Lyman Trumbull Elementary School Celebrates 100 years

Vol. XIX No. 3 - FALL 2008

One hundred years ago, Chicago’s rapid population growth necessitated the construction of additional schools. In the Edgewater section of Lakeview, the Andersonville school had seriously deteriorated and residents were calling for something to be done for the education of their children. This was the progressive era, when concerned social and civic activists worked to improve living conditions for the city’s residents. Public schools were to be designed to provide an appealing physical environment that would promote learning. Chicago’s Board of Education was in tune with the times and, in 1905, the board members appointed Dwight H. Perkins as its chief architect.

Mr. Perkins had been associated with the firm of Burnham and Root during the construction of the World’s Columbian Exposition. He also designed the Steinway Building in the Loop and set up offices there. This became a gathering place for what was to become the Chicago Architectural Club. This group articulated what was to become modern American architecture in the twentieth century.

As chief architect for the Chicago schools, Perkins and his associates presented planning innovations and designs that were incorporated into the schools that were built between 1907 and 1910. Trumbull School is one of those. Trumbull was constructed in 1908 and the cornerstone laid, but the building did not open for students until 1909.

The school was named for Lyman Trumbull, a Senator and statesman from Illinois who served the people of Illinois in various capacities from 1840 until 1873. In the period of the Civil War he was associated with Abraham Lincoln and campaigned for him. Later, as a Senator and Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he introduced the resolution that was to become the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which abolished slavery. After his retirement from the Senate in 1873, he continued to practice law in Chicago. He became a public figure again in 1894 when he spoke out against the privileges of the rich and the exploitation of the poor.

The School building is distinctive because of the strong massing of it design. The façade facing Foster Avenue shows this in the massive column shapes on either side of the entrance. The recessed entrance and vertical windows above are crossed by the massive entablature at the roof line. The massing and vertical design is contrasted by the bands of light and dark brick which alternate on the sides of the building above the single colored brick base. The building shows the influence of the Prairie School of design and it is interesting to note that Dwight Perkins was related to Marion Mahoney, who worked with Frank Lloyd Wright.

Trumbull’s internal structure is designed around a central core – its auditorium. While a beautiful geometric pattern presently adorns the three story ceiling, the original design incorporated a glass paneled dome to allow for natural light in both the auditorium and third and fourth floor classrooms. This was altered in the 1950s when maintenance became an issue. The interior renovation of the school began in 2001. The exterior renovation of the school began in 2003 under the direction of Principal Robert Wilkin. The school has been prepared to complete its 100th year and begin its second century.

The first Principal of Trumbull was Miss Helen Ryan. She had served as the first Principal of Drummond School. She was in charge when the plan for Trumbull had to be expanded because of the rapid increase in families in the area after the first building was opened in 1909. The addition, which is in the same style as the original building, added nine classrooms to the site in 1912.

Miss Ryan retired in 1926 to her home in Lake Forest. Mr. Bache, her successor, paid her a compliment when he took over saying “I have never seen a school so perfectly organized, in fact there seems to be nothing left for me to do.” His stay at Trumbull was short – only three years. He left to become the head of Vocational schools for the Board and later a district Superintendent.

Mr. Bache was replaced by “a dainty little lady,” Miss Carrie Patterson, who came from the Bancroft School. She was a graduate of Vassar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Miss Patterson retired in 1935 and passed away in 1939. Her replacement was Mr. Ross Herr. He had come from Chicago Normal School, a teacher preparation school where he had been employed since 1923. He directed the school until 1949.

In 1949, Mr. Frank Culhane took the helm and, by all accounts, ran a wonderful school. In his years the school was known for a strong interest in the arts and the halls and classroom were full of art work. In 1959 Arthur Fitzgerald replace Mr. Culhane. He served until 1970.

The next principal was Yakia Korey, who is well remembered for a long period of service from 1970 to 1987. In 1987 Merle Davis took the helm of Trumbull and served until 1989. Peggy Little followed from 1990 until her retirement in 1998.

The current Principal, Robert Wilkin, was named to that position in 2001. During his years of service the school has had many physical facilities improvements. Wilkin has also been actively seeking new programs at the school to further science education.

Trumbull School and its students have had many benefits over the 100 years as a Chicago Public School. If you are an alum we encourage you to stop by exhibit.

The Trumbull School Exhibit at the Edgewater Historical Society Museum could not have been put together without the help of Richard Seidel of the Archive Department of the Chicago Public Schools. Thanks also to Larry Rosen, Marty Schaffrath, Cynthia Coca, Judy Ring Kinker, Vivian Haberkom and Leroy Blommaert. In addition to photos and report cards, the exhibit also includes old text books from Florence Johnson, who attended Trumbull, and old publications from the Frances Posner archive.

The exhibit will be available until January 3, 2009.