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The 12 Oldest Schools In Chicago Are Ancient

Chicago skyline from Lincoln Park

The 12 Oldest Schools In Chicago Are Ancient

Chicago, the windy city located on the shores of Lake Michigan, has a long and interesting history. Chicago has been home to many notable people throughout the years, from writers to scientists to entertainers to athletes. Since it became a city in 1837, it has grown and become known for its incredible architecture; many of the buildings were, and some still are, schools. Some of the oldest schools in Chicago are ancient, with architectural styles like Gothic to Classical to Italianate. We have created a list of some Chicago area schools with interesting histories and impressive buildings.

Elementary Schools

1. Louis Nettelhorst Elementary School

The Chicago school board founded the public K-8 school in 1892 in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago. The school was named after a prominent German immigrant who was on the school board. The school has gone through many ups and downs since it opened over 100 years ago. In the early 2000s, the school was in decline, with each year seeing less and less student enrollment. But that turned around thanks to community involvement and grassroots activism led by local parent Jacqueline Edelberg and the principal at the time, Susan Kurland. The two turned the school around, and it is now a public school and a Fine and Performing Arts magnet cluster school. Due to the success of the school, Edelberg and Kurland wrote a book callow How to Walk to School to teach others how to help the local schools in their communities.

2. Augustus H. Burley Elementary School

Public school building
Many Chicago public schools are in historic buildings.

©JL Jahn/Shutterstock.com

In 1896, this school opened as an elementary school. The school was named after a local politician. Currently, the school is called Burley Elementary School and boasts being Chicago's first Literature, Writing, and Technology Magnet Cluster School. The historic building with a stunning exterior was designed by German architect William August Fiedler, who immigrated to America in 1871. Fielder had a distinct style using brick with intricately cut limestone. The school resembles his most well-known building, the Germania Club, which is now a Chicago landmark.

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3. Stephen K. Hayt Elementary School

Named after a young soldier who died in 1904, the school opened its doors in 1907 and is still operating today. The school was one of many built by Dwight H. Perkins, who was the architect for the Board of Education. Perkins was progressive in his designs and followed the emerging theory about the importance of children having outside activities and the school being a community center for social activities. These ideas are the norm now, but back then, they were considered progressive, and he received some pushback for designing a building that could accommodate the growing community. Nowadays, the school has students from all over the world, creating a culturally diverse student body, and is the only Chicago public school to teach German.

4. Ravenswood Elementary School

The school was first built in 1873, and over the years, many additions were made to accommodate the growing community. The original structure was a two-story brick building with an ornate cupola sitting on the rooftop. The historic campus added a playground in 1910 and did some remodeling to fireproof the building and widen the staircases in 1912 as a response to the Iroquois Theater fire that took the lives of many children. The school has been in continuous use since it opened its doors. Currently, it serves the community as a pre-K-8 public school with an emphasis on fine arts.

5. Joseph Jungman Elementary

historic red brick building in downtown Los Angeles
Many historic Chicago schools are still in use today.


The brick school was built in 1903 and named after long-time Chicago resident Joseph Jungman, who was a Czech poet and linguist. The building, built by architect William B. Mundie, is reminiscent of classical architecture. Mundie was a well-known and respected architect responsible for the design of many schools in Chicago. Today the school serves as a STEM Magnet elementary school.  

6. Ruben Salazar Elementary Bilingual Education Center

Teacher helping kids with computers in elementary school
Bilingual schools provide an excellent educational experience.

©Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

The school with many names opened its doors in 1883 as the North Division High School. The school closed its doors for two years in 1899 and reopened in 1902 as Sexton Elementary. The historic building went on the be the first school with an Education and Vocational center. In the early 1970s, it transformed itself again and became the Center for Urban Education. In 1978 the School Board designated it a Chicago landmark. Later in 1993, it became the Salazar Elementary Bilingual Education Center. The bilingual school is named for Ruben Salazar, a prominent Mexican-American journalist who was killed during a protest against Vietnam in 1970.  It is easy to see why this building is a Chicago landmark; it is a stunning piece of architecture—inspired by the Italianate style that punctuated much of architect Julius S. Ender’s work.

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7. James Ward Elementary School

The School Board built the school in 1874 in the Italianate style, and it is the oldest school still open. The stunning architecture has earned it a place as a Chicago landmark. The original building still stands, but many additions and updates have been made to accommodate the growing population. The school is currently one of the best schools in Chicago and embraces cultural diversity.

