Knoxville St. Mary’s & St. Margaret’s Schools

Knoxville St. Mary’s School
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Courtesy of Foxie Hagerty

              The Histories of Knoxville St. Mary’s & St. Margaret’s Schools

Knoxville (population 3,200) located in western Illinois in Knox County, just outside of Galesburg. The community is accessible by taking either US 150 or Interstate 74, and was settled as Henderson in January 1831, before its name was changed to Knoxville in December 1832 when it was chosen as the county seat. Knoxville remained the center of the county until the county seat was moved up the road to Galesburg in 1873. The first county courthouse as well as an earlier jail still stand in Knoxville as testament to this early period, as does the county’s Hall of Records, which doubles as the Knoxville City Hall.

St. Mary’s School for Girls was opened in April 1868 by Rev. Charles Leffingwell and his wife in the former Ewing Female University building. The latter school had been chartered and opened in 1858, but closed in 1867 due to the lack of funds and the building was transferred to the Episcopal Diocese of Illinois. A total of 15 trustees oversaw its operation, 10 of which were from the diocese and the others represented Knox County.

The primary goal of St. Mary’s was for “the educating, refining, and thorough culture of young ladies,” according to information found on Both boarders and day students were accepted at St. Mary’s, which grew within its first four years that plans were made to expand its location. Former state legislator and area farmer James Knox donated $10,000 to helping the school add more space to the building, which eventually cost $25,000.

St. Mary’s enrollment was at 120 students when on the morning of January 4th, 1883, fire destroyed the school and caused $100,000 in damage. All students were able to escape the blaze, although there were a couple of minor injuries. School was resumed as a new building was erected almost immediately, and in 1888, a chapel and conservatory were opened. Both buildings still stand today in Knoxville and are privately owned, although the conservatory does not function as it did when it was used at the school.

St. Mary’s was closed in 1935 due to financial problems, and was in need of repairs at the time. With the exception of the chapel and conservatory, the remainder of the buildings were torn down in 1936. Part of the grounds were later bought by the city of Knoxville and was renamed James Knox Park. A pond of the property, once used for boat rides, has been filled in with sediment.

On the other hand, St. Margaret’s was opened as a boarding school for high school girls in 1922 in the former Phelps Hall building, which was part of the former St. Alban’s Academy campus. The building was moved by horses and ropes by St. Mary’s around the same time, and stayed in operation until 1935 as a day and boarding school, when it was closed for good.

St. Margaret’s was converted into an apartment building in 1936 after an addition was made to the school, and it remained that way until 1952 when it was sold members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church to become Gospel Hall as part of the Good Samaritan Nursing Home. The eventual end of the building came in February 19996 when it was torn down for expansion of the nursing home.

Given that both schools were located right near each other, we are unsure if both schools were related and if they existed as two girls’ high schools at the same time. We would certainly appreciate it if someone has information about this fact to contact us at the addresses listed above.

St. Margaret’s School for Girls
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Year St, Mary’s opened as Ewing Female University: 1859

Year Ewing University closed:                                  1867

Year St. Mary’s opened:                                          1868

Destroyed by fire & rebuilt:                                       1883

Year closed:                                                           1935

Torn down:                                                             1936

Year St. Margaret’s opened:                                     1922

Year closed:                                                           1935

Torn down:                                                              1996

Another view of St. Mary’s School
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Courtesy of Foxie Hagerty

As students, both St. Mary’s and St. Margaret’s students had plenty to keep them active when they weren’t studying. There was a swimming pool on site at St. Mary’s along with a bowling alley and large theater available. A park nearby (which could be part of James Knox Park today) was part of the campus and offered students the chance to ride horses and go for boat rides in the lake. Since St. Margaret’s was nearby, it could have been possible that those students may have the same opportunities that St. Mary’s students did.


to Foxie Hagerty at, for the photos and information that her site as well as the folks at that gave us more about St. Margaret’s School. We are grateful for their sites and hope you will visit their sites.


about the history of Knoxville St. Mary’s School. Please contact us if you have more at or send it thru the USPS to:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Neva

Chicago, IL  60631

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