Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #137

This photograph shows the Main Building during its days as State University (1908-1916). The ivy creeping up the side gives it a different character than its look today. Looking to the extreme right in the center, one can see the cannon on its cement block. Just above the cannon, to the direct right of the tree, one can see the dome of the Old Chemistry Building (Gillis Building). The first floor windows to the right have striped canopies to block the light of the setting sun.

 The Main Building was the first building on campus. Designed by Architect H.P. McDonald, the building was built of brick fashioned from campus clays and stone, at a cost of $81,000. It opened in 1882.  It was built in the same year as the Old Dormitory (White Hall) and the Residence where President James K. Patterson lived. It is also the only building of those three that still stands.  In 1882, "all academic functions took place there, and professors' classrooms doubled as their offices" (Cone, 1989). Originally housed in the building were all campus offices, classrooms, and related facilities including: the College armory and the classrooms used by the Commandant of Cadets; a shop; the President's Office (equipped with fireplaces and a classroom); a natural history museum; two laboratories; the Normal, French, German, English, Mathematics, Classical, and Preparatory departments; an assembly room containing an organ; a smaller chapel (which was able to seat the entire student body, faculty, and staff); the headquarters of the Union Literary and Philosophian societies; and the Kentucky Geological Survey.  

The three buildings were funded by bonds issued to fulfill the pledges of the Lexington City Council and the Fayette County Court that totaled $50,000. The pledges competed against ones made by Bowling Green. If Bowling Green had pledged higher, it is possible the University could have been located there. The city and county met their pledge and more, offering funds of $86,000. More funds came from a property tax levied by the state legislature which produced about $20,000 in funds. As opposed to the one time offer of the city and county, the property tax would offer funds year after year. Finally, the University also had a land grant endowment fund set up when it was called A&M College and was part of the sectarian Kentucky University. Still, building funds were gone by mid-1881. Fear of a repeal of the property tax caused banks to refuse the University loans. President Patterson had to offer his own monies to get a loan that would complete construction of the building (Cone, 1989).

1890 with rounded cupola

Gracing the roof of the building was a tower crowned by a cupola, 157 feet in height. The cupola featured a clock (supposedly built by a professor) and a "captain's walk", and housed the local Weather Observatory. This structure was progressively dismantled and shortened or altered and after 1919 the roof of the edifice manifested the "flattened", gabled appearance which characterized it until recent fire.

The Main Building was severely damaged by fire on May 15, 2001 and all offices were relocated during the extensive reconstruction; it was officially reopened October 25, 2004. Currently, it houses administrative offices, including the President's office, conference rooms, classrooms, and the Visitor Center. The interior of the building has undergone many rearrangements since its construction; only the stairways and two hallways remain.

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