Monday, August 1, 2011

Carl Schurz High School (Part One)

Carl Schurz High School at 3600 North Milwaukee Avenue (JWB, 2010)

Our ideals resemble the stars, which illuminate the night.  No one will ever be able to touch them.  But the men who, like sailors on the ocean, take them for guides will undoubtedly reach their goal.

These were the words of Carl Schurz, a German-American born near Cologne on March 2, 1829.  Involved in radical politics at the University of Bonn, Schurz took part in the 1848 German Revolution, ultimately acting as an officer in the artillery.  Narrowly escaping capture when the garrison at Rastatt surrendered, Schurz made his way to Switzerland, moving from there to Edinburgh, then to Paris, finally settling in London.

It was in London that Schurz met his wife, Margarethe Meyer, and in 1852 the couple headed for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  By 1852 they had settled in Watertown, Wisconsin.  Clearly ambitious, the newly arrived immigrant worked as a farmer while fighting on behalf of the anti-slavery movement and in 1857 mounting an unsuccessful campaign as a Republican for Lieutenant-Governor.  Margarethe, by the way, waged a campaign of her own and is widely acknowledged for starting the first kindergarten in the United States.

JWB, 2010
Admitted to the bar in 1858, Schurz set up a practice in Milwaukee and by 1860 was the spokesman for the Wisconsin delegation at the Republican National Convention, held in Chicago.  In this position he was a member of the committee that brought Abraham Lincoln the news of his nomination.

It was Lincoln who sent Schurz to Spain as Ambassador in 1861, and it was his efforts that kept the Spanish from supporting the Confederacy.  The war weighed heavily on him, and he implored the President to grant him a commission in the Union army.  In April of 1861 he was made Brigadier General of Union volunteers an in June took command of a division.

By March of 1862 he had been promoted to Major General.  During his service he led forces at the Second Battle of Bull Run, the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and Chattanooga.   He resigned his commission at the end of the war.

For most men that would have been enough to fill a lifetime, but Schurz was not finished.  In 1866 he moved to Detroit and became the chief editor of the Detroit Post.  In 1867 he moved to St. Louis where he took over the editorship of the Western Post.  In that capacity he hired Joseph Pulitzer in his first reporting job.

Three years later Schurz was elected to the United States Senate, representing Missouri.  By 1876 President Rutherford Hayes had named Schurz to his cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.  He fought the movement of the Office of Indian Affairs to the War Department and began attempts to clean up one of the most corrupt offices in the government.

The deft touch of Dwight H. Perkins in the
Carl Schurz Assembly Hall (JWB, 2010)
Leaving the Cabinet in 1881, Schurz moved to New York City where for the next twenty years he actively represented his beliefs in honest government, a sound monetary policy and an anti-imperialism stance.  At various times he served as Editor of the New York Evening Post, The Nation, and as an editorial writer for Harper’s Weekly.  It was in New York City that Carl Schurz died on May 14, 1906.

When the time came to build a new high school on the city’s northwest side, it was only natural that the name of Carl Schurz be chosen for the new facility.  At the time the new school was planned, there were 470,000 Germans in Chicago – one out of four Chicagoans in 1900 was either born in German or had a parent born there.   Carl Schurz High School, at 3600 North Milwaukee where it crosses Addison Street, was finished in 1910 with additions following in 1915 and 1924.

The original building, the design of Chief Architect of the Board of Education Dwight H. Perkins, is a magnificent combination of the Prairie Style and Arts and Crafts Style of architecture as they apply to a large institution.  In the next blog I’ll have a look at Perkins, his design, the beauty of the building, and the award-winning renovation by Carol Ross-Barney + Jankowski.

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