Traveling back 200 years to Jefferson City’s first public schools.
For almost 200 years, Jefferson City’s historic neighborhood schools have served as anchors within our community. They’ve offered students a place to learn and provided opportunities for advancement.
The first recorded school in Jefferson City dated to 1828 and was held in a building that once stood across the street from the Missouri Governor’s Mansion on Madison Street. It was a subscription school where local families each contributed to a fund to pay the teacher.
In 1835, Missouri legislators passed legislation to establish public schools and create the State Board of Education. However, these laws did not require towns to have a public school. Residents of Jefferson City were among the first to embrace the new public school laws. In March1835, the recently organized Jefferson School Commissioners paid $5 for a lot on Miller Street, between Marshall and Jackson Streets, to build a public school.
A two-room log and frame building was built on the lot nicknamed “Hobo Hill” in approximately 1836. The school continued until the Civil War began in 1861. At that time, nearly all the schools in the state were closed for the duration of the war. The public school moved to a small brick building across Broadway Street from St. Peter’s Cathedral following the Civil War.
In 1866, R.B. Foster came to Jefferson City with $6,000 donated by Black Union soldiers and instructions to start a school for newly freed Black people. Everywhere Foster inquired about a building, he was turned away. Finally, he asked about the abandoned public school building on Hobo Hill, and it became the location of the new Lincoln Institute in 1866.
After serving as the first location for a public school in Jefferson City and the first location for Lincoln University, Hobo Hill also served as the site of the city’s first separate high school building. The building was erected on the site in 1905 and was named after the late Ernest Simonsen (after a generous donation from his wife). In 1937, the first Simonsen School building was demolished and a new building was erected.
With the new Capital City High School opening in the fall of 2019, the old Simonsen building was no longer needed. The last students left the building on the afternoon of May 22, 2019 — hours before an F3 tornado struck Jefferson City and severely damaged the school.The damaged building sat vacant until being purchased by Allyn and Todd Witt in August of 2020. Since then, Allyn has worked to get the building listed on the NationalRegister of Historic Places and develop the property into apartments while maintaining its historical integrity.
While many historic school buildings are gone, some remain hidden throughout our community. The oldest known remaining school buildings were once part of the Jefferson City Female Seminary. Erected in the late 1800s, the buildings at 416 through 420 State Street are all that remains of a complex of seminary buildings from the 1830s. The two buildings were once used for classroom space and dormitories for the young girls who lived too far away to travel daily. Having helped get the complex listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2000, local historic preservationist Steve Veile rehabilitated the buildings. They currently serve as apartments.
Broadway School, at 226 W. Dunklin St., was built in1904. Elementary grades used the school until South School, located at 301 Linden Dr., replaced it. Used for many years as office space and now known as the Carpenter’s Building, the building was recently renovated and converted into apartments.
The old Moreau Heights School at Hillcrest and Moreau Drive was first built in 1914 with additional construction in 1931. This elementary school was replaced in 1955 with the completion of the new Moreau Heights School at 1404 Hough Park Rd. The building now serves as a Montessori school.
West End School, located at 1107 W. Main St., was built in 1903 and is now an apartment building.
One of the great things about our community is that history is all around us. Individuals can take a walk in any of our historic neighborhoods and encounter one of these buildings. These buildings remain, waiting to teach us more.