Chicago School System Early History
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Dearborn School, No. 1
Life Span: 1845-1871
Location: North side of Madison street between Dearborn and State streets
Fort Dearborn Magazine, November, 1922
IRA MILTIMORE, who was responsible for Chicago’s first public school building, was a member of the Chicago Common Council from 1838 to 1845. He had come to Chicago in 1836 and established himself as a machinist and millwright.
In 1837, Chicago was incorporated as a city, having previously to that time been merely a village. School houses were small and inferior, there being no public schools in existence previous to 1835.
There was a provision in the famous “Ordinance of 1787,” under which the state of Illinois was organized, that one section of every township should be set apart for the support of schools. Townships consisted of thirty-six sections, each one mile square. The section numbered sixteen was called the “school section,” and in this case extended from State to Halsted and from Madison to Twelfth streets, the latter now known as Roosevelt road. Part of the school section was sold at various times, but enough land was reserved to form the basis of a fund for the support of schools.
Taking advantage of the proceeds from the sale of lots already disposed of, the Common Council, whose members acted as school commissioners, authorized the construction of a brick school house, the measure being proposed by Ira Miltimore. The building was located on the north side of Madison street between Dearborn and State streets, nearly opposite the site of McVicker’s Theatre built some years later. This school house was two stories in height and became officially known as “Dearborn School, No. 1.” It was completed in 1845, at a cost of about $7,500.
The mayor of Chicago at that time was Augustus Garrett, who ridiculed the idea of building so expensive a structure for a city of 12,000 inhabitants, and sarcastically remarked in his inaugural address that, “The council should either sell the house or convert it into an insane asylum.” In a couple of years’ time, however, the building was found to be entirely inadequate to accommodate the rapidly increasing number of children in attendance.
As Miltimore was considered responsible for the building of the new school house, it acquired the nickname of “Miltimore’s Folly” by unfriendly critics. The school house became a well kn0wn landmark during the years of its existence. It remained on the site for twenty-six years, or until the summer of 1871, when it was demolished but a few months before the great fire swept away all the buildings of the neighborhood. It was the intention to lease the land on which it stood for commercial purposes as the locality was no longer suitable for a school house. It was not until 1877 that the Hershey Music Hall was constructed on the site, which in time gave way to the Boston Store now occupying the spot.
Group of deputy revenue assessors taken in 1863 in front of Dearborn school, called “Mlltimore’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
During the time that the brick school house stood there, a photograph of a group of prominent citizens gathered in front of the building was taken, and is reproduced in the writer’s “History of Chicago,” Vol. I, page 280. This picture, which is shown here, was taken in 1863 and represents some twenty-four figures appearing in the costumes of the period, many of them wearing the old-fashioned “chimney pot” hats.
In 1913 a large number of streets of the city having names similar or identical with others were renamed. Among these was Blaine avenue, which was changed to Miltimore avenue in honor of Ira Miltimore, the public spirited alderman who proposed in 1844 the building of the brick school house above described, and which was called by the scoffers, “Miltimore’s Folly.” Miltimore avenue can be traced on any recent map of the city and can be found near the intersection of Milwaukee and Bryn Mawr avenues.
Chicago Land Use Survey
A few words should here be added regarding this representative citizen of early Chicago. While he was a resident of the city, Miltimore built the first water works in the city. He also devised the method of supplying the “summit level” of the old Illinois and Michigan Canal (which had been completed in 1848) with water pumped from the South ‘Branch of the Chicago river at Bridgeport, thus providing the canal at certain stages of the lake level with a “gravity flow.” This anticipated by some fifty years the method put in practice by the engineers of the great Drainage Canal of the present day.
Miltimore afterwards removed to Janesville, Wisconsin, where he built a mill. In the Civil War, a few years later, he raised a company of volunteers and was present with them at the siege of Vicksburg. He died in 1879 at the age of sixty-six years. During his residence in Wisconsin, he donated ten acres of land for the State Institute for the Blind and was a member of its board of management for fifteen years. Dr. Lyman Draper of the Wisconsin Historical Society thus concludes a sketch of his life:
His was a life of activity and usefulness, and he was greatly respected for his public spirit and enterprise.
But, while we have described the first school house built by the City of Chicago, it should be remembered that there were private schools even at the time when the first Fort Dearborn was occupied by a garrison of troops. In the community at this early day were Indian traders and their families, many persons connected with the fur trade or with the military life of the fort, and newly arrived settlers. all eager to place their children in school. in accordance with enlightened American tradition.
Public School Number 1
Public School Number 1