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Our History

John A. Walsh Elementary-Making a Difference


In 1837, John Welch (pronounced "Walsh"), grandfather of the man for whom the school was named, obtained a patent from the U.S. Government to 150 acres of land bounded on the north by what is now 18th Street, on the east by Halsted Street, on the south by 22nd Street and on the west by Racine. Mr. Walsh used this acreage as a truck farm.

Upon Mr. Walsh's death in 1846 he willed his property to his son Patrick, who later bequeathed it to his two sons, John, aged 15 and Luke, aged 18. Since the boys were minors a Guardian was appointed for them. His name was James McMullen. Some years later Mr. McMullen subdivided the property and the subdivision was called the McMullen subdivision.

Luke died in 1865, from which John became the sole heir.


In August of 1866, John Walsh sold seven lots which comprise a part of the present school site, to the City of Chicago so that a school might be built to serve this rapidly growing community. Construction was begun immediately and completed the following year.

The first building was a two-story frame structure erected on a high brick foundation. There were four rooms on each of the two floors, two rooms on each side of a wide central hallway. The second floor was reached by two outside stairways. The building was heated by a large furnace in the basement with pipes leading to each room. Each room had 63 seats and desks most of which were filled with children. Originally the school was known as the Walsh Street School because it fronted on Walsh Street (now known as Cullerton Street). After the name of the street was changed the school was named the "John A. Walsh School" in honor of the man who had formerly owned the land.


At first Wash was only a Primary School for children in the first three grades. Children from the 4th grade up had to walk to the Foster School at 720 O'Brien Street (near 12th Street) which is about one mile away from Walsh.

As membership increased in was necessary to find quarters for additional classrooms. The Board of Education finally was able to rent Westfell's Hall at 17th and Halsted for this purpose and established a 4-room Branch of Walsh there.

In 1882, continuing increase in school enrollment made it imperative to provide increased facilities. The old frame building was cut in half and one part sold to a man who moved into Walsh Court. The other half of the building was torn down and replaced by a new 3-story brick building on the same site. This building contained 12 classrooms, four on each floor facing a central hall. This time two inside stairways were provided, one for boys and one for girls. A full basement under the building provided space for toilets, a shower room and three play rooms.


By 1886 this building also became inadequate to accommodate the growing membership, so another building was erected on the property about 50 feet south of the first. This was a 4-story building with 15 regular classrooms on three floors plus an Assembly Hall-Gym on the fourth floor. The basement contained toilets and play rooms.

As far as we know it was in this building that the first elementary Print Shop in Chicago was established. It was located in room 102 with equipment donated by one of its generous alumni, Mr. Joseph Weissenback.

Evening school classes were also held here to teach English, Home Arts and Citizenship to the large number of immigrants, coming mostly from Bohemia, who settled in this area.

In 1915, the Board of Education bought additional ground to the south of the original site and extending to Canal port. This was to provide space for the erection of an addition to house an Assembly Hall-Gym and a lunchroom for the children. This building project had never materialized.


In later years the Assembly Hall on the 4th floor was condemned for Assembly purposes. It had long ceased to be used as a Gym because the noise under it made classrooms untenable. Gym classes were held in a first floor room not needed for classroom purposes. Within recent years, however, we have had to move Gym classes back to the 4th floor because we needed the room for regular classroom purposes.

In 1931, two major events occurred during this year which affected Walsh (1) Swing School on String Street (now called Desplaines) was closed. Most of these pupils were transferred to Walsh. (2) Jungman was transformed from an elementary school into a Jr. High. While we lost our 7th and 8th graders to Jungman we had to take in return many of Jungman's lower grade pupils.

In 1933, all Junior High Schools in the city, including Jungman were abolished. Since Jungman was not re-opened as an elementary school at this time we not only got our 7th and 8th graders back but had to retain all lower grade children who formerly attended Jungman.


In February 1944, Komensky School was closed because one of its two buildings was condemned. The pupils were distributed among Walsh, Cooper and Jirka School (now Pilsen Community Academy).

In September of this same year, because of the furious protest of the Komensky community, the school was re-opened in the part that had been razed. As a result of this, all former Komensky children up to and including those in grade 5th were transferred from Walsh, Cooper, or Jirka back to Komensky. Children in grades 6th, 7th, and 8th remained where they were. Komensky was made a Branch of Walsh.


During the summer of 1947 the older (1882) of the two buildings at Walsh was razed. To compensate for this loss of space the Board of Education decided to discontinue the Harrison High School Branch at Jungman and move the pupils over to their main building. They then re-converted Jungman into an elementary school as it had been originally. Children in grades 5th through 8th at Walsh (and Komensky) were then transferred to Jungman and the school made into a second Branch of Walsh. This resulted in one Principal having charge of three schools, two for lower grades only and one for upper grades only.

In 1989, as part of Chicago's school reform, Walsh School's newly elected Local School Council asked the Chicago Board of Education to consider adding a demountable unit to help solve the problem of overcrowding.

In July of 1994, at the request of the Walsh Local School Council, the Board of Education decided to demolish the structure built in 1886 and to replace it with a new addition.


The third building continued to serve as the educational beacon to the children of the Pilsen neighborhood until June of 1994.

A new building was constructed at 2031 South Peoria Street during 1992-1994, was fully occupied. In addition to sixteen classrooms, the newest building houses a science lab, a thirty-station Macintosh computer lab, a gymnasium, a full kitchen and lunchroom, and a multimedia equipped library, now servicing pre-school through eighth grade students as well as several special education classrooms.