Museums are closed for the winter. Open by Appointment Only
This National Register site serves as the Historical Society museum.
The museum is closed for the winter. Tours by appointment only until May 2024.
The Historic East School building is the home of The Pike County Historical Society Museum and office. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. It is number 51 on the Register.
East School was planned in 1861 after the state legislature provided the legal means of support through taxation. The Pittsfield District was established by the state legislature during the 1860-1861 session. It covered an area two and a half miles square in Pittsfield and Newburg Townships. The building plans were drawn by Chicago architect J.M. Van Osdel. Money was raised starting in 1862 but work on the building did not start until September of 1863 and was finished in the summer of 1866. The contractor was John Houston of Griggsville and carpenters were Mr. C. Mills and his son George. The original cost estimate was $35,000 but the final cost was closer to $45,000. The extra cost meant some changes were made during construction including 16 windows which were filled in with brick to save the cost of sashes and trim and the bell and clock were not installed. The windows were never finished but the bell and clock were added in 1871 as a gift from Colonel Ross. The directors responsible for construction were W.A. Grimshaw, C.L. Higbee, D.D. Hicks, I.G. Hodgen, L.L. Talcott, A.F. Spencer, G.W. Jones and N.A. Wells.
The building has eight classrooms measuring 29’ by 42’ with a 15’ ceiling height. Each classroom has a closet and a recitation room. There is a central staircase and fire escapes on the east and west ends of the building giving each classroom two exits from the building. The basement is finished and had furnaces to heat the building through flues in the walls. There is also a unique ventilation system to vent each classroom and provide fresh air. The attic runs the length and width of the building and provided a recess area when needed. A separate building was built to the east near the street for restrooms. It is no longer standing and no pictures have been found. The original blackboards were painted on the plaster walls and slate was added over the painted walls later. The clock mechanism was made by the Howard Clock Company of Boston. The bell was cast in 1871 by the Troy Bell Foundry of the Jones Company, Troy, NY.
The building was used for classes until 1955 then used for storage. New wood frame buildings were built to the north and west for a cafeteria and classrooms and a gym was added on the northwest corner of the lot. These buildings were not attached to the original brick building. The original building remains as it was built with the exception of concrete stairs on the east and west that replaced wood stairs and a wooden wheelchair ramp on the north that replaced the original stone steps. The interior plan has also remained original except bathrooms were added on each floor and some changes were made to accommodate the Theater Guild upstairs. This makes it the only surviving building by Van Osdel that has not been significantly altered.
In 1970 the school district made plans to demolish East School over safety concerns. The building was only used for storage and was in bad need of repair, especially the roof and some of the brickwork where the gutters were leaking. This led to efforts to save the building by the Historical Society and concerned citizens. A historic preservation ordinance in force from 1968 held off demolition and gave the Historical Society time to raise funds for repairs. In 1971 the building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Negotiations between the school board and the Historical Society continued through 1973. The school board again asked for demolition bids in April 1973 when the Historical Society failed to raise enough money for repairs. With demolition planned, Dr. Tom Bunting spoke to the school board and offered a compromise. He was willing to make up the needed restoration funds. The school district would lease the building to the historical society for $1 a year. In return the historical society would insure the building and make the needed repairs. This saved the building and relieved the school district of any financial obligations or insurance liability.
On December 20, 1977, a CETA grant of $143,000 was announced that allowed repairs to be made inside the building covering damage from leaking roofs and gutters and providing handicap access to the first floor. After these repairs were made The Pike County Historical Society occupied the west rooms downstairs. The Theater Guild occupied the second floor except for the southeast room which was the restoration workshop for Kermit Klinefelter. A re-dedication celebration for East School was held July 23, 1978. In June of 1979 John Wood Community College opened its Pittsfield Open Learning Center in the downstairs east rooms. John Wood moved to larger quarters in 1990 and the museum was expanded to all first floor classrooms. The Historical Society was able to purchase the building in 1982 for $10,000.
A partner in all the work of saving and repairing the building was the Pittsfield Theater Guild. The Theater Guild was incorporated as a 501c3 nonprofit in 1973. The first Guild productions were staged in St. Mary’s Hall and after that the gym at South Grade School. The first production at East School was a bicentennial special “The Rivalry” performed on the steps of East School on July 31, 1976. The first production in the East School upstairs theater was the final show of the 1976 season, “Lion Winter” in November 1976. Over 100 shows were performed at East by the Theater Guild and traveling troupes between 1976 and 1998.
In 2004 The Hickory Flats Group from Winchester was hired to restore the clocktower. This was an important project that won the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation award for outstanding restoration in 2005 from the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. Along with the tower work the clock and bell were also repaired to working order. In 2008 The Historical Society received a $100,000 grant for roof and gutter repair. Window painting and repair followed and is still in progress. There are 102 windows in East School! The plywood finally came off of the remaining upstairs windows in 2023.
Currently the Pike County Historical Society operates a museum on the first floor. There are no other tenants. The basement, second floor and attic are all used for storage. There are many projects pending to continue restoration of the building.
Pike County Democrat, June 28, 1866
Rededication of Historic East School, July 23, 1978, by the Pike County Historical Society.
Pike Press articles
"Going, going...you bought it." William J. Dieterich, attorney for Pikeland Unit 10 school district, gestured to Jim Sanderson as the successful bidder in the sale of the Historic East School last Saturday morning, June 5, 1982. Sanderson, representing the Pike County Historical Society, bid $10,000 - the amount which Unit 10 had set as the minimum for the sale of the building.