Kane County History: Charles Haines – The Man Who Saved St. Charles Schools

Kane County History: Charles Haines – The Man Who Saved St. Charles Schools

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was written by Tim Kirsininkas with information from “Reflections of St. Charles” by Ruth Seen Pearson. All photos are courtesy of the St. Charles History Museum.

On April 11, 1965, the Charles Haines Junior High School building at 9th and Indiana streets in St. Charles was officially dedicated. The building is now operated in a joint partnership by the Park District and Library District, but do you know about the man the building is named after?

Charles Haines

For much of its early years, the school system of St. Charles struggled and operated as two entirely separate systems on either side of the river. The earliest students of St. Charles paid tuition fees directly to the first schoolteachers of St. Charles, who often taught classes in the living rooms of their homes.

The late 1800s saw the construction of two new dedicated school buildings on either side of the river, but each building quickly became outdated and overcrowded with pupils as new settlers continued to arrive in St. Charles.

As the buildings reached capacity, debates erupted about how to best serve all students of St. Charles, regardless of which side of the river they resided on. Quarrels in the 1890s between administrators, students, and families drew the attention of local businessman Charles Haines, who decided to step in.

Haines, who owned several mills and businesses in St. Charles, offered up his family’s farm plot located at Main Street and 7th Avenue to build a single, unified school. The debates between East Side and West Side representatives erupted again, as west side residents felt wronged that their students would need to trek all that way to the other side of town.

However, in the end, the offer was too generous to not accept, and for the good of all St. Charles students, the Charles Haines school building opened in 1899, with the first graduating class of four students receiving their diplomas in June the following year.

The building stood for more than 50 years as a beautiful monument to education, complete with stunning architecture and large windows and skylights to provide the students of St. Charles with a singular combined school building that they could all be proud of.

The first floor of the school housed sixth to eighth grade, the second floor held high school students, and the third floor was devoted to the school gymnasium. Alumni of the school would include historian and schoolteacher Alice Davis as well as Col. Edward J. Baker.

Haines was a lifelong bachelor and never had children, but he considered all the children of St. Charles his own and was proud to leave behind his family’s estate to the benefit of multiple generations of St. Charles students.

It was a common sight to see him checking in at the school, making sure everything was in top-notch condition for the students. Haines later served on the School Board and a term as mayor of St. Charles before his death in 1914 at age 70.

Unfortunately, despite all of Haines’ efforts, his school building, too, became outdated and overpopulated in the 1920s. New School Board President George E. Thompson helped oversee the effort again to build a new high school on the opposite side of town from the original Haines Building, and in 1926, the new St. Charles Community High School opened at 7th and Main streets.

The Haines building, meanwhile, was converted into a middle school, but in the 1950s had fallen into disrepair and warranted the opening of the new Haines Middle School on 9th Street in the 1960s, once again giving students state-of-the-art resources and classrooms. Unfortunately, the original Haines school was put on the auction block and deemed too costly to continue to maintain, meeting the wrecking ball shortly thereafter.

However, the Haines and Thompson buildings continue to stand to this day, proudly bearing the names of the men who dedicated their lives to the betterment of all St. Charles schools, and to providing all students of St. Charles with the best possible education they could receive.

About The St. Charles History Museum

The St. Charles History Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization operating the St. Charles History Museum and historic archive. The Museum holds more than 10,000 photographs in its archive and 15,000 artifacts in its collection.

The museum is located in the 1928 McCornack Oil Company building at 215 East Main St. The building served St. Charles as a gas station from 1928 until 1990. After renovations, the Museum opened to the public in May 2001. Prior to 2001, the museum was located in the St. Charles Municipal Building.

The St. Charles History Museum houses permanent and temporary exhibits, the Colonial Anderson Room, photo and research archives, the Curious Fox Gift Shop, administrative offices, and the storage-preservation repository for the museum’s collections.

Come visit us today and don’t forget to sign up for our email newsletter for the latest news, events, and museum happenings!

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