Dearborn School, No. 1
Life Span: 1845-1871
Location: North side of Madison street between Dearborn and State streets
Architect: Ira Miltmore
Chicago Tribune, September 22, 1871
As the city grows, one by one the old buildings, which years ago was its pride and ornament, disappear to make room for others, grander and more imposing, beside being more suited to the demand of time, and more in harmony with the splendid blocks which are springing up in every part of the city. Very many have already fallen, especially in the original town of Chicago. In fact, there are very few standing to-day of the historical piles—if the few years of Chicago’s existence can properly be said to contain a history. Many of these were of these were associated with the earliest recollections of the city, when Lake street was a swamp, and other (now) equally busy thoroughfares were in n equally dismal plight. But few, if any, can have more interest to the present generation—the sons and daughters of the original settlers, the pioneers of Chicago’s greatness—than the Dearborn School building, which has just fallen a victim to the growth of the city, and will in a few days have vanished forever from view.
The photographers of Chicago have lost a glorious opportunity of conferring by their art a boon upon thousands of our most substantial citizens, and of pocketing the proceeds. It is certainly wonderful that not one of them manifested the enterprise necessary to secure before its demolition, or rather, before the workmen were set at their destructive task, a photograph of the old school building, the first school building that was erected in Chicago the parent of all others. By not so doing they have committed a grievous offense, which the portrayal of beery Aldermen can never atone for, should that process be carried on for an indefinite number of years—even until the long-looked-for millennium, when Aldermen shall be honest, and Sam. Walker’s lot have ceased to furnish pretexts for municipal “grabs.” They may perpetuate the countenances of the men who voted for the Union Park addition, and the scent of the Bourbon will cling to them still; but the memories of the old Dearborn School will perish with the present generation, and the next one will be ignorant of the locality where their enterprising ancestors learned their first lessons in American grammar and mischief, and will be compelled to picture for themselves the red, ungainly building in which they were conventionally supposed to spend some hours per diem in improving their minds. The old Dearborn School was for some years the only one which the South Side could boast, and the children who, thirty years ago, thronged thither for such instruction as the school afforded, have grown up to see themselves how difficult a task it is to tolerate noisy urchins, and to have some little sympathy for the sufferings of their early instructors. Tp those who are still living, and of course many thousands of them are, a souvenir of the old building, such as that suggested, would have been very valuable. It is even possible that the tepid Historical Society would have hung one up in the dismal, funeral hall, and sent its fierce Secretary round, with a vote of thanks, through every daily paper, to the photographer. Such a reward have the men of cameras lost. The sorrowful “might have been” must be their punishment.
Apart from the sentiment attaching to the institution as one of the earliest public buildings in Chicago, much amusing matter may be gathered from a history of its erection, and the early events connected with it.
Dearborn School, north side of Dearborn street between Dearborn and State streets. Built in 1845. Razed during the summer of 1871 by Rand McNally and Co., for the purpose of erecting a building 130×190 feet.
The Boards of Education of 1871 and 1844 are placed side by side, and the Common Council of more than a quarter of aq century ago are summoned to sit in judgement on its worthy successor of to-day. Neither body was as numerous than as now, and neither School Inspector or Alderman expectorated tobacco-juice over a velvet-pile carpet. In a splendidly appointed room. But both appear to have done their duty fairly enough.
Mr. Ira Miltmore, a gentleman now living in Janesville, came here about the year 1840 for the purpose of building Woodruff’s mill. He was a ship-carpenter by trade, but fully alive to the importance of educating the rising generation. He was a Whig, and a gentleman, if all reports relative to him are true, and thirty years ago was ambitious to become an Alderman of the city of Chicago. Whether he would have desired that honor had he known the utter disrepute into which that title was to fall thirty years later, it is but fair to the honest old gentleman to say he would never have sullied his fair fame by seeking municipal elevation. But not being gifted, like Victoria Woodhull, with the power of discerning future events at such long range, he strove very hard to become an Alderman. He pledged himself, if elected, to secure a school building in the First Ward. This determination was arrived at from the favor with which the following resolution, passed by the Board of Education, consisting of William Jones, J. Y. Scammon, Mark Skinner, and A. Getsler, July 26, 1843, was received by the citizens:
Soon after this, in March, 1844, Mr. Ira Miltmore was elected to the Common Council, the Hon. Alson S. Sherman being elected Mayor.
On May 1, 1844, the Board of Education passed the following order, the members present being Messrs. Scammon, Brown, Meeker, and Freer.
It was evident that Ald. Miltmore meant to support his pledge—an example commended to several members of the Common Council to-day, including Ald. Schintz, McCauley, Walsh, W.W. Powell, and Busse—for the next meeting of the Council, May 9, 1844, the following entry is to be found:
Ald. Miltmore drew the plans and submitted them to the Common Council. They were adopted, and contracts immediately awarded to Messrs. A.C. Wood and Mr. Weatherby, for masonry and woodwork respectively.
