The History of Braidwood Immaculate Conception High School
Braidwood (population: 5,200) is located in north central Illinois in Will County, less than 20 miles south from the county seat, Joliet, and about 55 miles away from Chicago. The community can be reached by taking Interstate 55 to Braidwood, as well as Illinois Routes 53, 113, and 129. Historic US Route 66 also went thru town while it was commissioned.
The history of Braidwood can be credited to coal mining, which began in 1864 when farmer William Henneberry was drilling for water, but struck coal instead. This brought rich industrialists from bigger cities such as Boston and Chicago to buy mass quanities of land to mine because there was a great need for the “black diamonds.” In turn, immigrants from all over Europe, native Americans, and African-Americans that had worked in the mines in West Virginia came to Braidwood to work for the coal companies.
The community was part of an area that relied on coal, and towns such as Coal City, Carbon Hill, Diamond, and South Wilmington (named after the coal company that owned the land) sprang up. Braidwood’s population once topped 8,000, and once included future Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, ragtime composer and songwriter Artie Matthews, and early United Mine Workers union president John Mitchell. The town got its name from James “Jimmie” Braidwood, an immigrant who was the first to sink a coal shaft in town, and others followed soon after.
Braidwood became incorporated in 1873, despite many protests from the miners who lived there not to do so. It was a rough town during the early years, given the type of person who lived just as hard as they worked in the Braidwood mines. A number of union strikes took place in 1868, 1874, 1877, 1889, 1894, and 1897, which forced the enlistment of the state militia to keep the peace in some cases.
Working in the mines made for a hard life for a miner. With long hours, low pay, and dangerous work underground, it led to black lung disease and other respiratory ailments. In February of 1883, 74 miners were drowned in the “Diamond Mine Disaster” when melting snow poured into the mines at a fast pace and trapped their escape from the underground shafts. The disaster was considered the worst mine disaster in state history at the time.
With a number of immigrants coming from Roman Catholic families, Immaculate Conception Church was formed in 1869, and later opened a school for the children of miners. That school increased its offerings in 1920 when a commercial high school was opened that fall.
The school was staffed with members of the Dominican Sisters of Adrian, MI, who in turn added an academic course of study in the fall of 1921. Immaculate Conception was a co-ed school which was always small in its student body numbers, which could be part of the reason that the school closed its doors in the spring of 1928. Another reason is that the coal mining industry also ended its run in northern Illinois in the 1920’s when coal was replaced by oil, natural gas, and other renewable sources of energy, which in turn translated into a drop in the population of Braidwood.
Today, the church remains in Braidwood, but the grade school has since closed. The community is home to the Braidwood Nuclear Generating Station, which is a major employer and supplies energy to the Chicagoland area.
|FACTS ABOUT BRAIDWOOD IMMACULATE CONCEPTION HIGH SCHOOL
Year commercial courses were first offered: 1920
Year academic courses available: 1921
Year closed: 1928
School colors, nickname: unknown
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to contribute to the history of Immaculate Conception High School in Braidwood. Although the school did not last beyond eight years, there may still be graduates of ICHS that are telling their stories about their school days today. We’d like to hear from somebody who may remember the school, or from someone whose parents or family member went there. Please click here to complete the Guest Commentary form, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll also accept your information and photos at the following address:
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