Stuart Elementary School

Stuart School in 1963 (SJR photo)

Stuart School in 1963 (SJR photo)

The Sixth Ward Primary School, located between Sixth and Seventh streets and Vine Street and South Grand Avenue, was the first Springfield public school organized after the original four ward schools. Stuart was built in 1883 and closed after the 1967-68 academic year.

The original building was an 11-room, two-story structure that housed eight grades.  Stuart was partially destroyed by fire in 1897 and rebuilt the next year. The school was remodeled in 1914 to include an auditorium, and, in 1924, a six-room addition was constructed adjoining the old building, at a cost of $86,000.

The Sixth Ward Primary school was officially renamed Stuart School in honor of John Todd Stuart (1807-85), a pioneer resident of Sangamon County and former law partner of Abraham Lincoln. (See more below.)

The original graduating class in 1891 had the following members: Fred Anred, Mamie Bradish, Charles Colby, Ralph Dickerman, Luella Forden, Willie Hankin, Bertha Ihlenfeldt, Mamie Mills, Edna Pauin, Annie Schirnding,  Harry Stockwell, Willie Barnett, Florence Clark, Laura Coe, May Eads, Harry Gatton, Blossom Hickox, May McCasker, Charles Neal, Frank Simmons. James Silva, Birdie Van Duyn, and Guy Withrow.

The first principal was Jennie Irwin, who served from 1883 to 1885. Among other Stuart School principals were two who were there for many years: Nellie Engelkirchen (1875-1942), who led the school from 1911 until 1936, and Pauline Leasman (1908-2006), who was at Stuart from 1948 until 1965.

Pauline Leasman, 1972

Pauline Leasman, 1972

According to a State Journal-Register article, Leasman wept when she was first appointed principal. She had turned down three principalship offers because “she only wanted to be a teacher and close to her students.”

As a principal, Leasman was  as close to her students as she had been  as a teacher. One of her earliest accomplishments was to replace departmentalized teaching with a teacher for each grade. This idea was so successful that the school district abandoned departmentalization at the elementary school level.

Alberta Inez Rogers (1883-1970) started the first crippled children’s school at Stuart  in 1925, when it was still considered unsafe for polio victims to associate with healthy children.  It was the first such program outside of Chicago.  Rogers stayed at the school for 23 years.

The disabled children were chauffeured to school by Lloyd Coleman. In cold weather if his car would not start, he would personally carry each of the eight students to and from school on his back. Stuart continued to educate students with disabilities until the 1960s.

By then, however, the school’s location had made it an attractive commercial site, and a business group approached school officials about buying the property in 1961. Fifty people attended the Oct. 10, 1961, school board meeting in support of keeping Stuart as an elementary school, and the board took no action on the proposal.

An 80th birthday celebration was held for the school on Nov. 12, 1963. Among those who attended were Alberta Inez Rogers and 1898 graduate Sidney B. Smith. Eight of the school teachers at the time had taught there together for 20 years.

Also in 1963, however, a Citizens School Survey committee noted that enrollment had been declining at Lawrence, Hay-Edwards and Stuart schools. Ray Swartout, chairman of the committee, called Stuart one of the finest schools in Springfield with one of the finest faculties, but the committee also determined that, of the three schools, the Stuart School property had the most commercial value.

The committee recommended the school be sold, and, despite another protest by Stuart parents and advocates, the school board voted in 1966 to do so.

The first steps toward closing Stuart actually had taken place in 1965, when 120 students were reassigned from Stuart to Hay-Edwards and 120 more were sent to Lawrence. (Also in 1965, Pauline Leasman was named principal of Butler Elementary School, and Edward Ianni became teaching principal at Stuart.)

In 1967, the newer building – the north half of the Stuart School block — was sold to Dr. Mario Gospodinoff to be used as a psychiatric and diagnostic treatment center. The south half – the South Grand Avenue frontage — was split into two sections; the southeast corner was sold for a Lum’s restaurant, while the southwest corner was purchased as a gas station site.

Stuart School, the oldest continuously operating building in the Springfield School District, closed the doors on its last students in May 1968.

In 2015, the entire south half of the block was occupied by a CVS pharmacy.

John Todd Stuart

John Todd Stuart

John Todd Stuart

John Todd Stuart, born in 1807 near Lexington, Ky., was a cousin of Mary Lincoln. He came to Sangamon County in 1828.

Abraham Lincoln and Stuart were in the same battalion in the Black Hawk War. Stuart encouraged Lincoln to study law and loaned him law books, and they were law firm partners from 1837 to 1841.

Beginning in 1843, Stuart started a law partnership with Benjamin Edwards that lasted 40 years. The firm continues today as Brown, Hay & Stephens; partners include John Todd Stuart’s great-great-grandson.

