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  • Writer's pictureOld North St. Louis

1860's Bilingual Education :: 2022 Senior Living

The Webster School in ONSL has recently been transformed into impressive senior apartments by Lewis McKinney, a neighbor during childhood and now a successful developer. At the open house, Mr. McKinney talked about the history of the building and neighborhood, and he reminded me of the diversity of the past and present communities within the community - from bilingual education to the importance of schools to families to a positive quality of life for adults, and so much more.

The following is an excerpt from a book by UMSL faculty with significant contributions from residents of ONSL. Rectenwald, M.R. and Hurley, A. (2004). From Village to Neighborhood, A History of Old North St. Louis. Missouri Historical Society Press.

When classes let out at Webster School in the late 1800s, the neighborhood children poured through the doors and hurried down the Old North St. Louis streets with their books tucked under their arms. In addition to the standard math, science, and English grammar books, these students also would have carried German grammar books. With a large population of German immigrant families living throughout St. Louis, school board members added a German language program in the 1860’s. Webster School, in a neighborhood of many German families, was one of the first schools to offer the new bilingual education. It was a great success at Webster: the number of children enrolled quickly grew, and two German language teachers were hired in 1867.

The circular land of Clinton Place was donated to the St. Louis School Board in 1844 by the residents of North St. Louis, and, eight years later, Webster School rose on the location. Soon this building was too small for the growing number of students. In 1908 neighborhood residents watched as a new four-story building replaced the older building, keeping the vision of North St. Louis’s founders alive, as the circle remained a “seminary of learning.” Students now attended classes in a building designed by William Ittner, a St. Louis architect respected nationally. The design is unlike other school buildings of the city, using textured brick that is many different shades of red. This is the building that students attend today. Although the circular shape of Clinton Place is gone (altered in 1932 to accommodate a playground), education continues on in this space, as was specified on the original plat of the town of North St. Louis. Today young adolescents from Old North St. Louis and surrounding communities in St. Lous attend the sixth, seventh, and eighth grades at Webster Middle School.

Daniel Webster, the school’s namesake, was a famous statesman and orator, as well as a former visitor to the neighborhood.

Shared by Holston Black

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