Augustana's Old Main



    Pen and Ink Sketch with Watercolor - Erwin Weber - 1980


While it had been thought originally that the College's first main building completed in 1875 would be adequate for a long time, the Board appointed a committee in 1882 to prepare sketches for a new building. According to Brolander's book dealing with the history of Augustana College, Hallberg of Chicago and Hammath of Davenport were the architects of 64 x 160 foot building, three stories high and a basement designed in Renaissance or neo-classical style. It was patterned after the main building at Uppsala University, Sweden, although the Uppsala building is about three times larger. A farmer on the building committee expressed a wish that the building have a dome - to give it an American appearance. Some claim that the capital in Springfield served as a model.

Construction of Old Main began in 1879. After the cornerstone was laid on November 6, 1884, it took ten years to complete the project. The exterior material came from the LeClair sand stone quarry in Iowa. In 1885, the college received $25,000 a large gift from P.L. Cable. In 1888, the building was partially completed and some areas were put to use. The faculty room was named Cable Hall. The west wing of the second floor was assigned to the Theological Seminary, and the library was located on the third floor. Room heights were 11 feet in the basement, 15 feet on the main floor, 14 feet on the second floor and 13 on the third. The chapel seating 600 occupied most of the east wing from the second floor to the ceiling of the third floor. An organ, built by the Moline Organ Company, was installed at a cost of $2,600. The key leader in the effort of making Old Main a reality was Dr. Erland Carlsson, Chairman of the Board and Manager of the college during much of the construction period. Old main was dedicated on June 12, 1889. The dome was completed in 1894.

As the college has grown, departments originally located in Old Main have been transferred elsewhere on campus. In 1911, the library moved into the newly completed Denkmann Memorial Library. The Theological Department moved into its new facility on Zion Hill in 1923. In 1934, the sciences moved to Wallberg Hall, and in 1955, the Music and Art Departments moved across 7th Avenue to Bergendoff Hall, the Fine Arts Building. Throughout the years, Old Main has been renovated. In 1959, the building was reconstructed to meet fire safety requirements by removing wooden stairs. The chapel was removed when Centennial Hall was completed which could serve as a chapel. In 1961, a language lab was built in Old Main made possible by a $10,000 grant from the Kling Estate. It was removed three decades later when Denkmann Memorial Library was renovated for use by the Modern Language Departments. Further remodeling occurred between 1978 to 1980, when the old wood windows were removed and replaced with aluminum throughout the building. Finally, Old Main underwent its costliest renovation when it air conditioned the entire structure in 1991.

A room bearing special historical importance is Cable Hall located in the center of the building on the north side of the second floor. During the early days of Old Main it was used by the faculty and board. Later it housed the Geology Department and still later the Art Department. Recently, it was used as a classroom for the Humanities. The Augustana Historical Society proposed its significance be recognized by restoring the room to its appearance at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1975, Old Main received the distinction of being placed on the National Register of Historic Places.