Tomorrow is the anniversary of Rivermont Collegiate, that fine private school that, although it has spent the last few decades in Bettendorf, owes far more of its 124 years of history to Davenport.
It all began with Griswold College, which was established by the Episcopalian Diocese of Iowa in 1860 in the former buildings of Iowa College*on northern Main Street in Davenport. Kemper Hall, a boys’ prep school, was set up in the mid-1880s, presumably to provide appropriate students for Griswold.
In 1883, the Diocese received a legacy from Sarah Burr to establish a similar girls’ school.** The Diocese purchased gorgeous Cambria Place, the former residence of John L. Davies, and the surrounding five acres of land. On September 23, 1884, St. Katharine’s School opened.
St. Katharine’s was an immediate success.*** The next year, an annex was built, and in 1902, a chapel and a gymnasium were constructed under the supervision of the Episcopal Sisters of St. Mary. Five years later, the School acquired the Renwick Mansion, dubbing it St. Margaret’s House. The school continued to grow, as did its standing in the community.
One addition to the school had a more somber purpose. When America declared war on Germany in 1917, popular French teacher Marion Crandell resigned her position at the School and went overseas with the United States Christian Commission of the Y.M.C.A., believing that her language skills would be useful in aiding the troops. She served in France for only a short time before German artillery fire destroyed the building in which she’d taken shelter. Miss Crandell was the first American woman in active service killed in World War I. In 1923, the School bought the McCandless property as a memorial, opening the house as a faculty residence.
The Sisters of St. Mary ran the School until economic difficulties forced them to leave St. Katharine’s, and the school began moving towards becoming the more traditional type of private school. Fewer people were sending their daughters away to school, and in 1968, St. Katharine’s ended its boarding program. With this potential barrier to co-education out of the way, the School was free to merge with St. Mark’s, a boys’ school.
The newly christened St. Katharine’s/St. Mark’s School searched for new quarters, and found them in the palatial former home of Joseph Bettendorf. The School moved in 1973. Seven years later, the School became self-supporting when the mutual decision was made to part company with the Episcopal Diocese.
In 2001, to reflect the changes in the mission and culture of the School, St. Katharine’s/St. Mark’s changed its name to Rivermont Collegiate.
So, if one has a chance to visit the beautiful Bettendorf campus of Rivermont and see the educational standards that have been a tradition for almost a century and a quarter, just remember—
We started it!
*Which had moved to Grinnell, Iowa, some years earlier and was renamed, oddly enough, Grinnell College.
**Although they weren’t prepped for Griswold, which didn’t accept female students at the time.
*** Unlike Kemper Hall, which closed in ten years. Griswold College itself didn’t last too much longer, and in 1900, Davenporters—including women, for the first time–voted to purchase the site for a new city high school (present day Central High School). A new building was constructed on the land but Kemper Hall still stands today.
(posted by Sarah)