School History

The first school in Arcola, IL was taught by Miss Jennie Scouten. After her marriage,  Miss Scouten was succeeded by Mary Ellen Wright. Following the marriage of Miss Wright,  Miss Helen Richardson became the teacher. The first man to teach at  the Arcola school is believed to be Austin Wright. Mr. Wright had previously enlisted in the Union army  in 1861 and served with distinction. Other teachers who served in the early Arcola schools were:

  • Mr. Monroe
  • Dr. A.D. Kaga - later residing in Filson, IL
  • P.M. Moore - later a prominent attorney in Tuscola, IL
  • Mr. Brigham

The first school was in a frame building which stood at the corner of Oak and Jefferson Streets.   The school building was also used for Sunday worship by various denominations.   It was subsequently converted into a hotel by Charles Bradbury - father of B.B. and W.J. Bradbury and grandfather of Miss Alma Bradbury, Miss Fannie Bradbury, and Ernest F. Bradbury.

The second school building was erected at the northwest corner of Madison and North Locust streets. Before its completion, it burned - reputedly by a painter who was unsuccessful in obtaining the contract to paint the new building.   A larger school building was quickly erected at the same site, costing between $5,000.00 and $6,000.00.  In 1875, it also burned to the ground - of a suspicious fire.

In the summer of 1876, the new school (subsequently known as the "East Side" school) at Sheldon and Jacques Streets was completed - costing approximately $10,000.00.  The school board members at the time the school was opened were:

  • H.C. Kelly
  • J.M. Righter
  • A.L. Clark

It continued to serve lower grade students until the present K-8 building was constructed on the High School campus in 1957. The building was purchased by Libman Company and is presently part of the company's Arcola manufacturing facility.

The earliest known date for a school on the west side of Arcola is 1862. The Baptist Church building (at the time located on the site of the present Free Methodist Church) was used for the students on the west side of the Illinois Central railroad (now the Canadian National railroad) tracks who were in the primary grades. The first known teacher was Miss Caddie Gruelle.

In the early 1870's, a single story building was erected on West Washington street (on the site of the current apartments). A second story was added shortly thereafter.

The two story brick building shown here (and subsequently known as the "West Side" school) was erected in 1910. It continued to serve upper grade elementary students until the present K-8 building was constructed on the High School campus in 1957. The building was subsequently demolished - replaced with apartment buildings currently on the site.

Several attempts were made to organize a High School. In 1882, the first class graduated from Arcola High School. (Click for the 1882 Commencement program.) The principal of the high school was Taylor C. Clendenen. Prior to Clendenen's tenure, F. A. E. Starr developed the initial high school course curriculum. It was revised somewhat by Clendenen and was used for many years without significant changes.

School Board members in 1881 were:

  • S. L. Woodworth
  • Solomon Dorman
  • G. L. Wicks

School Board members in 1883 were:

  • D. A. Woodland
  • W. P. Boyd
  • S. L. Woodworth

An Alumni Directory from the 1922 "Torch" documents the graduating classes from 1882 through 1921.

Following formation of the community school district, the community high school building was erected in 1917 on the school campus at 351 W. Washington Street - between Arcola and Diamond Streets. The contract to construct the three story brick building was $125,000.00. Because of skyrocketing materials costs during World War I, the general contractor reported a loss of over $30,000.00 on the contract.

All four years of high school classes were consolidated into the building. Elementary classes continued to be located in the East and West side school buildings.

In October 1941, the high school was destroyed by fire - thought to have been started by a lightning strike during the night. The fire was discovered at approximately 4:00 AM by Asa Bryant, a local resident starting out on his daily bread route. A severe thunderstorm struck the Arcola area a few hours before the fire was discovered. While the building and its contents were seriously damaged, it was not completely destroyed.

It required approximately seven hours before the Arcola and Mattoon fire departments were able to put out the fire. Until the Mattoon fire department arrived with a ladder truck, the Arcola firemen were unable to get to the upper level of the building. The entire roof of the building was consumed and fell into the 3rd floor classrooms and the two story tall auditorium. Extensive smoke and water damage occurred throughout the building.

Photo by Harold Kearns, Arcola Record-Herald

Photo from Decatur Herald-Review

Voters approved a bond issue for a new grade school and other buildings to be built on the high school grounds by a 5-1 margin in October, 1954. Bonds amounting to $490,000 would be issued to build the 16-room school. The contract was let in March 1955. The new school opened in the Fall of 1956. Rooms were decorated in bright colors, the new gym could hold a crowd of nearly 3,000 and for the first time in the history of Arcola, students went to school in the same location, except for those who attended the Bagdad country school.

Subsequent expansions to the school complex were completed in 1980 and 2004.

View historical photos from the 1920's of the high school building.


  • Amazing Arcola: The Little Town That Could And Did by Eva Ridenour
  • Arcola Centennial (1955) Program
  • Arcola Record-Herald
  • The Weekly Arcolian
  • Decatur Herald-Review
  • Harold Good

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Last Revision March 22, 2023