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History of Elgin Academy

1839  Elgin Academy's original charter was signed, four years after the founding of Elgin.

1856  The original campus building, "Old Main" was opened. From the beginning, the Academy has been both non-denominational and coeducational, offering a program dedicated to academic excellence and high moral character.

1861  School motto originated: "Not How Much But How Well"

1872  The Academy granted its first diploma to Laura Davidson, the granddaughter of Elgin's founder, James T. Gifford.

1874  A total of 274 students were enrolled for the winter term and the Academy offered high school degrees in several courses of study, including College Preparatory, Normal, English, Classical, Latin-Scientific, and Business. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Academy had a football team, a basketball team, and a school newspaper.

1903  After a brief association with the University of Chicago, the Academy affiliated with Northwestern University and was for a number of years know as Elgin Academy of Northwestern University.

1911  Judge and Mrs. Nathaniel Sears (the former Laura Davidson, EA's first graduate) donated $35,000 to the Academy's endowment fund, beginning a philanthropic association with the school which spanned several decades. Through the years, the Sears family donated funds for a number of campus features (as noted).

1914  The Academy began a Junior College with two years of college work offered and courses accredited by Northwestern University, (discontinued in 1927, reinstated in 1932, and in 1943 was discontinued for good).

1918  The Academy's first gymnasium (built with funds from the Sears family).

1920  Campus boarding program introduced (boys only).

1924  Sears Art Gallery (funded by Sears family); Athletic Fields on Franklin Boulevard were opened.

1939 (circa) Seventh and Eighth grades added.

1940  Sears Hall (built with funds from Sears family).

1941 (circa) Girls accepted into the boarding program. The following description from a school publication of this era signifies an approach to the education of young people that is still true of Elgin Academy more than 65 years later:

The Academy expects of its students a desire for self-education. Each student is challenged to develop discriminating judgment and independence of thought; and through varied work in literature, music, and the arts, creative as well as appreciative, Elgin tried to cultivate the imaginations and emotions of its students.

1940s-1950s  The postwar years were prosperous and stable years for the Academy as they were for the Midwest in general. The construction of Sears Hall dormitory in 1940 created an environment in which a traditional boarding school could flourish and the yearbooks of the time reflect the annual rituals of the homecoming games, social activities, and serious academic work, all pursued in conservative attire and hairstyles.

1950s-1960s  The decade from the late 1950s to the late 1960s brought many changes to the Academy's physical plant.

1958  New Gymnasium constructed

1962  North Hall built (as a girls' dormitory)

1969  Edwards Hall dedicated

1972  Old Main, the original Academy building, had fallen into disrepair and was closed to all school activities (also see 1978).

1975  Frank J. Hogan began a 10-year tenure as headmaster, launching a period of growth and renewal (after hitting an enrollment low of 85 students in 1973, enrollment has climbed steadily to more than 400 in the new millennium).

1978  Old Main is donated to the city of Elgin which completed extensive restoration of the beautiful landmark building. Old Main now houses the Elgin Area Historical Society as well as the Seigle Room (used for Upper School classes and school meetings; contains displays of Elgin Academy memorabilia).

1980  (circa) In the early 1980s, the Academy's Board of Trustees set the school on course to become a K-12 day school.

1984  Lower School is opened.

1987  Boarding program formally discontinued.

1980s-1990s  Parents, alumni, and friends have built and sustained a vigorous fundraising effort dedicated to strengthening the curriculum and improving teacher compensation, while ensuring long-term viability of the institution.

1994  Board of Trustees approved the Academy's first strategic plan.

1997  The City of Elgin recognized EA's campus improvements by awarding the school with its first of two  "Elgin Image Awards."

1997  The Academy opened an Early Childhood Education Program for 3- and 4-year-olds.

2001  The Academy was the first Preschool-12 independent school in greater Chicago to launch a specialized website for every class and teacher.

2004  Capital Campaign was begun to build the Media, Science, and Fine Arts Center and renovate other areas of campus.

2006  Elgin Academy announced plans to operate the former Summit Academy as the Elgin Academy-River Road Campus and then consolidate all students on the Hilltop Campus. The consolidation occurred the following year.

2007  Elgin Academy broke ground for the new Media, Science, and Fine Arts Center.  James J. "Jimmy John" Liautaud [EA Class of '82], chairman and CEO of Jimmy John's Franchise LLC, contributed $1 million to the Capital Campaign.

2008  Grand Opening of The Harold D. Rider Family Media, Science, and Fine Arts Center in October.

2009  Enrollment at the Academy thrives despite the nation's difficult economic downturn.

2010 The Academy begins its 172nd year with a strong start!

The Future  Elgin Academy continues to grow in size, strength, and character, while maintaining its original goals of quality teaching, small class sizes, and a proactive partnership among faculty, parents, and students.


Upcoming Events


Elgin Academy, as a private 501(c)(3) educational organization and as an ISACS fully accredited educational entity, provides equal admission and access and opportunities to all students currently enrolled at the Academy and to those students seeking enrollment at the Academy.

Elgin Academy does not discriminate against any person or class of persons based on disability, race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation or in any other manner prohibited by either federal or state law.

The Elgin Academy admissions policy is dictated by our implementation and usage of our mission statement as a guiding principle to the operation of the school.

350 Park Street      Elgin, IL 60120      phone 847.695.0300      fax 847.695.5017      e-mail info@elginacademy.org
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