Lincoln School: The beginning of the end

I can’t count how many times in 23-years at the Dispatch/Argus that I have been assigned to take an updated “building mug” of the old Lincoln School in Rock Island. Since it closed in the 80’s the building has been on a slow and steady descent into hell. Its demise has been so slow that it never seemed to look any different. The beautiful red bricks and striking arches are an architectural mirage. According to the demolition crew the reality is the 119-year-old building is long past saving.


Since the final decision was made to demolish the structure there has been a steady stream of people stopping by to say goodbye to their old friend.  Everyone I spoke to at the site said the same thing “I wish they could have saved it.” “They should have turned it into a … fill in the blank.”

When the school was closed back in the 80’s the Quad-Cities’ economy was being ripped to shreds by the farm crises. I am not a historian but my best guess is that Lincoln School is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. When the factories which employed so many of the neighborhood’s residents started to struggle, the resulting socio-economic changes left very little money to rehab a money pit built in 1893. Ralph Walters, the school’s retired physical education teacher, told me that the building was a maintenance nightmare during its final 20-years. 2012 is a brand new world when it comes to rehabbing old buildings but we need to remember what was going on economically in the area when the building was shuttered. It will be sad to see those wonderful arches fall to the wrecking ball on Monday. Hopefully something useful will spring from the roots of the beloved old school.

Over the years of photographing old Lincoln School I have never taken the time to walk around it and study it with my camera. On Monday, during the process of shooting photos for the D/A with my Nikon D300s DSLR, I started to make some some photos with my trusty iPhone. I utilized my favorite photo app on the iPhone Hipstamatic. After I had what I needed for the paper I spent 30-minutes trying to capture the character of the building using Hipstamatic. If you follow me on Instagram (@tmizener) you know I am an iPhone photography addict  and this project is taylor-made for a Hipstamatic essay. I love the dramatic black & white 1:1 format, especially for portraits.

On Thursday we got the word that the demolition of the school’s gymnasium addition was going to start so I headed back to the site. The distance of the demolition action from where I had to stand behind the safety fence isn’t conducive to taking images with an iPhone. As a result I concentrated my Hipstamatic photos on the people who showed up to watch. During the 2-hours I was on the scene I had to toggle between my responsibilities to the newspaper and the Hipstamatic project.

Lincoln School alumni John Baxter with his class photo from 1964-65.

Once I was back in the office and finished my newspaper edit I was finally able to look over the Hipstamatic images. I was pretty pleased with the results. I have picked 14 of the better images from both days to a slideshow posted below.  I especially like the photo of John Baxter (above) holding his class photo with the school in the background. I hope to capture more of these ‘alumni portraits’ on Monday during the demolition of the main building. With any luck lots of Lincoln alumni will take the time to stop by the site. Fingers crossed.

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*Note the only non-Hipstmatic photo in the slideshow is the one of the cat living under the school steps. That image was taken with a Nikon D300s and a 70-200mm lens. I cropped it to the 1:1 format and toned it in Photoshop to give it a Hipstamatic feel.


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