Clinton High School has a lengthy history, starting about the time of the Civil War. The 2012 Parent, Student, Teacher associations at CHS has been hunting for the exact beginning of the high school, so that they could put the date on T-shirts…for sale in conjunction with the dedication of the new addition and its beautiful new pool.

This search has taken a team of history buffs through yearbooks dated before the turn of the 20th Century as well as newspaper archives. City directories and old files of the Clinton County Historical Society Museum also were scoured.

The key year being sought was the one that Clinton High School was established…which was hard to determine. One may differentiate between an intent, a building, and a graduating class. All three are evident in Clinton history, but they do not coincide.  

Our researchers felt that “when” citizens sought to begin having high school students (though none had as yet received a diploma), that is when the high school was established. It was also the year Washington School was built, in 1863.  The School Board had been formed in 1856. Its members (J.C. Bucher, president; H. McCormick, secretary; and D.H Pearce, treasurer) met in Isaac Baldwin’s office knowing that 173 students would enter school that fall.

They had a building on Fifth Avenue South and Third Street and late in 1860, built the aforementioned “Old Brown School House” on Third Street.  

The board chose to hire Lorene Clark to replace Baldwin and, after her, came Mr. E.R. Morgan and Miss Jennie Lewis. One day, it’s said, the two had a quarrel so bitter that they both appealed to and sent for the directors but, naturally enough, they became reconciled and, later on, even married.

The board then was soon faced with even more burgeoning classes and, in 1863, decided to build Washington for older students — with the intent to have high school classes. However, Washington School was at the beginning of high school planning…when less than 10 percent of Americans had 12 years of education.

In the 1830s, Horace Mann, a Massachusetts legislator, became interested in educating citizens beyond the one-room school-house and its basic “reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic.” He felt that an educated population would ensure the preservation and good conduct of our American democracy.

After 1863, things happened quickly. Two structures were built — Irving School, in south Clinton (1869-1928); and Jefferson School, on Fourth Street, on the west side of Clinton Park (1871-1935). These were elementary buildings that would “feed” a grammar school, and this would prepare students for high school.

All of these schools were very successful in being crammed full of eager students. Later, Hawthorne would be built (1898) and a new grammar school on the site of the old Brown School (City Hall) 1892.

One Clinton yearbook notes that 1889 was our 16th class. We know too that the old Washington School — the first brick building built here for school purposes (with intentions of graduating high school students  in mind) — was constructed between the First Baptist Church and the first St. Mary’s Church.

Rapid growth followed.

That parochial education also began then and eased public school advancement somewhat. However,  when St. Mary’s Church found itself packed with more than 2,500 families and moved to construct a larger new church on  top of the nearby hill, it fortuitously left the corner lot next to Washington available as the site for Clinton’s new high school, (AKA today’s Roosevelt building), on South Fourth Street,  between Sixth and Seventh avenues.  

Things really had begun to pick up when Clinton hired Henry Sabin, who immediately started to place students in classes from first grade to high school. An 1867 newspaper article showed that leveling had begun and, by 1873, a whole class of 29 students was graduated with their high school diplomas…based on a course of study approved by the School Board and Henry Sabin.

This class was, at that time, the largest in Iowa, (of students who all came from within one city’s boundaries.)  The idea soon caught on and, by 1888, a state –of-the-art brick high school was built on the former site of the original St. Mary’s Church.

The 1888 building, exquisitely designed by Josiah Rice, was the first high school in Iowa to have a science lab, a museum, and library.  It’s worth noting that all the land around the two downtown parks was donated and designated by the Iowa Land Company as spots for either churches or schools, from Clinton’s earliest days in 1855.  It was their intent that we become a complete town, with a fine school system as well… where immigrants might be able to raise themselves up, through improvement of the mind, to as high a position as the gentry.  By the time that the next CHS was built (1921), there were over 100 students in every graduation class.  The Roosevelt Building (CHS) was jam-packed.

Therefore, after much study and discussion, our little committee has determined that CHS was, in fact, established in 1863, with the building of Washington School.  Even though there were no formal high school graduates immediately, there were sporadic students (see 1867 Herald article) who achieved that rank before the first class of 29 was ceremoniously graduated.

So, from Sarah Perrin’s first efforts and Isaac Baldwin’s teachings, Clinton education has flourished. From a log hut that housed 25 young students in 1837, to a system with 1,424 students of all grades in 1870, to a fully-functioning school system (in 1899) with an enrollment of 3,618, Henry Sabin led the way at a time when Clinton’s schools were mostly located downtown and in a few outlying sites.

With the building of a fabulous, new, state-of-the-art high school, in 1888, Clinton’s system became one of the most admired in our state and region — Clinton High School, established 1963.

• Next time: The Baldwin Home is honored.

• Note: There is a Clinton High PTSA fundraiser to raise money for college scholarships to graduating CHS seniors.  People can purchase a commemorative CHS sweatshirt.

Call Sarah Lind, president, at 242-2365, or order at

Gary Herrity is the Clinton Herald’s historical columnist. His column appears on page 5A on Fridays.

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