Although Stuart and Lincoln did not always agree – as a Democratic member of Congress from 1863 until 1865, Stuart opposed emancipation. However, Stuart later became president of the Lincoln National Monument Association, which built and operated Lincoln’s Tomb until 1895.

For more information, see John Todd Stuart’s memoir of Springfield.

Contributor: Kathy Dehenschs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.


This entry was posted in Buildings, Early residents, Education, John T. Stuart, Prominent figures, Schools and school districts, Women. Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to Stuart Elementary School

  1. Kathy Dodson says:

    Ah, memories. My first grade classroom was in the upper left hand corner of this picture. The space in between the two buildings is where we played “red rover”. There were no hot meals for lunches. We all brought sack or box lunches. There were “cloak rooms” outside of the classrooms where coats were hung and galoshes were stored. This is also where we went during tornado drills. The school also boasted a beautiful wooden staircase. Thanks for posting this.

  2. J Cates says:

    That was my first elementary school in Springfield, Illinois. It really was a great school. I remember my class was in the basement, and they had windows that pushed out above. I had a great, math teacher, who took the time to help me. I remember the kids were sliding over some ice on the sidewalk, and I thought I could do it, and I slipped and fell on my back and was in shock to find myself lying there. Then I saw the other children come over and look at me, to see if I was okay, and that’s when I started wailing like a banshee…LOL! Funny memory. What’s even more amusing, the same little black girl who came up to me, I met her on the bus, when we were teenagers, and she remembered me and that incident…LMAO! Stuart School was a small trek for me, but, I did it in the rain, snow and sunny days. I lived with my grandmother and mother on Thirteenth near Stuart, just North of South Grand, the street was so pretty, and idllyic with the beautiful trees lining the sidewalks on both sides, it was a nice, little neighborhood back then. I would walk three blocks to South Grand, and then walk all the way from 13th Street to 7th street, past the Chilli Den, where my mom worked, and under the train tracks, till I came to the school, which was catty-corner to the Steak n Shake across the street, where my mother worked there, too, sometimes, as a car hop. Great days back in the early 60s.

  3. Mary (Dunkel) Kinner says:

    I was in Stuart school from 1955- 1961. I loved that school. The staircase was so beautiful and huge. Had to step up some little steps to get to my 1st grade class, Miss Kellum. Mrs. Nudo was my 4th, 5th, and 6 th grade teacher. She also was my patrol official. I was captain for the patrol and helped with the kids crossing the streets outside. Since I was the captain I got to ride the fire truck’s basket to the top of the school’s roof for the ride up and down. Thankful I found the picture of the school. Had speech teacher, sorry can’t remember her name. Also had Mrs Glick for 2nd grade. Loved the stage they had there. It was a wonderful old school. Hard to find them now. Love to hear from other people.

  4. Nancy says:

    I attended Stuart School from ’55 through June, 1961. I loved the school with the beautiful wood floors and playing dodgeball in the gym and the huge swingset and monkey bars. I remember Mrs. Kellum for 1st grade, Miss Glick for 2nd, Mrs. Byerly for 3rd, Miss Carroll for 4th and 5th, and the elegant Mrs. Hayes for 6th. Almost had Mrs. Hankins for 4th. Fourth through 6th grades were in the newer building along Vine Street. Still remember Vine with its brick pavers. I can’t remember the kindergarten teacher’s name, but I remember the nap time and not being able to sleep. And I remember Mrs. Leasman as the principal. I remember many kids’ names. I loved being a patrol guard in front of the A&P at 7th and So Grand. Sad that the school is gone and very sad that I have no photos of each class. I don’t remember any being taken.

  5. Randall Moore says:

    I attended Stuart Grade School from 1953 to 1960….Lived only 4 blocks from the school so friends and I would walk back after school to use the basketball courts on
    south grand side . Learned to love reading from the many fine teachers who introduced
    us to great books by simply reading to us in the lower grades. Ms Leasman was a friend of my mothers and she attended her funeral. Spoke briefly with her and told her that Stuart under her leadership was like a family to me. She seemed to appreciate
    this observation. After Stuart all other schools I attended were a let down…

  6. Norma Canham says:

    I graduated from Stuart School in 1946. Wow, how time flies. The building as shown in the picture, looked pretty much like that when I was there. I’d like to see the other side of the building, the “new building.” I often think of this school and my experiences there from kindergarten through 8th grade. I had wonderful teachers, including Clara Michener (spelling?), Miss Long, Miss McNutt, Miss Lawler, Miss Casey,and others whose names I don’t remember. Thanks for posting the photo.

  7. Allen J Black says:

    From classmate of Norma, Allen Black. Remember you well.
    I think Miss Robinson was the math teacher. And for second grade Ms Genowich?
    And didn’t Ms Wylie do music?

    Best wishes!

