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Seneca High School



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Building Our Tradition

Building, our tradition

We began Building Our Tradition in 1857.  The first school house for our community is 100 yards south of Jim Anderson’s home on the north hill.  This property was owned by the Irwin’s and Mrs. Irwin ran a Tea Room out of her home.  The town was originally settled on the north bluff.  In 1858, The Town of Crotty (as Seneca was known formerly) was in the LaSalle County directory as a town.  In 1859 Alex Vaughey arrives in Seneca, he is a school teacher for several years.  Mr. Vaughey was also a Policeman, Village Trustee, Village President (Mayor), treasurer, and the secretary for the Chicago Bridge and Iron Company.  A street in Seneca was named in his honor.  In 1861 Armour’s warehouse (known now as the Hogan Grain Elevator) was constructed on the north bank of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.  Grain was moved to and from the warehouse by way of the I&M Canal.  

In 1864, District #9 was organized and has 200 Grade and High School pupils.  Mr. Thomas Morrisey is the President of the Village (Mayor).  Grain was a million dollar business prompting construction of new elevators and warehouses and attracting a variety of businesses to the area.  In 1865 the town is incorporated as the Village of Crotty and the population was about 500.  At this time, the town has 2 schools.  Higgins school, Dist. #1, located north of town begins.  The teachers are Mr. Fred M. Higgins and Mr. Dan Holton.  Records show that a private school was taught by Mrs. Felix Sigler, probably in her home.  After the District was divided, another school was organized in the F. Penne Store at Scott and Main.  In 1866, the first River bridge was built in Seneca which eventually collapsed.  

In 1868, the trustees of Schools in Twp. 33 of bonified LaSalle County and their successors in office for the benefit of School District #9, bought Lots #1&2 in Blk. 5 of Underhill’s Addition to the town of Crotty.  This was home of one of the two original schools in town.  This Property later became known as the Clark home on the southeast corner of Commerce and Lincoln Streets.  Toilet facilities were outhouses.  The anteroom held wraps, school supplies, pails of water for drinking, using dippers.  Many female teachers wore long, dark skirts, and collar trimmed white blouses.  Furnishings in the classroom were quite simple – teacher’s and student’s desks, a blackboard, wall clock and on the teacher’s desk a bell to summon tardy students from recess.  Farm children, especially boys, attended country schools even when they had reached the age of twenty-one or over, as they had to help with the crops in busy seasons.  Early teachers in town were Fred Atkins, Mrs. O’Conner, Mrs. Young, Miss Davis and Myra Farrell.  The first Board of Education consisted of M. J. Hogan, lasted as Board President, F. H. Peechin, Eric Solberg, C.H.P. Thomas, Frank Timmins, Pat Meagher and F. B. Higgins.  In rural schools northwest of the village, Fred M. Higgins and Dan Holton taught.  Many times access to the schools was by walking the five or more miles, especially when roads were impassable.   

In 1870, Seneca is approximately one and one half miles long and one mile wide.  The majority of the residences are situated between the river and the I&M Canal.  Listed in the 1876 Atlas is a notation of School No. 11, one and three quarters of a mile west of the village; Higgins School, No. 1, north of the town; Mitchell School No. 7, north of Manlius Church and Cemetery, about a mile west; School No. 9 on the corner of Commerce and Lincoln Streets.  In 1872, a second story addition is erected on School No. 9 making this a two room classroom.  

In 1877, The River Bridge collapsed and was replaced by a “fine iron bridge”.  Seneca is the leading shipping point for grain in LaSalle county along the I&M Canal.  In 1879 a fire consumed much of the village.  Nearly all the business houses were swept away, nineteen in all.  Both sides of what is now the business street were left in a charred and ruined condition.

In 1884, a four room school was built on the corner of Commerce and Scott Streets.  This structure was later increased to 6 rooms.  This property was purchased from David L. Carpenter on 8/16/1884 for $800.00.  In 1885, Charles P. Sanders was the Superintendent for the School.  Seneca’s population had grown to almost 1,500.  In 1889 a high school program was offered in Seneca.  The Superintendent alone taught the 3 year course in one room of the 6 room building originally erected in 1884.  

In 1895, M.J. Hogan was president of the Board of Education and the members were C.H.R. Thomas, D. P. Cahill, F.H. Peechin, Pat Meagher, E. Solberg, and Frank Timmins.  The school faculty for the high school was C.J. Byrane, Principal.  The grammar room teacher was George R. Williams, Second Intermediate, Miss Minnie McFarlane, First Intermediate, Miss Isabel Alston, Second Primary, Miss Manie Cosgrove, and Primary Miss J. J. Byrne.  
In 1907, an article written about Seneca appeared in a local paper – “Seneca is charmingly located on a bend on the Illinois River and on the Illinois-Michigan Canal.  It is well drained land with a vision of beauty.  It is a city of trees, so that it appears like a park from early spring until late fall.  The people of Seneca are well educated, up-to-date, and a progressive class, believing in education and giving their cordial support to the schools and churches.  Honesty and fairness characterize the business men who are fully worthy of the confidence which they enjoy from their country customers.”

In 1910, Seneca High School is contemplating adding a 4th year to its curriculum which will mean a new teacher will need to be added to the staff.  As Seneca is debating this, Marseilles files a petition to create a Township High School which would incorporate Manlius Twp. into this proposal and the High School students in Seneca will have to travel to Marseilles to complete their education.  On March 25, 1910, Marseilles files in hopes of building a new school.  This comes up for vote on April 9, 1910 and the vote by the Seneca residents is returned 1 vote in favor and 299 votes against their being a Twp High School for Manlius.  On April 30, 1010, the BOE at SHS votes to add a 4th yr. to the H.S. course and add one more teacher to their staff.  

