U of A Old Main
100 Campus Drive

Fayetteville AR 72701

      


Old Main, the oldest building on campus, is the "mother" of all the other buildings of the University of Arkansas. Initially it was called "the University building." In 1895, it was given a name that lasted the longest-University Hall-although for many years thereafter it was affectionately called "Old Main." The Board of Trustees corrected this in 1991 when, after a major renovation, it officially changed the name to Old Main.

The construction of University Hall, completed in 1875, set a seal of permanence on the University. The building was constructed of local materials by the firm of Mayes and Oliver, under the close supervision of Judge Lafayette Gregg of Fayetteville. In its long life, it has housed many academic departments and administrative functions, as well as a gymnasium, a chapel, the University Museum, the University Library, and the campus bookstore. Its imposing appearance and hillside location make it an icon of learning for the entire state.

After Arkansas Industrial University began classes in January 1872 in hastily built frame buildings, the University's Board made plans to construct a permanent, substantial building. These plans were delayed by the failure of the federal government to issue land scrip (whereby land-grant colleges were funded). In April 1873, the land-scrip income was finally received and invested in Fayetteville and Washington County bonds, thus making $121,333 available for building purposes. The structure was based on plans that architect John M. Van Osdel of Chicago had drawn for the main building at the Illinois Industrial University. On July 4, 1873, the low bid of $123,855 of Mayes and Oliver of Fayetteville was accepted. The architectural style is Second Empire, with a Mansard roof forming the top story. The south tower has a concave silhouette, while the north tower has an ogee silhouette. On all four sides of the south tower are large round areas designed to be clock faces. These towers were reversed from the Illinois plan so that the "clock tower" could be closer to the city of Fayetteville for better viewing. No clocks were ever installed, however. (A clock was installed in the South Tower in recent years).

Old Main is a survivor. It withstood major fires in October 1905, August 1919, and October 1940. It was the first Fayetteville structure to be entered in the National Register of Historic Places in June 1970 and among the first in Arkansas to be so designated.

Despite regular maintenance, by the 1960s Old Main was rapidly deteriorating. What fire had not done, weather, rot, moisture, and termites were doing in earnest. In 1971, the Fort Smith firm of Mott, Mobley, McGowan & Griffin was hired to renovate and rehabilitate Old Main, a process that took 20 years. The exterior of the building underwent stabilization and repair, but funding delays forced its evacuation. In 1985, the Arkansas Legislature appropriated $4 million if the University could raise the remainder. Under Chancellor Dan Ferritor, a fund raising campaign, "Bring Old Main Back to Life," generated $6 million in two years. A comprehensive renovation began in 1989 and was completed by the spring of 1991, restoring the building to full elegance and beauty. At that time, Old Main was rededicated and given over to the J. William Fulbright College of Arts & Sciences.

Bibliography:
U of A website - Historic Buildings



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