My name is Jessica Newell and I am a senior at Harrisburg High School in Harrisburg, Illinois. My classmate Julia Russell and I have been working to save our high school building from being demolished. The school is composed of four buildings, dating from 1903 to 1950. After doing a great amount of research on it, we found that our school not only has historical merit architecturally, but played host to a number of significant events over the years.
We found documentation that stated Eleanor Roosevelt visited our school in 1936. At that time the WPA was showing a large display of their programs in the Harrisburg gymnasium. Mrs. Roosevelt gave a speech in our gym that day. In addition, pilot Amelia Earhart spoke at our school by invitation of the business department that same year. In 1938, the WPA built an addition to our school in honor of teacher Bess Pemberton.
The architecture of the high school also has importance and value. The 1903 building was built in an Edwardian style. It still retains its solid wood molding, plaster walls, and decorative brickwork. The 1914 addition includes a gymnasium, still outfitted with all hardwood bleachers and decorative carving. The 1921 and 1938 additions are built in an Art Deco style. Finally, Davenport Gym was constructed in 1950. All the buildings contain detailed murals painted by students during the 1950s and before. For example, one such mural depicts the neighborhood surrounding the school as it was in 1952. Many of the buildings are clearly identifiable as some which are still standing today.
The school has survived intact for over 100 years, despite the effects of time and natural disasters. Harrisburg experienced a major flood in 1937, but the school survived this and acted as a shelter and boat dock for citizens. Much more recently, the EF 4 tornado that swept through Harrisburg left the high school without damage, although damage was experienced throughout the surrounding neighborhood.
Harrisburg High School is an integral part of our community. This year the school district celebrated its 150th anniversary. Julia and myself would like to see the high school brought back to its former glory, instead of being torn down the year that the district is celebrating its long history. We are circulating a petition, and doing all we can to get the word out. We would like to continue this and convince our school board that it is more cost effective and will be more beneficial to the community to keep the high school intact.