Cowling High School

The History of Cowling High School

Cowling (population approximately 75) is located in far southeastern Illinois in the southern portion of Wabash County.  The village is located on Illinois Route 1 about four miles north of Interstate Highway 64.Cowling sits about 10 miles southwest of Mt. Carmel and 12 miles northeast of Carmi.  The Wabash River (and subsequently the Indiana border) is located about 1/2 mile south of Cowling.

We need your assistance in the research of the town of Cowling and its former high school.  The school was brought to our attention by Donn Hornberger.  Donn provides the following information regarding the town and school of Cowling:

“This little town was at the heart of Illinois Oil Wells in the 1930’s, but this was after the school had decided to send its high school students to Grayville HS, where my grandfather (Charles Arthur Gravett) was employed part-time as a music instructor.  Grandfather Charlie, an iterant wondering musician, played piano and trumpet to the extent he was in constant demand for performances during the 1920-1939 period.

One side of my Lovellette ancestors settled the Cowling area thanks to land awards after service in the American Revolution, including BrownsBellmont, Carmi and Grayville areas all along or near IL. Rt. One.  Many accomplished people graduated from all these little towns with their tiny student populations.  Cowling was home to about 250 folks at one point, most of which made a living in agriculture and small businesses.

The original Cowling HS was both high school and grade school.  The town in the 1910-25 era had about 140 residents and the school was located in what now serves as the Free Methodist Church at the corner of Hwy 1 and Cowling’s main street.  My mother Fern Gravett Hornberger graduated from Grayville HS in 1933 at 16 yrs of age.  But, she attended Cowling HS 1930,for one year and my uncle Don attended for two years 1928-29, before they both had to attend Grayville HS due to Cowling closing the high school portion.  Fern came back to teach in the grade school.  My grandfather, Charles Arthur Gravett, taught music at both Cowling and Grayville HS for ten years mostly during the Great Depression and earlier years.

The town now has a population of about 100.  The Wabash RR (Big Four)ran right through the middle of the town, which is located just a few miles from Browns,

Keensburg and Bellmont.  Every historian should take time to travel through these back roads and visit the Lovellette-Legier Cemetery, as well as many other old cemeteries in Wabash County where my ancestors have been laid to their rest. And, as Bill Monroe says, “Say an Ave for me!”

Regarding Cowling High School, I know the school competed in baseball and basketball with other schools, my uncle Don Gravett played on both those teams while he attended there.

My uncle Don, my greatgrandfather Arthur, his son, Charles, and my mother, Fern, all spent their winters in this school stoking the small potbellied stove, and later, the space heater.  Fire was  a constant threat in those days. Wolves were known to come up to the door of the school as late as the early 1930’s.

At the beginning of the Great Depression the high school was shut down and the school became grade school only.  The grade school was closed during the middle 1950’s.  My ancestor grandparents ran the Bon Pas Ferry at the beginning of the 1800’s and you can read about that in the Wabash County Historical Society book, History of Wabash County Family Names and Founders. 

My great grandmother, Cordelia Clementine Ballard Gravett Fitzgerald was the town’s postmistress for 53 years and on the board of education for at least 25 years. She was cited by President Roosevelt and given the “Key to the Town”, which we still have, in 1946.  She died in 1953.”

Cowling High School Quick Facts

Year opened:                         1920s?

Year closed:                          late 1920s/early 1930s

Consolidated to:                     Grayville High School

Cowling HS Team Nickname:  unavailable

Cowling HS Team Colors:        unavailable

School Fight Song:                 unavailable


We know through Donn Hornberger’s memories that Cowling High School did compete in baseball and basketball.  If you have any other information on the Cowling High athletic program please contact us via the means listed below.

Do You Have Information to Share About Cowling High School?

Several questions posted above remain unanswered.  If you have ANY information you wish to share regarding Cowling High School please contact us at  You can also write to us at:

Illinois HS Glory Days

6439 N. Neva St.

Chicago, Il.   60631


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