Most of the information on Braceville and Braceville High School is from the Coal City Library website (www.coalcity.lib.il.us ) and from Jim Ridings’ excellent new book “Cardiff: Ghost Town on the Prairie (Volume 2)”.
Braceville is a coal mining
town. The village was laid out by Nathaniel Cotton in 1861, around the time that small-scale
mining began in the area. Around 1880, large-scale mining began, financed by the Chicago , Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad.
Their coal company eventually opened six shaft mines in and near Braceville. The village boomed, reaching an
estimated population of over 3,000 in the early 1900’s. Many of these residents were of Italian and Eastern
European descent. In 1910, a protracted miner’s strike closed the area mines. When the strike ended, the
company decided not to reopen the Braceville mines. Braceville began to decline, with many houses moved to other area
towns. In later years, strip mining of coal was done south of Braceville; this area of strip mine lakes is now the Mazon-Braidwood
Wildlife Area, and a cooling lake for the nearly Braidwood Nuclear Power Plant.
Braceville supported a two-year high school during the coal
boom years. The village had two large wooden school buildings, one of which was the four-room high school (these buildings
were razed many years ago). It seems likely that Braceville High School started around 1895 and was closed by the early
1920’s. Commencement programs from the early 1900’s on the Coal City website show that a tenth grade “graduation”
was held, with valedictorians and salutatorians named.
A tragic accident described in the Ridings book serves as an example
of the difficulties faced by the residents of the mining towns. Charles Vignery “graduated”
from Braceville High at age 15 as the salutatorian of the class of 1909. His father (a Belgian immigrant who had worked
in the Braceville mines) had died two years earlier. Charles followed a brother and two sisters to
the coal town of Cardiff , in Round Grove Township , Livingston County .
On February 11, 1910, Charles was crushed between two mining cars while working at the Cardiff mine.
He died later that day at the home of his sister, at the age of 16.
Braceville today maintains its
own grade school district (CCSD No. 75) for grades K-8. Braceville High School
students attend Gardner-South Wilmington High School, as they have since the 1920’s.