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Though many local residents do not know of its magnificent existence, East School with its tall clock tower has been in Pittsfield for 155 years. Construction planning started for East School in 1861 and money for the building was raised during 1862, but it was 1863 before construction begun. J.M. VanOrsdel of Chicago was the architect and John Huston of Griggsville the builder. The cost was $35,000.00 but by the time it was done and furnished the cost was $45,000.00.
The rock for the building was brought from Joliet and the bricks for the walls were made on North Monroe Street. From the ground to the top of the cupola, the school is 94 feet tall. It was heated by a furnace in the basement. Two outside privies were near the street on the east side of the school.
In October 1866 the school, built to hold 1200 scholars, a principal and a corps of assistants, opened for both grade and high school. Improvements were made gradually.
Though the correct dates are unknown, inside toilets were added probably about 1890. Electric lights were likely added about 1910. Blackboards were originally black paint on the walls, slate was put on over the paint possibly in 1900. Walks were originally wood, straight up from Jefferson Street to the front door and straight up the north door from Adams Street. Concrete was added at some time. The present bell and clock may be replacements for the original features in 1866. The clock is dated 1874 and the bell was cast in 1871.
East School was a part of the Pittsfield School District until the 1950s when South School and a new high school were built in the south part of town. The Pike County Historical Society bought the vacant East School and began a renovation program in 1978.
The northwest room was restored to its original look and used as a museum. John Wood Community College used the two first floor east rooms for about 10 years from 1979 and the Theater Guild leased a portion of the second floor for a theater.
JWCC moved out of the building and the Theater Guild left. The Pike County Historical Society has filled all four first floor rooms with donated/loaned items from over the area. They continue to refurbish the building by painting, tuck-pointing, roofing and other renovation projects as needed. The museum is open by appointment and weekends: Sat. and Sun. 12 noon to 4:00 pm, May through October. This month’s highlights are displays of quilts and Fritz Geisendorfer’s art.
Source: “Re-dedication of the Historic East School” booklet by the Pike County Historical Society in 1978 by Mrs. Barbara Grote, Jim Sanderson and Kermit Klinefelter.