Elgin St. Mary Academy

 The History of Elgin St. Mary Academy

Elgin (population: 101,903 as of 2007) is located in northeastern Illinois about 40 miles west of Chicago. The community is based primarily in Kane County, although some of it has now spilled over into Cook. The Fox River runs thru the city as does Illinois Routes 25 & 31, along with US 20, and Interstate 90.

Elgin’s founding took place after the the Black Hawk Indian War of 1832 as many soldiers and militarymen marched thru the area that had been vacated by Native Americans. Those that stopped to look around to notice the Fox River Valley decided to stake their land, and accounts of the area’s fertile soils and flowing springs soon filtered east to others. Two of those people came from New York State as James T. Gifford and his brother Hezekiah were interested in settling down in the Midwest. On a stagecoach ride from Chicago to Galena, their coach found a place where the Fox River could be crossed, and they were impressed enough that they established the city in 1836, in honor of a Scottish hymn, “The Song of Elgin.”

As the city grew, the stagecoaches were replaced by the railroads as the Galena & Chicago Union Railroad reached Elgin in 1849, and other railroads would be running along both banks of the Fox River to connect the town to Chicago and other urban centers. That connection to the Windy City was important to Elgin’s fame for the butter and dairy goods it sold to their denizons.  The city also became the home of the Elgin Watch Company in 1866, and it was the largest producer of fine watches in the United States until its closure in 1964 when the company moved to Elgin, South Carolina.

St. Mary Academy was opened to female students who wished to continue their education by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in February 1890. The school offered academic courses as well as commercial electives, with Latin, English, history, math, religion, and various sciences being taught.

There were financial difficulties encountered by the Sisters that they sold the school in 1903 to Archbishop James Quigley when the area was part of the Archdiocese of Chicago. It was turned into a parish school while the Sisters of Charity remained on board as the teaching faculty. Improvements were made and several other courses of study (bookkeeping, typing, shorthand, music, and art) were added. The arrangement listed until 1912 when the Sisters decided to withdraw from the school due to inadequate supplies and equipment, and the school was closed


Year opened:                               1890

Year turned over to archdiocese:   1903

Year closed for good:                   1912


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