just a few steps from this we enter another office, with the neat sign of Dr. A. I. Brown; very much like the other office, save the owner is more active, being a much younger man. Our doctors are both church members; so are all our business men with one or two exceptions.The saloon question has been submitted to our people but once in more than twenty years.
Our churches, of which we have two, the M. E. and Christian, are well attended.
If you will climb to the summit of this large picturesque bluff you will find a beautiful view spread out before you. Looking to the southwest, we see the white buildings in Grand Chain; also the smoke from the steamboats on the Ohio river, the highlands in Massac, Pulaski and Union counties; while below us is our own little town, the smoke curling up from many chimneys, speaking of warmth and happiness within.
Though the town of Belknap had a very promising start at the turn of the 20th century, improvements in transportation and the loss of the railroad that once passed through town led to its decrease in population from around 500 in the year 1900 to its current population of 155.
We only know of a former high school in Belknap as we happened upon a web address found at:
This address focuses on a conversation with Belknap resident John F. McCluskey as interviewed by Mark Foss. The interview was in a series which Shawnee Community College would record interviews with residents of southern Illinois and record them as part of history. Mr. McCluskey stated the following regarding his life in Belknap in 1932:
“I went to the second year of high school. There were just two of us who graduated that year from the second year of high school. That was as far at this time as they had high school in Belknap. Magdalene Huckleberry and I was the only two that graduated. That was in 1932.”
Through this we can confirm that Belknap High School indeed existed. It likely began as a two-year high school in the 1920s and continued through the late 1940s. The kids of Belknap probably continued their high school education in Vienna if they so desired after completing their first two years at Belknap. Belknap High School was probably closed due to a state law in the late 1940s that officially ended the use of two-year high schools in Illinois.
The school-aged children today attend schools in nearby Vienna. The fate of the Belknap High School building is needed.
From Carolyn Decker:
“I went to Belknap when it was a grade school. 1-2-3 grades in one room, 4-5-6 in another one, and 7-8 in the third room. My mother was was born in Feb of 1913 and went to high school at Belknap. She continued on to graduated from Vienna High School.”
Need Your Help
There are a lot of holes to fill regarding the history of the Belknap High School athletic program and school accomplishments in general. If you have any information you can share, more photos of the old school building and great teams, you can forward them to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also write to us at:
Illinois HS Glory Days
6439 N. Neva St.
Chicago, Il. 60631