The first public school law in Illinois was the Free School Act of 1825. This act provided that common schools should be established in each county of the state, which were to be free and open to all white citizens between the ages of 5 and 21.
This law was amended two years later because some families that did not have children did not want to pay taxes to support the school. Because this weakened the Law of 1825, few public schools were established.
As Illinois was settled in the first half of the 19th century, schools were often established in each settlement. These schools were not free tax-supported schools but rather “subscription” schools where parents paid to have their children enrolled.
Often these schools were privately operated, and if they could not hire a private teacher, then a local minister, lawyer, doctor or some other person in the community taught the students.
In 1845, a Free School Act was passed in Illinois that gave voters the opportunity to meet together to determine the possibility of levying taxes for the support of building and/or repairing schoolhouses.
When the third Constitution of the State of Illinois was approved in 1870, Article VIII stated, “the General Assembly shall provide a thorough and efficient system of free schools, whereby all the children of the State shall receive a good common school education.” With this Article, it was mandated that all counties in the state must organize elementary school districts.
In Joliet, two of the early school buildings in the township that were erected as a result of this act were located in downtown on Webster Street, between Chicago and Scott streets. These structures were known as the Roosevelt building and the Central building.
The Roosevelt building, located on the northeast corner of Chicago and Webster Streets, was a three-story, stone structure constructed in 1881, and the Central building, located on the northwest corner of Scott and Webster Streets, was a brick building built in 1908.
The Roosevelt School served as the city’s public high school until a new building on Jefferson Street was constructed in 1901. Central Junior High closed in 1956 when it was razed to make room for the J.C. Penney’s and Woolworth’s stores.
By 1899, overcrowded conditions prompted voters to establish a new township high school and approve the purchase of a new site for the construction of a new school at the corner of Jefferson Street and Eastern Avenue. In 1901, the Joliet Township High School was open to the hundreds of students enrolled that year.
Designed by Frank S. Allen and built in the Collegiate Gothic style, the building was constructed primarily of Joliet limestone and, for decorative detailing, Bedford stone was used on the exterior. The building’s interior included marble floors and stairs, arch-shaped doorways, and custom crafted solid oak doors.
The Adam Groth Company of Joliet was the general contractor for the new high school. Groth, who was born in Germany, learned the cut stone building trade from his father and arrived in Joliet and started his cut stone and contracting business in 1895. The Adam Groth and Company was known for its interior marble work as well as for its fine exterior cut stone. Much of the stone that Groth used came from Indiana and Minnesota as well as Joliet quarries.Additions and extensions were added to the high school over the years, including a 2,100-seat auditorium. More than 100 years later, the building still operates as a school and is commonly known as Joliet Central High School. The high school building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.