Earlier this year, Good Samaritan Hospital dedicated a monument on the corner of Seventh and Barnett streets commemorating the site of LaSalle Elementary School. The hospital razed the 90-year-old school building in 2017. Long before LaSalle was constructed, another school building stood near that same location. Here is the history of those schools.
The first school on the site was what was long known as the Frenchtown School. That building was constructed in 1878 at a cost of $7,275 and was deemed necessary due to increased enrollment and overcrowding at the city’s first public school, the Central School. The latter was built in 1860 and stood about where Adams Coliseum is located now.
The name Frenchtown was an obvious one, since the school was located in the part of the city occupied by French residents and their descendants. Anna C. O’Flynn, who established a reputation as an outstanding local historian, was longtime principal of the school.
In 1916, all of the public schools in Vincennes were given names significant in history, education, and literature, and the Frenchtown School was renamed the Froebel School, in honor of nineteenth century German educator Friedrich Froebel. Froebel is credited with developing the concept of kindergarten.
Finally, in 1927, a new building was constructed, which was set more to the center of the block from where the Frenchtown School had stood. Local architects Byron Sutton and Lester Routt drew up plans for the two-story Collegiate Gothic building. Collegiate Gothic was a very popular architectural style for schools and other educational buildings in those days.
In early March 1927, local contractor John A. Keller & Son, was awarded the construction contract over eight other bidders. Keller’s bid was $45,495. The total cost of the school, with heat and electric, came to $58,871.75.
That same month, the Vincennes Board of Education changed the name from Froebel to LaSalle, recognizing the famous French explorer, Rene-Robert Cavelier, sieur de LaSalle.
The school was complete by that fall, and the old Frenchtown School was razed.
On Friday, Sept. 9, a reception was held for the public to tour the new structure. From 2,500 to 3,000 people took advantage of the opportunity. Past students and teachers from the Frenchtown School made up the majority of the reception committee, including Miss O’Flynn.
Miss Harriet DeLay was LaSalle’s first principal.
LaSalle served the city for 67 years. On April 20, 1994, the Vincennes Community School Corporation Board voted to close the school. That course of action had been recommended by a long-term feasibility study. The school’s small size, also lacking a gymnasium, had long been an issue. Students, faculty, and staff would be re-distributed among the city’s other elementary schools. The district boundaries of four schools would be changed.
June 1 was the final day of school at LaSalle, a sad day for teachers and students. Pat Klemeyer was LaSalle’s last principal, a job she had held for just over two decades.
In the fall of 1996, an agreement was reached between the school board and Good Samaritan Hospital, whereby the hospital purchased the LaSalle building for $150,000, using the structure for storage and the grounds for additional parking.
As noted, the decision was made to demolish the building in 2017 and now the monument stands in its place.
Brian Spangle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His latest book, “Hidden History of Vincennes & Knox County,” published this year by The History Press, is available for purchase at the Knox County Public Library and on Amazon.