Pittsfield East School, Pittsfield Illinois

Date added: November 4, 2022 Categories: Illinois School

East School was the first public school, as we know them today, built in Pittsfield. The contract price of the building was $35,000 for which bonds were sold. The actual cost amounted to $45,000. Leading citizens of the community, such as, Judge Chauncey L. Higbee, Colonel William Ross, and William A. Grimshaw, a lawyer, were the moving spirits toward construction of the building. The building was located in the northeast part of the city. The stone was brought from Joliet by way of the Illinois River and the brick was burned in Pittsfield.

Construction was begun in 1861, interrupted by the Civil War, and completed in 1866. At the time it was considered as one of the largest and finest examples of a modern educational building.

Van Osdel (1811-1891) came to Chicago from Baltimore in 1837 and continued in practice after the Chicago Fire of 1871. His more famous design was for the Executive Mansion in Springfield (1855). However, the East School is the only one of his buildings which has not been altered.

Building Description

The school was built between 1862-1866 and was designed by John M. Van Osdel. The East School is the only building of Van Osdel's still standing which has not been altered. The red brick school building illustrates the Lombard Romanesque motifs (pilaster strips and corbelled detailing), much the same style used by James Renwick in the Smithsonian Institution. Van Osdel's design is grave rather than picturesque and reveals a classical sobriety which governed his designs. The building has a bracketed wood cornice and is topped with a two-stage clock tower.

The composition of this building is broken on each face by a pedimented portion which breaks forward from the central mass. The smaller side portions conceal stairs providing each classroom with a double exit. The bearing walls rest on a limestone basement story. The windows of the first floor are segmental arched; those of the second floor round arched. A limestone string course between floors is broken by the pilasters which rise the full height. The building contains four large classrooms (approximately 30' x 40') on each floor.

Pittsfield East School, Pittsfield Illinois Looking from the south at the main entrance (1970)
Looking from the south at the main entrance (1970)

Pittsfield East School, Pittsfield Illinois Clock tower from the southwest corner of the building (1970)
Clock tower from the southwest corner of the building (1970)

Pittsfield East School, Pittsfield Illinois Looking from the southeast at the school (1900)
Looking from the southeast at the school (1900)