BUNKER HILL MILITARY ACADEMY by CAROLYN SCROGGINS

Company "A" Picture
Company "B" Picture

           The accompanying picture is of a shirt from a baseball suit, which belonged to Roger S. Mercer. (Picture).  He attended school at the Bunker Hill Military Academy the last year it was open.  Mabel Mercer, Glen’s Aunt, gave us the suit along with basketball vests, one with number 1 on it, and riding breeches.

           One of the suits is displayed in the Bunker Hill Historical Society’s Museum on East Warren St. in Bunker Hill.  It is interesting to hear stories and read about the Bunker Hill Military Academy.  But first, here’s a little bit of prior history. According to a newspaper article of September l5, 1870, the main building on the Academy grounds had been built and opened in 1859 as the Bunker Hill Academy, [not military at that time]. It was later called the Bunker Hill Institute, perhaps when the building was leased and used for a public school from 1861-1870 or when it was a private school.

           The catalogs of the Bunker Hill Military Academy say it was founded in 1883 by Rev. Samuel L. Stiver, an ordained Congregational clergyman, who was pastor in Bunker Hill in 1880-1882.  He had graduated from schools in the East with honors and was skilled in language and mathematics.  He must have possessed superior leadership qualities for he successfully led the school for 27 years.

           One gets good insight into the history of Bunker Hill Military Academy by reading the catalogs of 1908 and 1910, which were loaned to me. The booklets stated the Academy was located in Bunker Hill, Ill., one places 36 mi., another 40 mi., Northeast of St Louis.  Bunker Hill is referred to as a ‘handsome town of 1500’ in one and as ‘one of the handsomest small Illinois towns’ in the other and it has ‘a fine average climate without great extremes….’”

         There were the usual means of communications with students at BHMA, with mail stops by the Big Four trains four times a day and by telegraph.  In addition there were two long distance telephones.

         The description of the Academy Campus was one ‘rarely equaled and seldom surpassed.’  There were over 100 large shade trees on the four acres surrounding the buildings.  Other grounds of six or eight acres included a ball diamond, large areas for gardens and pasture land.  Structures included the main Building that was three stories high, a gymnasium with extra rooms at the side for an armory and wheel room, Stiver Hall, carriage house and stables.

         The main buildings and Stiver Hall are described as being “comfortably heated and lighted by electricity.”  The second floors were dormitories for the male students.  The promotion literature expressed the fact that the Academy had a high reputation for character. It has home-like features, good moral training and the personnel showed special concern about the health, safety and happiness of all.  There was an unusual case of an eight year old boy who was educated at the Academy for eight years, then went to Yale University.

         The annual charge for board and tuition in 1908 was $350 and $450 in 1910.  This included washing and mending and general care for 36 weeks.  The sum of 25 cents per week was suggested for spending money.

         Parents were requested not to send boxes of ‘dainties’ because the meals were wholesome and adequate.  Such boxes usually resulted in ‘physical derangement and loss to the Cadet,’ was the reasoning.

         The entire third floor of the main building was the schoolroom, which is where about eight hours a day were spent.  Another hour was used for drill, eleven for sleep, eating and other necessities leaving four hours for recreation and duty.  Students studied each evening from 7:00 to 9:00.  Most of Saturday was spent in recreation and special routines “including the weekly baths,” which were scheduled under the Order of the Day, beginning at 9:30 a.m.

         The Sunday schedule began at 8:30 when the students met in the schoolroom to outline a letter home.  This was later completed at 2:30 and reported to the Superintendent. Then at 9:30 the Superintendent held a Bible class.  At 10:30, the Officers and cadets marched in military order to one of the Bunker Hill churches chosen by the Superintendent for morning worship.  All the town churches were visited during the school year.  The list of impressive academics included classes for Commercial or English Course, Modern Language Course, Latin Scientific Course, Classical Course and Electric or Teachers Course.  Languages taught included German, French and Latin.  Area people, male and female, could attend the school. A student could progress in the school program according to his ability. Postgraduate courses were also available.

         The recreational program of the Academy was full and varied.  The large, well-equipped gymnasium was used for gymnastics, roller-skating, basketball, military drills, assemblies and other things.  On the grounds were tennis courts and facilities for croquet, archery, quoits and horseback riding.  Ice-skating was enjoyed on shallow lakes nearby.

