The Ohio River Flood of 1937 submerged much of Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Louisville and Evansville. The river rose 20-25 feet above flood stage, killing 385.

When the water receded, victims shoveled debris from homes and businesses, flushed mud and plaster from walls and floors, restocked shelves and settled back in.

Not so with Danville’s Cannon School. On Dec. 27, 2015, six inches of rain fell, flooding its lower-level library, cafeteria and classrooms. A long history of drainage problems and leaky windows worsened the mess.

The 274 students were reassigned. The school was closed Jan. 13, 2016, and has never reopened. The school board now is considering demolition, estimated to cost $475,000.

Cannon School, 1202 E. Main St., remains one of the more distinctive historic buildings in Danville. Its unique, curved façade echoes that of the ancient Coliseum in Rome.

Its designer was Harvey Skadden, whose masterpiece was St. James United Methodist Church, at Vermilion and Williams streets, built in 1926-27 in the English Perpendicular Gothic style.

Joseph G. Cannon School opened on Jan. 23, 1924. It honored former U.S. House Speaker Joseph G. “Uncle Joe” Cannon, 1836-1926, of Danville. The wiry, bearded Republican warhorse served 46 years in Congress. As House speaker for eight years, he was one of the most influential men in politics.

Harvey Skadden, 1890-1978, was no slouch, either. A 1910 Danville High graduate and a 1915 University of Illinois alumnus, he studied classic architecture during his Army service in Europe during World War I. His commissions included Danville High School (1924), Edison Elementary School (1930) and many elegant homes in the Maywood neighborhood and along North Vermilion Street.

The façade of Cannon School features many of the details found in the original façade of Skadden’s Danville High – recessed, Gothic archways; carved limestone ornament, and medieval-looking, multi-pane windows.

Back in 2016, engineers said it would cost District 118 $658,000 to fix the water problems. But a companion study, ordered at the same time, said that bringing the building up to modern building codes would hike the total cost to at least $9 million. That would have included replacing plumbing, heating, cooling and electrical systems, adding handicap-accessible boys’ and girls’ restrooms on all floors and installing an elevator and a sprinkler system.

“The building has to be ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant, and that’s 85 percent of the $9 million,” said Mark Ritz, of BLDD Architects in Decatur.

He said that the school, formed mainly of brick with stone, was structurally sound and in good repair. “The bones of the building are good, but the rest of the systems are failing,” he said.

Bill Dobbles, the school board president then, said, “It’s kind of reached the end of its life. It’s not feasible to renovate Cannon School. We don’t have the money to do it.”

Clearly, it’s not 1937 anymore.

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at

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