The foundation was laid, with all speed, in the fall of 1844. But here things nearly came to a standstill. The citizens were awe-stricken at the magnitude of the scale on which the building was to be erected. Such an edifice was deemed far too large for such a small town, and the feeling against the completion was so strong that serious thoughts were entertained of enjoining the authorities from proceeding any further. Indignation meetings of tax-payers were held, and it was resolutely determined to refuse the payment of taxes for any such useless expenditure of money. Ald. Miltmore came in with a very large of public vituperation. Every one saw, or fancied he saw, a “steal” there, and, though it could not be located, its existence was looked upon as firmly established. The Board of Education was aroused, and at a meeting held Nov, 7, 1844, Mr. Skinner offered the following:
The said committee, composed of Messrs. Brown and Skinner, did report that the Inspectors for that district had been appointed a committee to superintend the erection of that school. The brick and mason work was to be done by A.C. Wood, for the sum of $1,795, and the wood work by Mr. Weatherby, for the sum of $2,075, making the whole cost of the building $3,870. After that agreement another contract was made with Messrs. Wood and Weatherby, the plan of the building having been changed. The committee though a part of the Building Committee, affirmed that they had not been consulted, and would not be held accountable.
The Inspectors were advised that the whole amount of the taxes levied by the Council for the year 1844 was about $5,700, which less expenses for collection and amount uncollected, would be $5,500. Of this sum the board thought at least $1,500 should be reserved for the use of the schools. They therefore recommended that, if the proposed alterations in the plan ran the expenses up to $4,000, the completion of the building should be delayed.
A special meeting of the Common Council was held to take action upon this extravagance, and, though the records of that meeting are not to be found, Ald. Miltmore succeeded in figuring it through the Council, and the work was permitted to proceed.
The building was partially completed by January 1, 1845, and then and there received the flattering appellation of “Miltmore’s Folly.” One of the objections urged against it was, that though erected to accommodate 800 scholars, not one-third of that number could be found to attend it.
In a public speech on the occasion of its opening, Hon. Alson S. Sherman, Mayor of the city, pronounced the following benediction, as nearly as can be remembered:
The building is useless as a school house. It has been erected, at a great expense, for the accommodation of more scholars than the city will ever produce. I can see no more useful purpose for which it can be put than to convert into an insane asylum for the express accommodation of the men who designed and authorized its erection.
How far succeeding events justified this somewhat left-handed acknowledgement of Mr. Miltmore’s perseverance, the reader can determine for himself.
Previous to the opening of the school it had been determined to place it under the control of one male Principal, with two female assistants. On January 1, 1845, the school was opened, the teachers being A.D. Sturtevant, now Justice Sturtevant, Miss Lucia Garvin, and Miss Martha Durant. The records of the Board of Education, which were kept or not, just as the Secretary thought proper, give the following among the salaries of teachers for a month:
That was the total expense of running the institution, as far as teachers’ salaries went. In those palmy days ladies were apparently satisfied with receiving half the pay that the sterner sex received, while both parties did well on a little. But board was cheap, twenty-five years ago; greenbacks were a thing of the future, and the trifle of $8.35, which the ladies received, was ample for their needs.
From Justice Sturtevant some amusing facts were obtained. That gentleman remembers the second winter he spent in the building. Mr. Miltmore had the superintendence of the heating and ventilation apparatus of the Dearborn School House, snd determined to put in something good and scientific—something that would atone for the blunder he had committed in erecting the large building. Popular feeling, however, had by this time turned rather in favor of the school, to which all the children of the South Side were went to flock, much as they do now to each of the public schools. Supervisors Robert Clark, Pahlman, and Dixon had not as yet perturbed science with their discoveries of the manifold advantages of indirect radiation, and the superiorities of the fan system, and similar nonsensical obscurations wherein to reap the difference from tax-payers, and Ald. Miltmore was thrown entirely on his own resources. He purchased several gigantic stoves, for which niches were built in the basement of the school. These stoves he then bricked up until nothing could be seen of the,. For this purpose brick enough was employed to erect several Court Houses, four or five blocks of the size of the Ogden House, besides outhouses. This apparatus was not completed until the fall of the year, and when the cold weather came it was called upon to heat the building. By some freak of nature it succeeded, much to the astonishment of many who had predicted its failure. After the re-opening of the school the following year, at the close of the winter vacation, the heating apparatus refused to act, though all the persuasive powers that human ingenuity could supply were brought in to bear upon it. The basement was heated until life and property was endangered, while up stairs the children shivered their lives away and school was frequently interrupted. It was found necessary to give up all hopes of warming the building with Mr. Miltmore’s apparatus, and stoves were put up in each room.
