Most residents and even the visitors to Shelbyville would agree a huge part of the charm of our city is the old restored houses and buildings. With that thought in mind, many residents and downtown merchants were concerned about the closure of the old Sparks College building at 131 S. Morgan.
Those concerns may now be laid to rest with the announcement from Shelby County State Bank (SCSB) that they intend to not only save the old Sparks College Building but totally renovate that building for the bank’s use.
SCSB Board of Directors member Michael Dove said the bank is moving forward with plans to totally renovate the building both inside and outside. This will be the second time SCSB has redone the Sparks Building. SCSB purchased the building in May 1976. At that time the bank authorized necessary renovations to the building. While the building was renovated classes were held for 10 months at the Christian Education Building of the Presbyterian Church. The college moved back into the Sparks Building on March 1, 1978.
“Our policy and plan for many years has been to keep the downtown viable,” said Dove. “This bank began to grow and grow. Our Trust Department and Investment Center has grown and we need the room.”
SCSB president Gwyn Helton said the bank’s plans include moving their Investment Center, and Trust Department to the new building as well as a new conference room and expanded facilities for training.
The bank will take up the entire first floor with plans to possibly expand in that building in the future.
“Initially I am really concentrating on getting the Investment Center and Trust Department ready and the training center, then there is room to expand,” said Helton.
The Sparks College was originally started in 1908. Henry Donham Sparks saw a need for a business-trade school. Sparks who held four different degrees including two Bachelor and two Masters Degrees had taught at several high schools before coming to Shelbyville. As soon as the high school commencement ended at Madison, IN where he was principal, he moved his family to Shelbyville and started Shelby Business College.
It should also be noted that Henry Sparks served 18 years as a Representative in the Illinois General Assembly working under four different governors.
Shelby Business College occupied three-buildings in its lifetime in Shelbyville. At the first building (Syndicate Building located on the corner of Morgan and Main ), the college occupied approximately two thirds of the third story and the other one third was occupied by the studio of noted painter Robert Root. There was a fire about one year after the college began and the third floor of the building was removed. Shelby Business College then moved to the second floor of the building for the next six years In the fall of 1913, the college changed its name to Sparks College and on May 15, 1915 moved to its present location at 131 South Morgan.
Over the years the College shared their building with many different businesses, ranging from an insurance office, grocery store, chiropractic office, to most recently a fitness center. At one point in the history of Sparks the basement housed a gym where basketball games were held. An old picture of that era showed the gym with a floor of spectators and even a balcony for spectators.
“We use to go down on weekends and sneak in the window and have a little pick-up game,” said Robert “Bob” Bolinger another member of the Board of Directors for SCSB.
The college, like all businesses, has seen highs and lows in their student population. In its heyday the college offered court reporting, medical transcription, secretarial, and accounting and all of those courses were certificate programs as opposed to degree programs. During the 60s and 70s the students numbered over a one hundred.
Former Sparks College employee and now Daily Union reporter Valorie Eversole worked 9 years serving as Financial Aid Director, teacher, and Assistant Director.
“During my tenure at Sparks our best year was 1999 and we had about 65 students,” said Eversole. “After that the student population gradually decreased and my last year we had about 25 students.”
Eversole said at one time the court reporting and medical transcription were the most popular. She said if the students finished the program in these two areas they were almost guaranteed a job.
“During its good times Sparks College was well known, especially for its court reporting program.”
She said most students were commuting to and from Sparks, although some students took up residence in Shelbyville. Eversole said towards the end of her career at Sparks she could see the writing on the wall as the student population began to decrease.
Bolinger said the advent of the Junior College system came into play.
“The Junior Colleges got into a lot of the areas that the business school was providing,” said Bolinger.
Shelby County State Bank hopes to have the renovations completed in early August and hold a grand opening around that time.