On September 7, 1909, a new Peoria high school was opened at the corner of Lincoln and Shelley streets. Lincoln High School, as it was known during the construction period, was a three-story building occupying one square block and constructed of red sandstone and terra cotta brick with a construction cost of $483,000. These were difficult times and landscaping was not completed until 1914. The new high school was obviously the pride of the south side and opened its doors with 189 students, 12 teachers and Principal W. N. Brown at the helm. The four year high school was designed for 800 students and offered courses in commercial and domestic science, manual training and academic studies. In addition to these areas of specialization, all students took courses in music and physical education.
Mr. Brown was instrumental in changing the name of Lincoln Avenue High School to Manual Training High School prior to its opening based on the industrial arts program offered to the students. The first class to graduate from Manual Training High School received their diplomas on June 22, 1911 and was composed of George William Harms, Miner George Meinta, Stella Marie Pool, Emil Edward Semlow, Harry Arthur Spring, Walter Stephenson and Helen Wheeler.
By 1921, it was obvious that additional facilities were needed and excavation for additions to the building began. The additions, when completed in 1922, provided new classrooms and a gymnasium at a cost of $250,000.
1933 saw the opening of Roosevelt Junior High School, a school built to relieve some of the congestion from the halls of Manual Training High School, whose enrollment had grown to 1680.
The Peoria Board of Education was far sighted and purchased a plot of land at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Griswold streets for a price of $8,000 in February 1931. The land which was later to be named Russell Field, was formally dedicated on October 16, 1936 during a Manual vs. Streator football game.
After 54 years of serving the south side, a new high school was built on the Russell Field site for a construction cost of $3,850,000. The students and teachers alike assisted in making the move by carrying boxes, chairs and desks down Lincoln Avenue to the new school. The new Manual, designed for 1200 students and occupying 203,000 square feet featuring a 1200 seat auditorium and a spectator gym seating 3,360, officially opened its doors in January of 1963.
Many of the alumni were obviously touched by construction of the new high school. Many dreams and inspirations had their roots in the old building and the move to the new building coupled with the razing of the old high school was compounded with the dropping of the word Training from the school name. The new school opened its doors as Manual High School.
In the fall of 1969, Manual High School again became a four year high school as the School Board redesigned the citys curriculum, closing Roosevelt Junior High as a junior high and transferring all the seventh and eighth graders to Trewyn Junior High and expanding Manual to a four year high school like the other three high schools in Peoria.
By the mid 1970s, it became necessary to make additions to Manual. Eight academic classrooms, a small engine shop, an additional wood shop, an additional gym with a seating capacity of 250 and a swimming pool was added. The additions also provided up-to-date counseling facilities and a nurses station. The additions were ready for use in November of 1977 at a cost of $2,700,000. These changes provided an additional 69,355 square feet for a new total square footage of 272,355, making Manual the largest high school in Peoria.
During the next few years, the vacant field on the west side of the building was improved to offer an excellent softball field, a practice hard-ball field, a practice soccer field and a location for general physical education classes. A competition soccer field was constructed, the old Russell field facilities were razed and a deep well was sunk to provide the water necessary to keep the grounds looking nice during the summer.
The Manual community has always loved sports and this enthusiasm carried on into the Manual activities. Our first football game was played on October 7, 1911. The 1913 season stood out as it was begun in an auspicious manner when Elmwood was trounced by the overwhelming score of 117-0. This was a record for Manual that still stands. Manual belonged to many different conferences over the years as the surrounding area developed and additional high schools were built. Our first conference championship was earned in 1935.
The Manual community was interested in more than athletics for their high school. In 1924 Manual conducted its first initiation of members into the National Honor Society when 13 seniors and 4 juniors were inducted. The archives reflect many trophies and awards earned by Manual students in various academic areas. Some of the more unusual ones include the winning of the State Typewriting and Advance Dictation contest on May 20, 1916.
Manual is justly proud of many of its graduates that have gone on to achieve fame and fortune. It is appropriate to note that our first alumni to earn a PhD. was Irene Case. Although it would be impossible to name all those who have gained national recognition, a few stand out. Lewis Skidmore, a famous architect and graduate of Boston School of Technology, Josepli De Ramus, poet, and mentioned in Whos Who in America, Revere Wisterhoff, artist of national renown, and Jack Brickhouse, famous sports announcer are just a few. A.G. Adamson and H.G. Weldin were graduates of Manual who returned to assume the role of principal of their former high school.
A special bond exists among those who have attended Manual over the years and this is probably responsible for its unique Alumni Association. The Association, probably one of a few to be found anywhere, is active and maintains records of the Manual Alumnus. The Association has provided numerous student scholarships over the years. This financial assistance coupled with their confidence and encouragement has enabled Manual students to pursue their studies in colleges and universities. Although the scholarships are given to the students as gifts, many of the recipients have reimbursed the Association for the financial assistance they received.
The principals of Manual over the years have been Mr. W.N. Brown, September 1909 to October 1924; Mr. William Giles Russell, October 1921 to 1937; Dr. John Voss, November 1937 to March 1948; Mr. A. Gray Adamson, March 1948 to June 1959; Mr. Harold G. Weldin, June 1959 to June 1970; Mr. Eric L. Johnson, June 1970 to 1992, Mr. Sanford D. Farkash, 1992 to 2004, Mr. William A. Salzman, 2004 to 2008, Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, 2008 to 2011, Mrs. Taunya Jenkins, 2011-2014, Mrs. Heather Young, 2014-2017, and Mrs. Elizabeth (Betty) Zilkowski 2017- current.