SUI Red Brick Campus – The Golden Age of the State University of Iowa. From 1860 through the mid-1890’s, the State University of Iowa (SUI) grew by leaps and bounds. In 1895, the University was alive and well, all centrally located on the east side of the Iowa River on what was affectionately called The Red Brick Campus. Twelve buildings and four smaller ‘support’ facilities, most of which were built using red bricks made right here in Iowa City. By the turn of the century, a “New University” campus was on the drawing board and The Red Brick Campus was on its way out. Sadly, today, only two of these original sixteen buildings are still standing. Join us for this enjoyable journey back to the way it was in 1895.
Old Capitol – The Icon of SUI. On July 4, 1840, Territorial Governor Robert Lucas came from Burlington to dedicate the cornerstone of the Stone Capitol. The date of the University’s founding is February 25, 1847, only two months after the beginning of Iowa statehood (December 28, 1846). In 1857, when the State Capitol finally moved to Des Moines, the State bequeathed Old Capitol to the University. Today, it’s become the Icon of the University of Iowa.
Mechanics Academy – The Cradle of SUI. Mechanics Academy not only housed the first classes for University students (1855), but it also became the first home of University Hospital and Mercy Hospital (1873 – 1897), the first location of the University Library (1855 – 1859), and the first office of the State of Iowa Historical Society (1862 -1865).
South Hall – SUI’s Ten-Chimneyed One. South Hall will be remembered as the three-story, ten-chimneyed, red-brick building which stood directly south of Old Capitol. It served the University for forty years, first as a dormitory/boarding hall and later as a classroom building, providing a meeting place for students and faculty alike. Tragedy fell upon South Hall on March 10, 1901, when along with the adjoining Medical Building, it was completely destroyed by fire.
North Hall – The Grandfather of SUI. North Hall was constructed in 1865, to be used, in part, as a University Chapel. The original recommendation, made by Governor Samuel Kirkwood, requested funds for a chemistry laboratory, chapel and astronomical observatory, and over the years, North Hall, the two-and-a-half-story, red-brick classic, certainly became a multi-use facility. Until it was demolished during the summer of 1949, its greatest distinction was that of being the oldest existing structure actually built for the University’s use – grandfathered into on-going campus purposes from its glory days to 1949.
Medical Building – SUI’s Ill-Fated Medical Experiment. The Medical Building was built in 1882 and was constructed to house the growing Medical College. Over its short 19-year existence, this stately building, located adjacent to South Hall, was twice remodeled, the last time in 1888. Twice struck by lightning and once having its roof torn off in a wind storm, the nemesis which seemed to pursue this building completed its work of ruin on March 10, 1901 when a fire made short work of the interior wooden construction.
Science Hall – SUI’s Only Mobile Home. Science Hall, known as well as the Geology Building, is a three-story red-brick building built in 1884 for the purpose of housing the sciences. To make room for the new Hall of Natural Science (Macbride Hall), Science Hall was moved during the summer of 1905, inch by inch over a distance of 200 feet to its present location on the corner of Capital and Jefferson Streets. Today, Calvin Hall, as it is now known, stands as the sole surviving relic from the Red Brick Campus that once was.
My Calvin Hall Story. Here’s my own personal story of the short time your humble author spent working in Calvin Hall. In one sense, I guess my story ‘made the news!’
Hall Of Pharmacy & Chemistry – SUI’s Controversial Park Place. It was decided in 1890 to locate this new building, dedicated to the study of Chemistry and Pharmacy, in the City Park area – a controversial idea indeed! Once opened two years later, the facility began showing signs of faulty construction almost immediately. In 1922, it was remodeled into a library (East Hall Annex) and in 1930, the Electrical Engineering Department made it its headquarters until its demise in 1973. And even in its passing, there was more controversy!
Close Hall – SUI’s Home for Jesus, Jumpshots & Journalism. Made of red brick, construction of the building was completed in 1891. The cost was supplemented through a contribution of $10,000 by Mrs. Helen S. Close in order for the YMCA and YWCA (Young Men & Women Christian Association) to have a ministry home near campus. The three-story building contained offices and recitation rooms on the first floor while the second floor housed literary societies. The basement of the building housed a gymnasium as well as an industrial chemistry lab. In 1924, Close Hall became the home of the School of Journalism and The Daily Iowan press room. A fire destroyed the second floor in 1940, but the building was saved and utilized until its demise in 1968.
Observatory #2 – SUI’s Eye to the Sky. During the Civil War years, Governor Samuel Kirkwood believed there was a great need for our State University to have an astronomical observatory. The first one was built in 1874, a small brick building located at the north end of Clinton Street (where the President’s Home now stands). In 1891, a second observatory was erected on the Red Brick Campus, located nearer the newly-built Science Hall, directly west of where the Dental Building would be placed in 1894. The building remained there until 1923, when brought down to make room for the new University (Jessup) Hall.
Dental Building – SUI’s Eye Tooth for 80 Years. Built in 1894, this three-story, red brick and wooden structure was the second home of the College of Dentistry. But even before the doors opened for classes in 1895, it was already too small to accommodate the growing enrollment. For decades, long after the College of Dentistry moved on, stalwart Old Dental remained ensconced, being used for a variety of purposes over the years before its passing in 1975.
Homeopathic Medical Building #2 – SUI’s 2nd Medical Opinion. For much of the 19th century, there were two approaches to the way doctors treated sickness and disease: allopathic medicine vs. homeopathic medicine. In 1876, the University decided to add a Homeopathic Medical Department to the school’s curriculum, but not without a lot of controversy. Built in 1878, the first Homeopathic Medical Building was a two-story red-brick structure built on a small lot on Clinton Street. In 1895, a new, and much larger red-brick Homeopathic Hospital and Medical Building was ready for occupancy, setting up camp on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Dubuque Streets.
Unity Hall – SUI’s Gathering Place. Originally the Unitarian Church, the University rented this unique red-brick facility for student activities from the late 1880’s until 1906, when it purchased the building for multiple uses. With a major renovation in 1911, Unity Hall, also called Old Unity, became the home for Iowa’s first Student Union, providing meeting places for student clubs, extracurricular activities and dining in the basement. Outgrowing the space in 1913, the Union went through two more locations in three years, only to return to Unity Hall in 1916, sharing it with the School of Music until the new Memorial Union opened in 1925.
The Forgotten Four – SUI’s Little Engines that Could. In 1895, there were four additional facilities on the Red Brick Campus, all small buildings not shown on our map since they were technically not full-sized facilities. Yet, throughout their life spans, all four played vitally important roles in the day-to-day work of this growing university. From the very beginning (1860) when University Square was the only campus (outside of Mechanics Academy), the Water Closet met one of the most primal human needs; the Horse Barn housed all transportation needs of the nineteenth century; the Armory/Power Plant supplied heat to the campus; while the tiny Weights & Measures Building gave students a place to grab a smoke between classes!
The Forgotten Four – One Big Contribution To SUI. From the very beginning of the University of Iowa, when University Square was the only campus, there were four little buildings that made one big contribution to the day-to-day operations of SUI. While they never made it to the big-time, having their pictures printed on penny postcards, they did do an occasional photo-bomb on Old Capitol selfies. Come take a peek with us.
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