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Morrill Hall

Vital Statistics






Bickel Construction Co., Lincoln



Also Known As:

Elephant Hall

Morrill Hall is home to the highly regarded University of Nebraska State Museum, known to Nebraska school children as Elephant Hall. Famous for its collection of fossil elephants, the Museum houses over a million specimens of vertebrate fossils, as well as extensive collections in other areas of natural history. The third museum on the University campus, Morrill Hall is the result of many years of collaboration between Erwin Barbour, director of the University Museum from 1891-1941, and his old friend and benefactor, Charles H. Morrill.

Charles Morrill, a long standing member of the Board of Regents, began financing the Morrill Geological Expeditions, which supported paleontological field work in western Nebraska, in 1892. Over the years many important fossils were excavated there and moved to Lincoln for inclusion in the Museum collections housed in old Nebraska Hall. In 1905 a free standing Museum was constructed on the original campus on 12th street. Built as a wing, the Museum was designed to be fireproof but the building burned when it was relatively new. Due to financial constraints, additional wings were never added to the Museum. By the 1920s, it was viewed as an eyesore and a firetrap, particularly by Charles Morrill.

After the special University building fund was established in 1913, the University acquired new property beyond 12th street, to the east and north. This property was developed and built up during the WWI era. Two malls were established, including Memorial Mall, which ran directly east from the monumental Memorial Stadium. Numerous future building sites were located along the north and south sides of the Mall, including the site that would eventually be selected for the Museum.

It was Morrill's wish that a new museum would be constructed before he was too old to see the results. In addition to the Morrill Geological Expeditions, Morrill had made many other generous gifts to the museum, and promised the Chancellor that more would follow if funding could be provided by the state legislature. Chancellor Avery, in one of his last important acts as Chancellor, championed the Museum above other projects. In June, 1925, the Legislature appropriated $300,000 for construction of a new Museum. At Avery's suggestion, the Regents elected to name the new museum Morrill Hall.

Ellery Davis of Davis & Wilson was selected to design Morrill Hall, although the firm had never designed a museum building. Davis traveled with Dr. Barbour to study other museum facilities, and was impressed and informed by these excursions. In Denver they visited the Colorado Museum of Natural History (now the Denver Museum of Nature and Science) where they studied artificial lighting and its impact on museum design. Working with Dr Barbour, Davis developed the great hall of elephants as the main axis of the building. Barbour wrote to Morrill in September of 1925 that the elephant hall was "to be the great feature of the whole building. Your big elephants are to be up in this hall".

Morrill provided funds for the interior decorations of the Museum. Interior murals were painted by Elizabeth Dolan, a Nebraskan who had studied in Chicago and New York, and Mrs Samuel (Martha) McKelvie, wife of the former Governor.

Morrill Hall is constructed of red pressed brick with limestone trim. The six large stone columns, a feature that was very important to Morrill, were erected in the fall of 1926. For his part, Barbour was convinced that the north entry with its fifty foot staircase lent the building "a most dignified approach. There is nothing on the Campus to compare with it."

Morrill Hall was dedicated on May 28, 1927. Charles Morrill was in attendance.

Source Information:
For Posterity: namesakes of four University of Nebraska Buildings, by Anne Oppegard, in Nebraska History, fall 1997. Letters of Barbour and Morrill, 1924-1928, University Archives.