Vermilion Academy

Newspaper Article dated April 14, 1987

Editor's note: Here is the text of the article that is pictured in the newspaper article images, below.  It is re-typed here for easier reading.

Note: Vernon Mills, who is pictured in this article, descends from one of the three founding families of Vermilion Grove, and is related to the Haworth family by way of Miriam Mills, who married David Haworth.

School Built in 1874 was "Best in County" - and lives on for local people

Vermilion Grove - A shiny granite monument is all that remains of the Vermilion Academy, a proud part of the for Vermilion Grove, a small community just off Illinois Route 1, north of Ridge Farm.

But the memories of the old academy, which served students from 1874 to 1932, linger on. "it was the best school in Vermilion County," Vernon Mills said. Mills, a 1929 graduate of the academy, spearheaded a 1988 drive for the monument. The building was torn down in 1987.

Mills contacted alumni of the academy, who donated money to have the monument built. The monument lists the important dates in the academy's history. "We got lots of money," Mills said. "It is a simple monument. There is a picture of what the academy looked like (on one side)."

The school bell, which for decades sounded the start of classes, is now mounted in the church yard. Mills said many alumni did not want the old two-story brick building torn down. Attempts were made to keep the building, but it was eventually demolished - a decision made by church members who owned the building.

Mills' sister-in-law, Louise Mills, who graduated from the academy in 1928, said many early Danville businessmen attended the academy. A nearby house served as a dormitory for girls; boys stayed in homes in the community. Louise, a life resident of Vermilion Grove, walked to school every day. "We had wonderful teachers," she said. "The teachers we had were dedicated."

The academy was built in 1874 by the Vermilion Quarterly Friends Meeting of area churches. The school was supported by subscriptions and donations. Starting with 40 pupils, the academy had no systematic program for graduation. Eventually it concentrated on secondary education and turned out graduates who became ministers, teachers, scientist and other professionals.

Although the building could accommodate 300 pupils, at its peak the academy's enrollment reached 160; students were not only from Vermilion Grove, but from Quaker families in eastern Illinois and western Indiana. For nearly 60 years, students learned from a wide array of curriculum which included Latin, Virgil, Cicero, Caesar, surveying, trigonometry, English, astronomy and zoology.

Laboratory facilities were improved. The library enlarged and an athletic field, gymnasium and classrooms added in 1910. The dormitory was added later. The academy had a newspaper, dramatic productions, speech competition and a basketball team.

Louise Mills said the academy competed with other Friends academies, with the Bloomingdale Academy in Parke County IN, as its chief rival. The academy didnít usually compete against public schools, but in 1925, its basketball team defeated Westville, the Vermilion County champion.

Needy students were given financial aid and adults were encouraged to return large percentage of the academyís students continue their education.

The great depression of the early 1930s forced the academy to close. The building was deeded to the Ridge Farm; students in Vermilion attended Ridge Farm High School.

When Ridge Farm closed the school, the building reverted its ownership back to the Vermilion Grove Friends Church. It was used as a community center and as a residence before being torn down.

Alumni held annual reunions for many years and marked the centennial of the academy in 1974. But the reunions have ceased, according to Louise Mills. Mills has recorded much of the academy's history through her writings.

The community of Vermilion Grove was settled in 1922 by Quakers who came from Tennessee to escape slavery. They formed the first Quaker settlement in Illinois four years before Danville was founded. Tombstone inscriptions in the cemetery date to 1823. In the early 1920's there was a railroad depot, post office, grain elevator, grocery stores and other business. Now, Vermilion Grove has the church and a few scattered houses.

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