High Schools

8. Lakeview High School

First established in 1874, this school is the oldest high school in Chicago. Technically, it was not a part of Chicago until later, as it was originally built in the suburb of Lake View, which became a part of Chicago a few years later. In 1885 the structure suffered a devastating fire, but school board architect Arthur F. Hussander, well-known in the architecture world for his classical designs, rebuilt the school inspired by the original Tudor Gothic motif. As the community grew, the school expanded with new additions by different architects, but always kept the Gothic aesthetic. The high school continues to serve students in the community.

9. Wendall Phillips High School

The Chicago School Board built this massive high school in 1904 on the south side of Chicago, and it has seen additions and changes throughout its existence. It is currently an official Chicago landmark. When the school opened in 1904, the student body was of primarily European descent, and as time went by, it became one of the first predominantly Black high schools in the area. The school continues to be an integral part of the community.

Notable Wendall Phillips High Alumni

The school boasts impressive alumni, including Nat “King” Cole, Sam Cooke, Dinah Washington, and members of the Harlem Globetrotters. Other notable alumni include:

  • Ira Murchison, gold medal winner at the 1956 Olympics
  • Larry Murray, former outfielder for the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics
  • Ted Radcliffe, member of the Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Mary T. Washington, first female African-American certified public accountant
  • Claude Young, NFL Hall of Famer and first African-American hired in an executive role in a major sports league
  • Marla Gibbs, Emmy award-winning actress
  • Gerri Major, editor, journalist, and author
  • Paul Des Jardien, member of the College Football Hall of Fame

10. John Marshall Metropolitan High School

Girl student reading and writing exam with stress.
Education is the key to opening doors for your future self.


The secondary school opened in 1895 is a public four-year high school named for John Marshall, the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Recently the school has been in the spotlight for its connection to the namesake of the school, John Marshall, who was a slave owner. Due to Marshall's history, there is a debate on whether the historic school should change its name, knowing he was a slave owner, or keep the name and legacy of the school despite the controversy. 

Notable John Marshall Metropolitan High Alumni

The predominately Black student body has some notable alumni, including several NBA and NFL players, writers, scientists, and humanitarians. Some of these alumni include:

  • Alfonzo McKinnie, basketball player with the Captains of Mexico City
  • Jerome Isaac Friedman, physicist awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering quarks
  • Benjamin Libet, pioneer in the study of the human consciousness
  • Cappie Pondexter, all-star WNBA guard for the Chicago Sky
  • Hyman G. Rickover, pioneer of the use of nuclear energy in the U.S. Navy
  • Cleve Killingsworth, former Chairman, President, and CEO of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of MA
  • Julius B. Richmond, 12th Surgeon General of the United States

Colleges and Universities

11. Saint Xavier University

The school is one of the first institutions of higher learning in Chicago and Chicago’s first Catholic university. The Catholic Sisters of Mercy built the school as an academy for women. The school opened its doors in 1846. unfortunately, in 1871, it burnt down in the Great Chicago Fire. Luckily, the Sisters of Mercy rebuilt the school at a new location. In 1915, they added college classes to the academy. In 1969, it became a co-ed school providing education for males and females. And, in 1992, it became an accredited university. The school has some noteworthy alumni, including actor Craig Robinson, basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski, and baseball player Luke Gregerson.

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12. Northwestern University

Chicago, Illinois in the United States. Entrance to Northwestern University - School of Law.
Northwestern University Law School building.


A group of businessmen founded Northwestern University in 1850 to educate the upper Northwest territory. The university is well-known for its academics as well as its basketball and football teams, and is a first-choice school for many aspiring athletes. The school has a long list of alumni, including Seth Meyers, Stephen Colbert, Cloris Leachman, Anna Gunn, and George R.R. Martin.

Notable Northwestern University Alumni

As one of Chicago's oldest, this school has a long list of notable alumni. This list includes:

  • Seth Meyers, comedian
  • Stephen Colbert, comedian and talk show host
  • Cloris Leachman, actress
  • Anna Gunn, actress
  • George R.R. Martin, bestselling author of Game of Thrones
  • Robin Lord Taylor, actor
  • Douglas Conant, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company
  • Lance Fritz, CEO of Union Pacific Company
  • Ginni Rometty, chairman, president, and CEO of IBM
  • Cheddi Jagan, former president of Guyana
  • Edward Weiler, director of Goddard Space Flight Center
  • Veronica Roth, author
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