Freeburg Community High School History
Although existing as a two-year high school for a number of years, it was not until 1923 that Freeburg High School officially graduated its first four-year class. Initially, there was just the Freeburg-Fayetteville area attending FCHS, but the Smithton, Paderborn, Floraville area came into the district in 1950-51 and St. Libory joined in 1971-72 so that there are now 122 square miles in District #77. FCHS has a current enrollment of approximately 750 and is anticipated to grow over the next few years. On staff we have 48 certificated personnel and 20 non-certified employees. Forty percent of our teachers have master degrees. FCHS has six feeder grade schools - St. Libory G.S., Smithton Elementary, St. John's Catholic G.S. of Smithton, Millstadt Elementary, Freeburg Elementary, and St. Joseph's Catholic G.S. of Freeburg.
The old high school, built in 1927, was the typical three-story brick structure. In 1950 additional classrooms were built onto the north side and a new gym was built just south of the school. A tornado in May of 1968 demolished most of the 1927 building. Since there were some difficulties in collecting the insurance money, and the need to pass a referendum for additional classrooms due to an expanding enrollment, FCHS students attended classes all over town for the next three years. Finally, in 1971 the re-modeled north wing and the new south wing were ready for use. There were actually three separate buildings so students had to go outside to get from one building to the other until 1977 when the "ramp" area was enclosed to attach the north wing, the gym, and the south wing. In 1989 a new carpeted cafeteria, a kitchen, and four classrooms were finished, and in 1997 FCHS added 14 new classrooms.
Freeburg Area History
Little is known about early Freeburg history. It was first platted in 1836 as the town of Urbanna by John Tolin Lemen whose father had immigrated to this area from Virginia around 1800. Apparently, the first settlers of Freeburg were of English and Irish ancestry if we discount the American Indians who lived here for hundreds of years as evidenced by the presence of the Mound Builder's culture in the vicinity. More recently, there were five migratory tribes that crisscrossed each other in Illinois with those being the Peorias, Cahokias, Kaskaskias, Tamaroas, and Mitchigamies. It is said that Turkey Hill north of town was a popular Indian campground that also attracted many early settlers due to the view it provided of the surrounding countryside. The last Indian tribes left this area by 1820.
The big German migrations to this area started around 1830 and continued quite strong for the rest of the century. Obviously, the abundance of coal, the availability of cheap fertile farm land, as well as the proximity to the frontier city of St. Louis, only 20 miles to the northwest, are what attracted settlers to Freeburg.
The old "Plank Road" was built in the 1850's and for 35 cents you could ride from Belleville to Freeburg in "comfort" without potholes on what is now known as the old Freeburg Road. Abe Lincoln is said to have utilized this road on at least one occasion. In 1851 the post office came, and when it was found that there was another town of Urbana in Illinois, the city fathers changed the name in 1859 to Freeburg after the beautiful city of Freiburg in the state of Baden, Germany, from which some of the early settlers had come. The town was incorporated in 1867 with 808 residents. The railroad came in 1869 and exchanged owners a couple of times before being sold to the Illinois Central. In the heyday of independent coal mines, as many as 1500 miners lived here, and in 1874 there were 10 hotels for them to choose from if they could not find more permanent lodging. With the closing of the Peabody River King Mine just east of Freeburg in 1989, coal no longer plays a dominant role in the local economy.
St. Joseph's Catholic Elementary School has been in operation continually since the 1860's. Public elementary schools date from the 1870's, but it was not until 1923 that the first four-year class graduated from Freeburg High School. Even today, there are separate school districts in Freeburg - Elementary District #70 and High School District #77, both with their own school boards and superintendents.
Today, Freeburg remains a conservative, mostly German community with a highly diversified business economy that also serves as a bedroom community for Belleville and the St. Louis metroplex, while still providing essential services needed in any small community. On clear days, downtown St. Louis is visible from Turkey Hill.
The communities of Freeburg, Smithton, St. Libory, Fayetteville, Paderborn, and Floraville make up District #77. There are also an extensive number of new and established subdivisions within the confines of District #77 borders. Steady growth is a result of Scott Air Force Base Joint Use Proposal and families moving out of the nearby cities.
The following is taken directly from an old framed story that has been hanging in the Principal's office.
History of the Name “Midgets”
According to those interviewed who were students during the 1934-35 school year, the name “Midgets” was given to the FCHS basketball team by a local newspaper sports writer. That year the basketball team had a small team with the tallest player at five feet ten inches tall. He was the center.
The size of the team did not seem to handicap the team since it felt that it could overcome the lack of height with “fast break” tactics. The major difficulty came during this season when the rules called for a center jump after each basket scored. A team which had a player much above six feet tall could control most center jumps and consequently have a considerable offensive advantage.
The story goes that on a particular night during the 1934-35 season, Dupo had not lost a regular season game for three years when it came time for the Midgets to play them. With only six players on the team, it was not uncommon for the team to find it necessary to borrow some of the spectators from the audience to complete the game. This was considered an acceptable practice. Late in this crucial game, all Freeburg students had fouled out of the game leaving only Freeburg spectators on the court to protect a one point lead over the powerful Dupo team. With only seconds left in the game a Freeburg “borrowed player” intercepted a wayward pass and scored the final goal resulting in a halt to the long winning streak by Dupo.
Since the 1934-35 school year the name “Midgets” has been the loyal team name for many hundreds of Freeburg High School students on all types of teams. It is now held as an affectionate and respectful label.