The need for public education in St. Louis became quite apparent during the 1830's when the streets of the rapidly growing city swarmed with idle children! As a result of legislative action in 1835, authorizing the sale of the City Commons, one tenth of the proceeds were to be used for the support of public schools. Two small two story schools were built and opened in l838. One was at Fourth and Spruce Streets and the other at Broadway and Cherry (Franklin) Street. There were about 350 pupils in the two schools. The Benton School was completed at Sixth and St. Charles Streets in 1842 and this school is also notable as it housed the first high school classes held in St. Louis in 1853. Other schools near the downtown area that were opened before the Civil War were the Clark School at Seventh and Hickory Streets in 1846, the Laclede School at Fifth and Poplar Streets in 1850 and the Eliot (later Eads) School at 15th and Pine Streets in 1851.
The City's first high school building was opened at the northeast corner of 15th & Olive Streets in 1856 and was used until 1893, when the high school moved to a new building on Grand Avenue and Windsor Place. Sumner High School for Negroes began in 1875 in a building on 11th Street near Spruce and was moved in 1897 to the former Eliot School at 15th and Walnut Streets, where it remained until the present Sumner High School was opened in 1910.
When the section of the downtown area west of Ninth Street was still residential, it wis served by the following grade schools: Benton at Ninth and Locust, 1870 to 1892; Franklin at 18th and Lucas, built in 1857; the Eliot School at 15th and Walnut Streets, 1868-96; and the Eads School at 15th and Pine Streets. A newer Laclede School was built at Sixth and Poplar Streets in 1870.