An effort was made to secure the earliest piece of composition ever written in the school building, but none could be obtained, thoroughly authenticated. The following is among the very earliest, having been penned during the first term, and, as its advice is exceedingly valuable to young persons, it deserves publication. It is entitled
- The Three Rules for Division of Fractions, explained by Rebecca H. Ostram. To divide a fraction by a whole number. I will suppose an example. If two pears cost 4-5 of a cent, what will one pear cost? If two pears cost 4-5 of a cent, one pear would cost one-half of 4-5, which is 2-5. This quotient may, in this case, be obtained either by division or multiplying. By dividing the numerator of the fraction 4-5, we have the required answer, namely 2-5, and by multiplying the denominator of the fraction, we have our quotient 2-10, which, being reduced, gives us 1-5, the same as by the first operation. The reason if this is apparent at first sight. In the first operation we divided the fraction by dividing the number of parts, and thereby decreasing them. In the second we divided the fraction by multiplying the denominator of the fraction, and thereby increasing the size of the parts. Hence the following rule: ‘Divide the numerator or multiply the denominator by the divisor.’
The remainder of the treatise is much the same as the above. Mr. Sturtevant glosses over the trifling inconsistencies of the treatise, at which Colenso and other arithmeticians would, possibly, express much confusion, by stating that Rebecca Ostram was a very nice girl. Of course whe was. If she is living now, and this meets her eye, she will be much astonished at the publicity her early arithmetical efforts have attained, and readily admit that “some people have greatness thrust upon them.’
In April, 1847, Miss Alice Barnard, now Principal of the Dearborn School, commenced her labors in that institution, teaching children of the Southern Districts in a room below the general school rooms. Some two or three years later, Miss Barnard resigned, but afterward resumed her labors, and since then has been an untiring, patient teacher of obstinate and unruly youth.
Mr. Sturtevant left the Dearborn School this time to take charge of the Scammon School, in District No. 3, and was succeeded by Mr. Ingralls. Many of our citizens will remember him. He was a quiet, retiring man, and one of the very best instructors the city has ever employed. He could render the dryest subjects interesting, and possessed an amount of general knowledge that very few could boast. But he was totally unable to manage his scholars, and as a Principal he was quite unfitted for his position. The boys at the Dearborn School were great, clumsy, hulking fellows, who refused to obey him, and rendered the poor man’s life a burden to him. For several years he worked faithfully at his post, but the continued anxiety weakened him. His nerves were completely shattered, and the boys took advantage of his condition in every possible way. On one occasion he appealed to his predecessor to subdue his pupils for him. Mr. Sturtevant listened to the recital of his troubles, and, shocked at the continued insolence to which the poor pedagogue was subjected, asked him why he did not knock a boy down who dared to treat him so rudely. Mr. Ingalls freely admitted that whereas the spirit was exceedingly willing to assist in such an operation, and whereas the flesh was correspondingly incapable of gratifying the longings of the spirit, the condition of Mr. Ingalls was a very pitiful one. Mr. Sturtevant suggested that the names of the most unruly ones be picked out and sent to the Board of Education. Mr. Ingalls replied that they would assuredly hang him if he ventured on such a plan. Mr. Sturtevant, however, was not afraid of the mortal enmity of the boys, and, learning the names of the most unruly, reported them to the board. The board examined the matter, and at the request of Mr. Sturtevant, removed some of them to his district, while some were left out in the cold. Peace, or a substitute for it, which bore a trifling resemblance to the original, was thus regained. For Mr. Ingalls, but the succor came too late. Four years of mental toll and anxiety, not altogether unmixed with terror, had produced their legitimate consequences. The poor man was worn to a shadow. His constitution shattered, his nerves gone, he sank rapidly, became a victim to a tumor, and died the following year, still in harness, however. Those who knew him best mourned him most, and there were many among his old pupils who felt a pang of remorse at their contribution to the poor man’s miseries.
Since then the city has grown rapidly; the scholars has been attended by many thousands of scholars, all of whom have some recollections, pleasant or otherwise, of the old building.
“Dump” Rhines, the billiard player, can perhaps recollect the exploit which gave him his enormous soubriquet. It was a thrilling adventure, the details of which , would not look well in print. “Dump” will remember it to the last day of his life, as doubtless will many hundreds of his schoolmates.
Such is a brief sketch of the first school building ever erected in Chicago. Its existence been an eventful one. On October 17, 1870, the order was passed by the Common Council, leasing the property to Messrs. Rand & McNally for twenty years, at an annual rent of 6 per cent of $162,800.
Now the workmen are busy tearing it down. The sounds of labor are going on in the building just as they were twenty-seven years ago, In a week or two not one brick of the old building will be standing on another, and the record of “Miltmore’s Folly” will have passed away.
Group of deputy revenue assessors taken in 1863 in front of Dearborn school, called “Mlltmore’s Folly.” This school stood opposite McVicker’s theatre, and was built in 1844 at a cost of $7,000.
A. C. Hesing. Martin Kimbell, Fred H. Rolschausen, H. W. Scoville, Reuben Taylor, George Dunlap, John Forsyth, W. R. H. Gray, J. C. Brown, George H. Anderson, Chester L. Root, Peter Page, C. R. Field, William James, C. N. Holden, Bernard H. Bruns, Andrew Nelson, H. N. Heald, Fred Becker, Albert W. Weber. Henry N. Stevens, Edward Page, Charles G. Smith, C. B. Sammons
Public School Number 1
Rand McNally Building
Public School Number 1
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Land Use Survey