From Prairie Sod to Campus Cornerstones

Old Main
Old Main, 1876


Built: 1864-1868

Addition: 1871

North Wing burned: Dec. 1900
South Wing burned: August 1902

Old Main, originally known as Main or the College, stood approximately where Beardshear Hall now stands for only 34 years. When it was built and for many years after, it held the entire college. It housed classrooms, the library, chapel, museums, dining halls, and was the residence of faculty and students.

Plans for the College Building began as early as 1858, but construction wasn't able to begin until after the Civil War financial strains had past, in the spring of 1864.

The construction of the building was plagued with problems from the very start. The original architect was discharged after the first year of construction for incompetence. When the second architect was hired, he determined that the foundation done in the last year was unstable, due to the poor bricks used. The work done in 1864 was ordered to be destroyed, and construction started over in the spring of 1865. The new architect also found the plans in need of serious revisions. In spite of these revisions, it was discovered once construction was completed that there were no provisions in the structure for water, lighting, heat or drainage.

In 1882, a tornado damaged the south tower. A fire in 1900 destroyed the entire north wing, much of the interior of the center section, and damaged much of the remaining building. The damage was barely repaired in 1902 when another fire struck, this time in the south wing, completely destroying the building. Plans for constructing Beardshear Hall on the same site began shortly after.

Additional images of Old Main

click for larger view

Old Main Old Main Old Main
Old Main, no date. Old Main,1880's. View of Old Main, ca. 1897.
Old Main Old Main Old Main
Old Main, probably first fire, 1900. Old Main, 1901, after first fire. Old Main, after first fire.
South wing still in use.

History of Campus Buildings at Iowa State University

Comments: University Archives
Created by: Andrea Reis, Research/Technical Assistant & Jill Osweiler Schaefer, Special Collections Librarian

Updated by: Michele Christian, University Records Analyst