In 1911, Seneca High School is unincorporated.  In April, Districts 161, 165, and 166 are united to form Dist. 160 representing Twp. 33, Range 5.  In June of 1911, farmers petition to enroll pupils from Dist. 164 – Butterfield School; Dist. 167 – McIntyre School, and Dist. 162 – Mitchell School (located north of Manlius Church) into Seneca Twp. High School’s Dist. 160.  The first graduates of Seneca Twp High School are Miss Maude McNeal and Mr. Harry Gloyd.  This ceremony takes place on June 26, 1912.  

In 1921, Seneca High School erects a new school designed to house 100 students.  This building contains one large auditorium-gymnasium room.  The High School serves Dist. 160.  This school is erected on property bought by David L. and Amanda M. Carpenter.  The new school project wins 2 to 1 by the community vote.  In 1922, William A. and Ida (Carpenter) Graves sell adjacent property to the School to be utilized as a playground and then for future growth for the school.  This property was bordering the school’s property upon it east boundary.  

In 1931, Seneca High School gets termed “Big Little School”.  SHS is one of the biggest little schools in the state of Illinois.  There are 100 students in SHS and classes have 25-30 pupils per class.  The North Central Accredited Association allows only 30 students per class.  

In 1942, Seneca was chosen by the Chicago Bridge and Iron as the location to construct L.S.T.  This caused a great increase in school enrollment.  In addition to the Grade School, classes were conducted in the War Homes.  A Nursery School, known as the Little Skipper School and a Kindergarten were organized by the Federal Government in 1942.  Additional schools were constructed at Riverview and Victory Court.  A nursery School called the Jack Tarr School was conducted at Victory Court in 1943.  Enrollment in the Grade School in 1944 was over 700.  In 1950, Districts 164 and 165 became Community Consolidated District 170.  

In 1945, LaSalle County has 283 School Districts.  There are 242 One-Room, One-Teacher Elementary Districts.  There are 26 two or more teacher elementary Districts.  There are 13 High Schools in LaSalle County and there is one Unit District (Marseilles).  There is one Non-high school.  

In 1947-48, there are 75 one room rural schools in operation.  There are 13 high schools in operation in the county enrolling 4,122 students and employing 235 teachers.  Some of these districts extend into adjoining counties.  Seneca High School’s enrollment at this time is 147.  Suggested District No. 5 is the territory which presents the problem of two high schools, one at Marseilles with about 285 pupils and one at Seneca with about 150 pupils, on U.S Route 6, about five miles apart.  A majority of each community is opposed to becoming part of any enlarged community unit district because it fears it means the ultimate closing of the local high school attendance center.  The people in surrounding rural areas are opposed to the resulting increase in school taxes.

In 1950, the remodeled High School building is dedicated.  The addition consists of a new workshop and a new gym.  This addition was built upon the land which was previously occupied by the Grade School building.  
In 1953, Seneca High School receives a Quit Claim Deed for Property conveyed by the United States Government to the Seneca Public School.  In 1954, SHS receives a Quit Claim Deed for Property conveyed by the United States Government to the Village of Seneca.  In 1969 Seneca High School is proposing building a new High School.  Research is done to see if an addition to the building can be done to the south on the low land.  

In August of 1976, there is a meeting regarding a Seneca-Marseilles Unit Merger.  Seneca Township High School Board withdraws all support and actively opposes the formation of a Seneca-Marseilles Unit District Merger.  Superintendent Nolan discusses the Building Program research the needs of the High School mentioning that they do not have a cafeteria and gymnasium amongst other things are needed.  Three studies were researched:  1) Erect an entire new school.  2)  Tear down the 1922 building and keep the 1950 and 1966 additions and add on to them.  3)  Remodel the 1922 building.  

In 1978, the Current Seneca High School begins construction.  First class to graduate from this building is the Class of 1981.  The graduating class of 1981 was 76.

In 1979, the Northeast portion of West Campus is demolished.  

In 1989, the merger with Mazon Verona Kinsman and Seneca Township High School takes place and student enrollment is increased.  The graduation class of 1990 was 58.  

In 1993, a one story classroom addition is built west of the Main Campus.  

In 1996, the addition to the Ag area facilities is constructed.  Since 1945, the Ag Department presently holds 13 consecutive 1st place titles.   The graduation class of 1997 was 131.

In 2004, additional space was added to the Ag Department.  This area was reconfigured to accommodate for a Fitness Center which supplements the physical education program.  The graduation class of 2005 was 158.

In 2009, a one story addition is added to the north side of the building making the cafeteria serving and storage area better equipped to serve the students their lunch.  More seating is also added to the Commons.

It is often said that history repeats itself and as you can see, educating the students in Seneca’s community has always been a priority.  We have always strived to be a forward thinking community and have never failed to adapt to the needs that arise.  In 1911, we became a High School District and at the completion of that year we had two graduates.  This was just the beginning.  Some might have speculated that the need was not large enough to support the efforts and perhaps if one were only looked at the present day benefit that would be accurate; however, we have a tradition of being forward thinking.  One can only imagine what future generations will see.  If our past is the foundation, we have solid ground to build upon.
The following sources were referenced in the compiling of this article:
• Newspaper Articles clipped and saved by Peg Davis
• National Register of Historic Places
• Deeds on file at Seneca High School
• About the Village of Seneca article posted by Seneca Public Library
• Articles written by Gerald Hoben
• Our Prairie Shipyard
• Seneca Area Centennial Celebration
• 1948 LaSalle County School Survey
• History of LaSalle County – Manlius Twp.
• Things you may or may not know about Seneca