Bloomington Illinois Wesleyan Preparatory Academy

Old North Building (1856-1966)
A house that has been destroyed

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Courtesy of Tate Archives (

           The History of Bloomington Illinois Wesleyan Preparatory Academy

Bloomington (population 75,000) is located in the center of the state of Illinois in McLean County, and is considered a hub of activity for transportation. Interstates 39, 57, & 74 travel around the city and its neighbor, Normal. In addition, US Routes 51 and 150 as well as Illinois 9 are major thoroughfares through the communities, which are the home of Illinois Wesleyan University, Illinois State University, Mitsubishi Motors, and State Farm Insurance.

Founded in 1830, Bloomington is also rich in history about the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, and former Supreme Court Justice David Davis (who was a good friend of Lincoln) as they made their way to national prominence. Also, Adlai Stevenson I as well as Joseph Fifer were governors of Illinois that hailed from Bloomington, as did baseball Hall of Famer Charles (Old Hoss) Radbourne.

The Preparatory Academy (or department) of Illinois Wesleyan University was opened on October 28, 1850 at the Bloomington Methodist Evangelical (M.E.) Church with seven male students between the ages of 14-22 in attendance. The school was formed by a group of founding fathers, most of them Methodist ministers, as well as others that became prominent names in Bloomington history.

By the end of the first school year, the attendance for the preparatory academy finished with 30 students, even though it was as high as 45 at one point. J.W. Sherfy was the principal of the department with Rev. Reuben Andrus as the first teacher of the school. Both the university and prep academy moved into a new facility in 1856, which was called North Hall. The university later moved into its own building by 1871, while the prep academy stayed put.

Attendance was moderate with the second year enrollment at 101 in 1851-52, but had fallen to 45 by the autumn of 1861 on account of the Civil War. It did rebound to 71 two years later and increased to 141 by the fall of 1865 when the war was over.

Illinois Wesleyan Preparatory Academy was an all-boys’ school until 1871 when it became a co-ed institution as 19 girls were admitted. The school’s enrollment with both genders fluctuated over the next 20 years or so before it hit a high of 250 in 1894.

The preparatory department did revamp its curriculum in 1888 when it offered a three-year collegiate prep course of study and its academic prep course went to four years. School president William Wilder hired Calvin W. Green as the preparatory academy’s principal that same year along with assistant principal Lyde R. Porter (who later assumed the principal’s role from 1908-12). Even though the preparatory department organized itself separately from the university in 1883, it wasn’t until 1889 when the name of the department became Illinois Wesleyan Academy.

Enrollment was a steady decline all the way up to World War I, when the school decided to stop admitting freshmen and sophomores after the spring of 1917, then only seniors remained for the 1918-19 school year as the school closed for good. By then, the Bloomington-Normal community had four high schools (BloomingtonSt. MaryNormal Community, and University High) that were established and the thought was to discontinue the academy so that the school could concentrate on collegiate studies only.


Year opened:       1850

Became co-ed:    1871

Year closed:        1919

School colors:      Green & White

School nickname: unknown

School song:        unknown


Some of the founding fathers of Illinois Wesleyan University/Academy include William H. Allin, John Magoun, John W. Ewing, John E. McClun, William H. Holmes, Kersey H. Fell, Rev. Peter Cartwright, James Allin, Rev. John S. Barger, Charles P. Merriman, W.C. Hobbs, James Miller, Isaac Funk, William Wallace, Rev. James F. Jaques, Silas Watters, Rev. William J. Rutledge, Rev. Thomas P. Rogers, Lewis Bunn, James Laeton, Rev. Thomas Magee, Rev. John Van Cleave, Rev. C.M. Holliday, Rev. Linus Graves, Rev. Reuben Andrus, Rev. James C. Finley, and Rev. David Trimmer.

Other notable figures associated with the school outside of President Abraham Lincoln, Illinois Governor Joseph Fifer, and Supreme Court Justice David Davis include Jesse Fell, and Maj. John Wesley Powell (was a faculty member from 1865-67 before leaving to explore Pikes’ Peak, the Colorado River, and the Grand Canyon from 1867-72). In a bit of irony, both Lincoln and Fell were also involved in the founding of Illinois State Normal (now Illinois State) University in 1857, which is less than a mile up the street from Illinois Wesleyan.

