Peru Academy of St. Joseph

Academy of St. Joseph in 1886
A building with trees in front of it

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                               The History of Peru Academy of St. Joseph

Peru (population: 9,835) is located in north central Illinois in LaSalle County along the Illinois River. The community is a midpoint between the Quad Cities and the south Chicago suburbs along Interstate 80, plus US 6 and Illinois 251 run thru Peru. It is also where the Illinois-Michigan Canal met the Illinois River as Chicagoans shipping goods to New Orleans would send them down the canal to the river, and it would eventually meet up with the Mississippi for the trip south at “Steamboat Basin.”

The city was first settled by John Hays in 1830 and developed a reputation as a river port, but was overshadowed by neighboring LaSalle’s efforts with their own canal port. After the canal closed to barge traffic, Peru regained their reputation. It was organized in 1838 and incorporated in 1851. The coal and zinc mining were part of the community’s success, which lead to a zinc manufacturing plant.

Some of the better-known businesses in Peru include Maze Lumber and Nail, which has made its own nails since 1848, Carus Chemical Company (the world leader in producing potassium permanganate), American Nickeloid, and was home to the Western Clock Company (also known as Westclox) until that company closed its doors in the late 1970’s after making the Big Ben alarm clock for over 60 years.

One of Peru’s residents would up with international acclaim. Maud Powell was a world-reknown violin who was the first American to gain this rank because of her skill and virtuosity. A statue of her is prominently displayed in downtown Peru.

The Academy of St. Joseph (which was also known as the Academy of St. Mary) opened in Peru in 1875 by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, MO in August 1875. The school started with one or two nuns teaching the entire class in a one-year course, but later went to a two-year course of study. It was expanded to three years in 1892. Most of the students that graduated became secretaries, teachers, and bookkeepers.

It is believed that the school closed in 1909 when the Sisters of St. Joseph were withdrawn from the school. It is possible that the students that remained may have been able to finish their education at either LaSalle-Peru Township High School, St. Bede Academy, or at LaSalle St. Patrick/St. Vincent High School.


Year opened:                                 1875

Year it expanded to 3-yr school:      1892

Year closed:                                  1909


about the history of Academy of St. Joseph? Or do you have a photo of the school itself? We’d like to know more about the school to keep its memory alive. Please email us at or send it to us at:

Illinois High School Glory Days

6439 North Nava

Chicago, IL  60631

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