102 E. Main Street (View on map)
Franklin Medical College was the first medical school in Illinois. It existed for only a brief seven-year period. George W. Richards, an established doctor, founded the school in 1842. During its years in operation the school offered courses in anatomy, pharmacy, surgery, and obstetrics. Classes ranging in size from 15 to 20 students trained under well known doctors who were considered experts in their respective fields.
All seemed to be going well with the medical school until one student, John Rood of Maple Park, made the mistake of robbing the grave of a local young woman. Rood, a student who was attempting to complete his education in 1849, heard of the death of Mrs. George Kenyon. With the help of George Richards, the son of the school's founder, Rood took the young woman's remains from their resting place in Sycamore. Though they hid her body in the Richards' barn, the men had not gone unnoticed; people had seen and noted the wagon and the young men's strange actions.
After hearing of the mysterious activities of the medical students, the deceased woman's family discovered the body's absence. An angry group of citizens set out to question Dr. Richards. Dr. Richards denied all knowledge of the body's whereabouts. Once the citizens had left, Dr. Richards learned the truth and ordered that the body be taken from its hiding place. He hoped that by removing the body from his property, he would be able to settle the matter calmly.
The situation ended in a violent manner. The group of citizens, doubting the word of Dr. Richards, had decided to return to his home to secure Mrs. Kenyon's body. On searching the property, the group found a dissected male cadaver in the barn. This enraged them, and when they returned to confront Dr. Richards at his home, gunshots were fired through the Richards' door. John Rood was killed and Dr. Richards was wounded.
There are two different accounts of what happened next. One claims that following the gunfire, a mediator got the students to reveal the location of the body in exchange for immunity from punishment. The other, a decidedly more intriguing account, has local spiritualist Caroline Howard revealing the body's whereabouts. Either way, Mrs. Kenyon's body was recovered and returned to her Sycamore grave.
The Franklin Medical College closed as a result of the Richard's Riot incident. Dr. Richards moved to Dubuque, Iowa, where he died of pneumonia in 1853.
Image credit: St. Charles Heritage Center
Not all bad came of "Richards' Riot." Officials came to the realization that medical schools needed materials in order to train their students. So that grave robbing was not the sole option for medical students, a law was passed providing that all unclaimed corpses from charity hospitals be donated to medical schools.
Over the years, this building that once sat at the center of one of St. Charles's most colorful events has housed many businesses. Wilcox and Munn Dry Goods Store was located here near the end of the 19th century. From the early 1920s through the mid-1940s Elmer and Ina Marshall operated Marshall's Variety Store in this building. A.H. Borman & Co., later called Borman's Hardware, located their store here after the Marshalls closed their business in about 1945. It remained a hardware store until the law firm of Dowling, Safanda & Swanson took over the space and it became known as The Lawyer's Building. The building remained vacant after the lawyers moved out in 1995 until Armand's Restaurant was established in 1999. The Pi Pizza Perfection Restaurant currently occupies the old Franklin Medical College building.
The building was originally constructed of stone and had arched windows. Today, its exterior has been altered in such a way that it barely resembles the original building.
For additional photographs see:
A Hundred Years and More: A Historical Play of St. Charles - Episode IV, Scene 2 - Richards' Riot (IDA)
Nelson, Rodney B. The Franklin Institute: Illinois' First Medical School: Being Also a History of Resurrection and a Primer on the Art of Grave Robbing (REF 610.9773 NEL)
"Richard's Riot" on Rootsweb