Grand Ridge is a village of 546 residents located in north central Illinois in LaSalle County on Illinois Route 23. The AT & SF has a rail line that goes thru the center of town, parallel to the state highway. Branches of the Covel Creek flow to the north, west, and east of Grand Ridge, which is situated right between Ottawa and Streator (roughly seven miles to both towns).
The village was originally founded as Livonia in 1871, but later changed to Grand Ridge in 1891 due to the name of the railroad station that was located there at the time. History of education in the Grand Ridge area began in 1850 when Farm Ridge Seminary was built as a private school, thanks in part to Yale graduate Elmer Baldwin, who would promote and financially support the school.
Grand Ridge Farm Ridge Academy Seminary
Courtesy of Dale Ogden
The first public school was built in the 1870’s, located in the same location that the current Grand Ridge Grade School sits. A newer version of the school was built in 1898, which would also include high school courses that would be thru the 11th grade.
Grand Ridge HS was a three-year high school for the duration of its lifetime, with students either going to Ottawa or Streator High School for their senior year. The school finally closed in 1947, due to the wave of consolidations that were taking place in the state of Illinois at that time. At the time of its closing, only 20 students were attending GRHS.
Grand Ridge High School Quick Facts
Earliest known date of education: 1850
Year High School Established: 1898
Year Closed: 1947
Year School Building Demolished: 1957
Students enrolled in last school year: 20
Nickname: the “Mohawks” (1946)
School Colors: Black & White
School Song: partially unknown, but this much has been found:
All good children go to heaven
All the rest stay home and yell
Grand Ridge High School,
Rickety, rackety, Russ !
We are not allowed to cuss,
But all the same,
We don’t live in shame
Rickety, rackety, russ!
Grand Ridge HS Mohawks
Basketball Team 1936-37
Grand Ridge HS Mohawks
Basketball Team 1934-35
Grand Ridge Gym – Built 1938
As a small school, Grand Ridge was fortunate to have had a basketball team. In its earlier days, the team played its home games at the Old Fellows Hall in the village before the school constructed its own facility in 1935, thanks in part to an effort made by the students and resident Lulu Rinker. The Old Fellows Hall had a distinct feature with three posts right down the center of the court, so the push for a new court was justified by the post hazards in the middle of the floor.
The Mohawks were among a number of schools in the state to have never won hardware from the Illinois High School Association in state tournament play. The only known win-loss record was in the school’s last season as the Mohawks went 5-16 in 1946-47. Competiting as an independent, Grand Ridge’s schedule included Dana, Mazon, Cherry, and Hennepin (all of which have their own information on this site), Earlville, Seneca, Dwight, Gardner, and freshmen teams from both Ottawa Catholic and Ottawa Township HS. Also of note, Grand Ridge competed in a tournament in 1945, and lost to Leland 101-3 (this score is correct) in the first round. Most of the time, Grand Ridge was forced to play all five players the entire game due to the lack of players in the school.
John Huston Finley Memorial
Click to Enlarge
However, the village did offer baseball and basketball to those out of high school, and they were competitive. Two players that were natives of Grand Ridge were fortunate enough to play in the major leagues, Bill Essick and Tom Sheehan. Both players were pitchers that spent time with the Cincinnati Reds (see below).
In the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, the village was a hotbed for local baseball, taking on traveling teams such as the Chicago Union Giants (a Negro League team), the Peoria Catterpillars, the Boston Hobos, and anyone else they could schedule a game with. Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean once pitched in Grand Ridge, as did area resident Russ “Duke” Ahearn, who was a pitcher at Illinois State Normal, and later became famous as the coach of the 1951-52 state high school basketball champions at Alden-Hebron in northern Illinois. The father of soap opera star Walt Willey (“Jackson Montgomery” on All My Children), was a popular pitcher for the Grand Ridge Merchants. Walt Willey, Sr. was outstanding on the mound in the 1940s.
Semipro basketball was also played in Grand Ridge, with Lindsay’s Oilers, the Kline Gassers, and J. P. Weatherby Construction fielding teams that were based in the village. The 1945-46 Gassers were champions of the Illinois Valley Conference, featuring players that also played on the village’s baseball team.
Grand Ridge Basketball – 1946
Grand Ridge Gym Entrance – 2005
The village of Grand Ridge has had its share of residents that have made their mark in the world, ranging from major league baseball players to politicians to college presidents and editor-in-chief of a world-famous newspaper.
John Huston Finley – Finley was born in 1863 on a farm outside of Grand Ridge, graduating from Knox College in 1887, then returning to the school as its president in 1892 at the age of 29. He was later a professor at Princeton, and served as president of City College of New York (CCNY) before joining the staff of the New York Times in 1921. By 1937, Finley was named the papers’ editor-in-chief, a post he held until his death in 1940. Finley was an author and lectured worldwide, while being awarded 32 honorary degrees. A marker designating his accomplishments was erected at Grand Ridge Grade School in 2004, along with a bust of Finley as provided by the New York Times.
Ebenezer F. Porter – Although not a native son, Porter’s contributions came from the hard-working ethic and mechanical aptitude he displayed as a young man. Porter came to Grand Ridge as a toddler in 1860, and worked for his father as a lumberman and grain dealer as a teenager. Porter later moved to Iowa before settling in Kansas as a state senator from Crawford County to push for manual training in the schools, having established the first one of its kind in the western half of the United States at Pittsburg, KS. He was also responsible for giving Grand Ridge, Florida its name in 1882 while Mr. Porter recuperated there while he was in failing health.
Bill Essick – According to Baseball-Reference.com, Essick spent parts of two seasons with the Cincinnati Reds in 1906-07, compiling a 2-4 record in nine appearances in the Queen City along with a 2.95 earned run average. “Vinegar Bill” was born in 1881 and just like John Finley, attended Knox College.
Tom Sheehan – Also a pitcher with the Cincinnati Reds, Sheehan was born in 1884. Baseball-Reference.com shows that the righthander pitched parts of two seasons with Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1915-16, was a teammate of Babe Ruth on the 1921 Yankees, pitched with the Reds in 1924-25 before being traded to Pittsburgh, where he spent the last two seasons with the Pirates before leaving the big leagues as a player. Sheehan also was a major league scout who also had the honor of managing the San Francisco Giants for half of the 1960 season with Baseball Hall-of-Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, and Orlando Cepeda on the roster. Sheehan’s best season was 9-11 for the 1924 Reds with a 3.24 ERA. In his lifetime, he complied a 17-39 record with a 4.00 ERA.
Elmer Jacobs – A commercial artist who was born in Streator in 1901 and later moved to Grand Ridge, was a nationally known illustrator and designer. One Grand Ridge history indicates he designed a Christmas seal, which was later discovered to be for Easter Seals in Canada.
Elmer T. Baldwin – A prominent educator, he founded the Farm Ridge Academy in 1850 to establish Grand Ridge’s first school, and later was an Illinois State Senator from 1873-75.
SPECIAL THANKS—go to Dale Jones (GRHS class of 1935) and Dale Ogden (class of 1947) for the amount of information and photos they have provided to this website.
Need Your Help – in finding out more about Grand Ridge High School. We are especially interested in the history of the village, stories about the school, and its basketball teams. Please write to us via e-mail. We are especially seeking a photo of the former high school building. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. You can also write to us via real mail at: