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The Jubilee College State Historic Site is reopening to the public. Here's what to expect

Tim Shelley
Jubilee College State Historic Site is located at the edge of Jubilee College State Park in rural Brimfield, just west of Kickapoo.

The doors of the Jubilee College State Historic Site are now open to members of the public once again.

It's been more than a decade since the state has offered regular access to the pioneer school it now maintains. Since 2009, volunteers have only sporadically opened the site up to visitors, largely due to a lack of funding.

"Our main goal was to get the site reopened again to the public to get folks back in here, said site superintendent Matthew Mittelstaedt. "Again, the State Park has always seen tourists, the grounds here themselves. There's continuous flow of folks coming out here all the time, using the grounds here as well. And the goal is to get the historic buildings back open, so that the public can come back out and see the site again."

Jubilee College was one of the state's earliest educational institutions. It was founded in 1839 by Episcopal Bishop Philander Chase. He selected a remote site about 15 miles west of Peoria.

For Chase's purposes of educating young men to become priests, the rural Brimfield location was ideally removed from the vices and temptations of the city. But the site selection was also part of Jubilee College's ultimate downfall, Mittelstaedt said.

"Over and over and over again, in the primary documents, you see people talking about the difficulty in traveling to this location. The church also recognized the difficulties and traveling to this location," he said. "It's isolated."

Chase regularly made trips to the South and to England to raise private funds for the college, but the Episcopal Church ultimately lacked confidence in the college's ability to succeed so far removed from railroads or sizeable settlements.

Chase's full vision for the site never came to fruition. The wing actually constructed was intended to become the girl's school, not the main structure of the campus. The church's financial support further tapered off after Chase's 1852 death, though Jubilee College hung on through 1862.

"They really had to begin selling off parts of the property. And originally, there were about 3000 acres here," Mittelstaedt said. That included a sawmill, a grist mill, a printing press, a store, and cottages for the various employees living on the property.

Tim Shelley
An example of what a typical classroom might have looked like in Jubilee College's golden age.

After the college's closure in 1862, the church leased out the main property several times for others to utilize as schools. The state of Illinois acquired the land after the last school closed around the turn of the 20th century.

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps was based out of the building. The corps brought the building back into a state of repair, but it then remains dormant again until a major restoration effort is launched in the late 1970s.

Public tours started in 1986. Many of the exhibits still date from that era.

"The exhibits have not been updated yet. So there's continuing research to do, and there's probably updating to do in the exhibits," Mittelstaedt said, noting he wants to bring the site's displays into the 21st century.

"This is really one of the earliest educational institutions that you find in the state. And so this is kind of an understanding of how our institutions have formed," he said. "You really get sort of a basic understanding of how far we've come."

The Jubilee College State Historic Site is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays through Saturdays. The last tours of the day start at 4:30 p.m.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.