The Origin of St. Charles High School

Since 1854 St. Charles High School has been a continuing source of strength and pride in our community. Charles H. Haines (1844-1914) was a community leader, businessman, and philanthropist and was the first major benefactor of the public schools in St. Charles, Illinois. A bachelor with a love of children and high regard for education, Haines served on the Board of Education for seventeen years, donated the property on which four schools and an administrative center have been built, and established a trust fund which helped the schools get through the Depression, and continued to provide funds for projects into the late 1990’s.

Prior to the 1850’s, there were no public, tax-supported schools to serve the St. Charles area. Instead, tuition or subscription schools, often held in private homes or on the upper floors of commercial buildings, offered instruction in reading, writing, penmanship, geography, and mathematics to children whose parents were willing to pay for the teaching.

In St. Charles, residents did raise money by subscription to build a small school on East Main between North Second and Third Avenues and a frame school on the northeast corner of Cedar and Fourth Avenues in the 1830’s, but these schools were not tax supported. Grade levels, as years in school as they are currently thought of, generally did not exist in schools during this period. Instead, the level of reader used by the student determined the student’s level in school. Thus, there were no high schools in the later sense of the word.

With the passage of state legislation enabling the creation of school districts and the levying of taxes for their support, public schools quickly developed in the area. So quickly, in fact, that the claim has been made that St. Charles had the first public school in Illinois. School Districts 7 and 8 were created, one for each side of the Fox River, and two separate school boards set about providing for the educational needs of the community’s children.

The East & West Side School

The West Side School, a brick building on the southeast corner of Illinois and Fifth Streets, was built in 1854 by Seth Marvin at a cost of $6,000 to serve the students in District 8. In 1856 the brick East Side School was built at a cost of $15,000 to serve the students of District 7. Each school had four rooms to serve grades one through eight and an additional room for students in the high school program. It is during this period that one begins to find references to a high school, as in “East St. Charles High School.” By the 1920’s the Haines School was crowded and expanded facilities were needed. To meet the enrollment needs, a new high school building on the southwest corner of Seventh and Main Streets, property which had also been donated by Charles Haines, was dedicated on March 12, 1926.

According to the X-Ray, the student newspaper, for March 12, 1936, the new building cost $250,000 and each of the seventeen classrooms were “fitted with the most up-to-date equipment available for the particular subject taught in the room.” Col. Edward J. Baker contributed $30,000 to the construction of the building, and additional money came from a trust fund which the school district received from Haines at his death in 1914.

After World War II, change came quickly. High School District 150, Elementary District 87 and Little Woods District 79 were consolidated through a referendum in 1949 to form Community Unit District 303. In 1950 Illinois abolished two-year high school programs and the residents covered by the Wasco two-year program voted to consolidate with St. Charles High School. By 1955, it was necessary for the voters to approve a referendum for $825,000 for an addition to the high school. 

The new science wing, which was dedicated on May 24, 1959, was recognized as one of the top facilities of its kind in the nation. With the construction of the new Haines School on Ninth Street between Oak and Indiana, the junior high and high school students once again had separate facilities.

Dunham Road Site

St. Charles High School moved to the Dunham Road site north of Route 64 in 1977. The development of this site was made possible by the donation of the land by Dellora and Lester Norris and St. Charles Charities to the school district. After several defeats by the voters, a referendum was finally passed which enabled the property to be developed as a school campus. Dunham Junior High School, a building with open classrooms arranged around the library, was dedicated on the site in 1973. These facilities were modified to convert the Dunham Building into a wing of the new high school which was then constructed on the site. When Saint Charles High School moved to the site in 1977, the ninth grade was again a part of the program, providing relief for enrollment at the junior high level as well.

The campus grew quickly. The new construction included an auditorium for public and school use and connected the recreation center to the high school, providing athletic facilities for both the community and the school. The use of solar panels on the roof of the main building to provide part of the energy needs was the basis of the school’s national reputation as a solar power pioneer. 

An indoor sports complex and outdoor athletic facilities were added. As enrollment increased, however, the Dunham campus faced the same problems that had forced the school from the building at West Main and Seventh Street. Mobile units were put up to provide six additional classrooms and the schedule was expanded to a nine-period day. Finally, a referendum was passed which permitted the construction of a second building on campus, which provided relief for the expanding enrollment. The North Building on the Dunham campus opened in 1995. In spite of the space limitations, St. Charles High School was recognized nationally for excellence as a National Blue Ribbon School of 1994-96 by the United States Department of Education. Beginning with the 2000-2001 school year District 303 now has two high schools, St. Charles East High School and St. Charles North High School. 

The North High School is located at the old Wredling Middle School site, and Wredling Middle School now occupies what was once the North Building of St. Charles High School.

Temporary Relocations, post-2000

In April of 2001 students and staff were relocated to share the facilities on the campus of North High School, due to the unexpected closing of East because of environmental concerns. For the 2001-02 school year St. Charles East was temporarily housed at Wredling Middle School with the addition of 44 mobile classrooms and offices.

In 2002-03 we reoccupied our renovated home building, and in the fall the work began on the construction of five new additions: a student services area, a band room and black box theater, a weight room, a trainer’s room, and a girls’ athletic locker room. 

Over the spring and summer the building underwent extensive interior remodeling, resulting in an exemplary facility for the students of St. Charles East High School.