  8. Bill J. Hosking says:

    I attended Stuart from 1940 through 1948. All of the above comments bring back memories. During my time WWII was in progress. We bought savings stamps for 25 cents and when we got enough we could get a savings bond. We had a class victory box to put cans and rubber which we took to old fire station No. 6 (southeast corner of 4th and South Grand). There were victory gardens started by some classmates. Rationing was in effect (gas, rubber,sugar,coffee,silk stockings for women). Many of the teachers listed above were there then, Lawler, Michler, Genowich, Carrol, Robinson, Karr, Davis, Casey, Long. I went to the final get together at the time the school closed. In the gym they had pictures of 8th grade graduating classes plus the grades earned. Sidney Smith, listed above, was there when it was called the sixth ward school, enjoyed seeing the deportment (conduct) remarks given by teachers of his classmates. I knew Sidney who went to the same church as my parents did. Those of us walking from the south should remember Mr. Carter, to lone crossing guard (wore a badge and police hat). During the time he was there, no student was ever injured crossing the street. South Grand was route City U.S. 66 and therefore very busy. Sixth street was two way then. Much more could be written, but….

  9. Kenna Byers Bertelli says:

    I was in the last second grade class before closing. I think I’m crazy about old Manson’s
    Because being a student . We lived 1600 block of south 7th street. I can remember miss Kellum , I think she was the teacher that put students (me) in in corner with dunce hat .
    But I loved that school. And I loved mrs leasman .

  10. Sandy Wells says:

    I attended Stuart School from 1956 to 1963 when I moved to California. I remember the playground and the huge swings. I spent my recesses running around the large playground chasing the boys. I was also a crossing guard but can’t remember which corner. Mary Dunkel was in my class I think her mother ran the Brownies after school (in the basement which I remember eating my lunch0. I had Miss Nudo for 5th & 6th grade. Does anyone remember the candy that was sold in the hall (penny candy)? Loved the gym and remember putting on plays. Would love to find my old classmates.

    • Mary E Kinner says:

      nice to see your comments of Stuart. I had forgot of the candy being sold, and thanks for the memories of my mother. Hope you are well during this year. Thanks again.

  11. Jackie Schien Carey says:

    The article and comments above brought back a lot of memories. My sisters, brother and I all went to school there. The oldest started in 1939 and the youngest (me) started in 1951. I loved Miss Kellum. I had her for second grade split with half of the class in the first grade (Baby boom times). Loved watching and giving performances on the stage. I bought candy and sold candy in the big hallway. Loved the Fall Festivals, the paper drives. I think I was in Miss Carroll’s class when we made posters and marched downtown to promote a tax increase to build the new junior high schools. It was a good place to grow up.

  12. Janet (Smock) Mangalavite says:

    Yes, I loved Stuart School. It was a friendly school, good teachers and Miss Leasman as Principal. My sister and I walked to school as we lived on 9th Street. I think of the school every time we drive down South Grand. There was so much on South Grand, A&P Grocery store, dairy queen and is was a safe neighborhood. In the last few years, I have seen a girl that I remembered going to that school and she remembered me. I also remember the paper drives that they had. Most of all, I remember Miss Leasman having the sock hops in the auditorium after school. Those were the most fun.

  13. Annie Isaac says:

    I went to Stuart for only 2 weeks in the 40’s . . had measles the other 2 weeks. I remember walking alone to get my report card . . not a very good memory! We moved so often during WWII. I then went to Stuart for 1 year in 1948-49 (my 8th grade) where I met another girl who would become my friend for over 70 years now . . . so that is a good memory. I do remember that Ms. McNutt was my teacher who let me recite on my lunch hour something that was required to graduate because I had too much anxiety to do this in front of the entire class. She was a very special lady!!!

  14. Brett Birnbaum says:

    This is all soooo interesting!!! We just found a book titled “Fry’s Complete Geography – Illinois Edition” that belonged to my great, great, uncle, Willy Scheffler. The book was copyrighted in 1899 and included a 1900 update. Uncle Willy’s name was in the front of the book with “Stuart School” underneath. There is also has a stamp in the front for Bruno Scheffler Bakery, Groceries, & Confectionaries which was located 1128 S. First St. Springfield, Ills.

    Fun fact: Someone wrote in the book “Why does the fly fly? Because the spider spyed her.”

    I’m happy to learn more about the school through this website. Thanks to any and all responsible for providing the information.

  15. Grace McNelly Kane says:

    I attended Stuart Grade School from 1947 when I was in 3rd grade until Sept of 1953 when I was starting 8th grade. I transferred to another school when our family moved to a farm. It was a great school. I remember the principal, Ms Leasman. I remember many of the students in my class. My mother was very active in the PTA and was a Girl Scout Leader. I believe it was ahead of its time in teaching. I would like to see a picture of the 8th grade graduating class of 1953.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *