By Deborah E. Bowman, MFA
Vice President of Wentzville Historical Society
The kids are back in school, complaining about homework, but where did the Wentzville School System all begin? The first public school in Wentzville was built in 1866, just after the Civil War. This three-story frame building had a school on the first floor, a church on the second, and Wentzville masonic Lodge on the third.
On November 19, 1882, the local lumber yard caught on fire, and sparks from the blaze set fire to the building that contained the school, destroying it. A new school, containing three classrooms, was built in less than a year on South Linn Avenue. By 1896, the school included eight elementary grades and two high school grades. The first class to graduate from high school was the class of 1898, and it consisted of three students.
On February 2, 1907, school was in session when the janitor discovered a fire. Everyone got out without any injuries, but once again, the school was destroyed. They used a temporary building the rest of the year. That summer, a new four-room building was constructed on Linn Avenue (see picture), where the Green Lantern Senior Center is now.
In the early days, school terms were only six months long; nine-month terms began in the early 1900s. School buses didn’t exist; most students walked to school, no matter how far away they lived. Snow days were never called. Students had to bring their own lunches, and drinking water came from a cistern near the school building, supplied from water draining from the roof gutters.
Parochial schools started early. The Immanuel Lutheran School opened in 1880 in the church, and a separate school was built in 1900. They built another school in 1917 and a third in 1958. Until 1921, the church pastor also acted as the teacher. The first Catholic school was held in two rooms of the rectory, beginning in 1908. The first Catholic school building was constructed in 1910, at which time nuns from The Precious Blood Order of O’Fallon were hired to teach.
High school was extended to four years in Wentzville in 1938. A total of 140 students attended Wentzville school that year, from elementary to high school. A new building was built on Academy and North Linn Avenue for elementary students, and the four-year high school stayed in the current Green Lantern building. The school grew, and in 1962, a new high school was built on Campus Drive. It was named after Emil E. Holt in 1969, who had served as treasurer of the school district for 42 years and board member for four years before that. In 1975, the junior high school students moved to their own building.
Getting an education was an uphill battle for many years, and only the most basic subjects were taught for a long time. Student struggled to get to school, and many had to fight, sometimes even against their parents, to stay in school. One parent reportedly told the teacher, “Don’t learn my boy no geography ‘cause he ain’t gonna get far enough from home to need it.” Note to all students: Appreciate your education; it used to be much harder to come by!