In the first year that course work was offered at Illinois Wesleyan, language, geometry, algebra, & philosophy courses cost $5.00 per quarter, English grammar was $4.00, while orthography & arithmetic were $3.00.

According to information found in the 1857-58 school catalog, it states the following about the Preparatory Department: “This will be under the immediate supervision of the Faculty, assisted by such Tutors as may be necessary to accomplish their work. It is preferred that Students preparing for the College Classes should make their preparation here rather than elsewhere for an advanced standing. If we must be responsible for the final credentials of the scholar, we would prefer laying the foundation of his scholarship.”

However, in the 1902-03 catalog, the Academy (still referred to as “Preparatory School”) was given the following write-up: “The prime purpose of this school is to furnish a thorough preparation for admission to college. The courses of study offered are equal to the requirements of the best fitting schools. No subject is omitted which is indispensable either to the knowledge or mental discipline requisite for successful collegiate work.

“While these courses are designed primarily to fit the pupil for college, they are, also, admirably arranged for those who are seeking high grade academic attainments. Their component parts are well selected and placed in logical order, thus offering the best possible results to those who can pursue only a limited course of study.

“Three preparatory courses of study are offered—The Classical, The Latin-Scientific, and the English—each leading to Freshmen rank and requiring one hundred forty-six semester hours for its completion. These hours are distributed as follows:

“Classical Course:–Mathematics 34, English Language 33, History and Civics 21, Latin 30, Greek 20, Science 8.

“Latin-Scientific:–Mathematics 34, English Language 35, History and Civics 21, Latin 30, Science 16, German 10.

“English-Scientfic:–Mathematics 34, English Language 35, History and Civics 21, Latin 20, Science 16, German 20.

“One semester hour in English Classics is required throughout the entire course, and one in elocution during the third and fourth years of the Latin-Scientific courses, and one in the fourth year of the Classical course.


“The Preparatory School is closely allied to the College of Liberal Arts, and feels in many ways its elevating influence. Its students meet in chapel with the college students. They recite in part to teachers who are members of the college faculty and have the benefit of the college laboratories, museums, libraries, and Christian associations. They also have the same rights in the gymnasium and the athletic park. Such associations and privileges are very stimulating and helpful to preparatory students.

“Yet the preparatory school has a distinct organization of its own. It is under the immediate supervision of a principal of established reputation who gives it his entire time and energy. In addition to the help given by members of the college faculty, he has an assistant of ability and experience whose work is exclusively in this school. The preparatory students have their own class organizations, literary societies, literary contests, and graduation exercises, and upon completing the course certificates are presented to them by the President of the University.

“While under the careful oversight so important for students of this grade, they also have every opportunity and incentive for the development of manly and womanly character. Every effort is made to awaken in them a noble ambition and to help them to lay a foundation, both moral and intellectual, upon which they may safely and successful build.


“While the preparatory courses of study cover four years, a student may enter any one of them at any point for which he is prepared, and advance as rapidly as he is able to do satisfactory work. No examinations are required for admission, but applicatns should have a fair knowledge of the common school branches.

“Students are assigned to classes according to the judgment of the principal, who reserves the right to make subsequent changes, if they beccome necessary.

“Applicants desiring credit for work done elsewhere should bring formal statements from their teachers, showing amount and character of the work for which they wish to receive credit.”


to archivist Meg Miner at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Ames Library. Photographs and catalogue descriptions have been provided by Tate Archives & Special Collections, The Ames Library, Illinois Wesleyan University. Find out more about IWU at:

Also, a written history about the school entitled “The Illinois Wesleyan Story 1850-1950” by Elmo Scott Watson (IWU Press, Bloomington, Illinois 1950) helped provide a history of the school as well as a list of the founding fathers and notable subjects in the school’s history.


Our address is listed below, or you can email us at You can also contact us thru the Guest Commentary page. We would love to find out more about the Preparatory Academy of Illinois Wesleyan University, its activities, and other famous students.

IHSGD Website

6439 N. Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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