         The school had teams of baseball, basketball, football and track.  The catalog of 1908 had pictures of the track team and senior basketball team of which O.B. Wise and A.H. Wise were members. O.B. Wise was captain of both the baseball and track teams.  BHMA teams made good showing at that time by beating teams from larger schools and frequently beating Bunker Hill High School.

         Music was an important part of the schooling at the Bunker Hill Military Academy.  Teachers were Bunker Hill residents of service to the Academy.  Lessons on the violin, guitar, mandolin and banjo were taught by Miss Cora Hintz in 1908 and Mrs. Oscar Jencks in 1910, Miss Ella Benner taught piano-forte, organ and harmony and Louis Jansen, leader of Jansen’s Cornet Band, taught wind instruments.

         The military department was under a competent commandant, either a graduate of West Point or someone drilled by an officer of the U.S. Army.  He was a man of much ability, high scholarship, Christian character and devotion to duty.  The Cadets took turns as Officers of the Guard and Officers of the Day.  It was their duty to maintain good order and report to their superiors.  Punishment for their infractions were extra guard duty, drill or school work, loss of holidays, being confined on limits or pocket money withheld.  Cadets who had gone one quarter (nine weeks) without any demerits were awarded badges, which gave them honor and special privileges.  Prizes were awarded for the highest average in military efficiency such as an officer’s sword, miniature sword or miniature saber.

         The list of important regulations for the cadets to live by was long and very rigid.  Some of these in summary were; games of chance or betting were not allowed; cadets were to remain within Academy limits unless granted permission to leave; forbidden to have firearms, except by consent of the Superintendent; all cadets were to abstain from all forms of immoral conduct; use of alcoholic drinks, tobacco and narcotics strictly forbidden, (There were no saloons in Bunker Hill); profane, obscene coarse or violent language forbidden; all cadets shall show courtesy and respect to all; promptly obey orders; no cadet shall strike disturb or annoy in his room and there were more.  The last paragraph of the regulations reads; All innocent and invigorating amusements and sports are encouraged and provided for. All self-respecting boys are happy and at home at the Academy.

         Two military suits, of West Point Cut and a cap cost $30.00. Cadets were measured and suits were made by the school tailor.  In addition, one suit for common wear, rubber shoes, umbrella, bed linens, blankets, toilet articles and underclothes were expected.  Also, they were to furnish six napkins and a napkin ring.

         The 1910 catalog showed that from the school’s inception, 1883-1910, 1,050 had been enrolled.  These had come from St. Louis-67, Chicago-30, Ohio-13, Iowa-11, Indiana-10, Illinois-875 and 13 other states in fewer numbers.

         At the closing exercises, which took place June 6-l2, 1908, the founder and the head of the Bunker Hill Military Academy, S. L. Stiver, was honored for his twenty-five years of association with the school.  In behalf of the students of the past years, complimentary remarks were made by Honorable A. S. Cuthbertson, States Attorney for Macoupin County.

         Honorable Edward Wilson, Gazette-News Editor and graduate of Michigan University spoke for the local public in commending Superintendent Stiver for the management of the school.  He believed the public should appreciate even more highly the presence of such an institution as Bunker Hill Military Academy.

         Pastors of Baptist, Congregational and Methodist Churches also spoke in appreciation of the Academy and the Superintendent and of the good work accomplished in the twenty-five years past. A number of impressive complimentary testimonials are printed on the last few pages of the catalogs.  They were from a variety of citizens; from former students, ministers, parents, former school officials, editors and business people.  It seems evident from the location of these writers that the reputation of the Military Academy was known across the Nation and because of it Bunker Hill was, “on the map” as we say, for many years.

         Superintendent Stiver died in November, 1910.  Succeeding leaders were unsuccessful in the operation of the school and it was closed after the 1914 year.  It was later sold at auction to James Jencks (father of Dorothy Jencks Stevenson).  The large bell was purchased and installed in the belfry of the Berean Baptist Church in 1916.  I’ve read that some of the bricks were used in the building now used by Farmers Supply.  I don’t know if there are other items from the Academy still in existence.  Some say that the concrete platform in the center of the park was part of the old Bunker Hill Military Academy building. Eventually, the Academy grounds were sold to the Ladies Civic League where they maintained a park until after the 1948 tornado.  The American Legion then took it over and has continued to maintain a park on the grounds.

(Much more can be learned about the BHMA by visiting the Bunker Hill Museum.)