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History of Lincoln School

Beginnings, 1817-1911 

The site of Lincoln School was Edwardsville’s first town center, which was known as “Lowertown,” and included a public square with a courthouse, a jail, an Indian agency and a land office.  The courthouse, a one-story, rough-hewn log structure, was built in 1817 at a cost of $437.

In 1824, Governor Edward Coles, who had moved to Edwardsville a few years earlier, was convicted in this courthouse of illegally freeing his 25 inherited slaves.

Construction began on a new structure, the Donation Courthouse, in 1821. The name referred to the gift of materials, cash and labor made by local citizens because the county could not afford to finance the building. Completed in 1835, the new courthouse was barely an improvement from its predecessor, with a dirt floor and only a ladder for access to the second story. One itinerant preacher refused to conduct services in the building because, he said, “…it was fit only for a hog pen.” Even so, a young Abraham Lincoln reportedly tried cases in the Donation Courthouse.

 In 1857, a new courthouse was built in Edwardsville on the site of the present courthouse. The Wesley Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church held its meetings in the old Donation Courthouse from 1865-1877.

 In 1869, the county abandoned its ownership of the Donation Courthouse in Lowertown, and one of the buildings on the property was designated as a school for “Negroes. The building was in terrible condition, and African American families lobbied for a new facility, especially after the adoption of the state’s first “colorblind” constitution in 1870 and an 1874 public school law that ostensibly promised equal access to education for all Illinois students.  African Americans also complained about the school’s location, which was near a saloon and the city jail and far from where most black families lived. The School Board resisted action on these complaints, and construction of a new school did not take place until 1911, when, at the original site, a four-room school was erected for approximately $13,000. 

The Segregated Years, 1912-1950

Noted architects Lucas Pfeiffengerger & Sons designed the new Lincoln School that opened in 1912. Four teachers taught 100 students in the first through 10th grades. An article in School Board Journal described the building as designed in a “very pleasing style, and…up to date in every respect.” 

 Enrollment continued to increase, and in 1939, voters approved the addition of two new classrooms and a gymnasium. Eleventh grade was added in 1935; 12th grade in 1940. Previously, students wanting four years of high school had to transfer at the School Board’s expense - usually to Lincoln University High School in Jefferson City, Missouri. Lincoln School’s first four-year students graduated in 1941.

 By 1947, Lincoln School faculty had organized a school band that gave its first performance during the Christmas season of 1949. During the late 1940s, many African American veterans were actively seeking greater civil rights. Despite resistance, the Truman Administration and the United States Supreme Court were slowly eliminating racially discriminatory practices. In 1949, the Illinois legislature passed a law that made it illegal for a school district practicing segregation to obtain state funding. Faced with losing more than $80,000, the School Board decided to close Lincoln School. 

Integration and Beyond

In 1971, the school was deemed “unnecessary, unsuitable and inconvenient” and closed for good. The District sold the building in 1978 to a local developer who renovated it for business and office space and called it “Old Edwardsville Town Square.” The building survived a serious fire in 1980, although part of the interior was severely damaged.   A fraternity from SIUE bought the building in 1999 and used it as a student residence until putting it up for sale in 2005. The Bank of Edwardsville acquired it at auction in 2007 and Mr. Mannie L. Jackson purchased the Lincoln School in 2008, for $600, 000.

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1210 North Main Street, Edwardsville, IL

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