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Bessey Hall

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Seldon-Breck Construction Co.



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In 1913, the Legislature acted to provide a Special Building Fund (3/4 mill levy for 6 years) for the University as an overdue acknowledgement of the University's woefully inadequate physical plant and grounds. Coinciding with the Special Building Fund was the first major campus expansion to the east across 12th street to 14th street, and from R to Vine. This land acquisition more than doubled the size of the original city campus, enlarging it to 37 acres.

A flurry of building activity ensued. Several buildings were planned for both the city and farm campuses by the official architects of the University, Coolidge and Hodgdon (formerly Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge). Avery and Bessey Halls were the first buildings constructed as part of this plan, and the first to fall outside of the iron fence that surrounded the original campus.

Bessey Hall is constructed of selected common red brick with Bedford limestone trim. It is a three story structure oriented north, away from the existing campus, in anticipation of the yet to be created Memorial Mall. Designed to serve both Zoology and Botany, each department was given a clearly marked, yet separate, back door. The architects employed dual, diagonal staircases similar to those they would use a year later in Social Sciences Hall (CBA), which they illuminated with skylights. The north façade of Bessey Hall is relatively simple and unadorned. A cartouche on the parapet is decorated with the University seal.

Bessey Hall was planned in the spring of 1915, shortly after Charles Bessey's death in February. Although it is doubtful that Bessey was involved with the planning of this particular building, he had expressed in discussions about a new science building that the ideal laboratory would be oriented to the north, to take advantage of the soft northern light while using a microscope. Even before Bessey's death, Chancellor Avery had expressed a desire to name a science building in his honor. When the building was occupied in 1916, it was already named Bessey Hall, in honor of the most illustrious professor in the University's history. In accordance with Bessey's wishes, laboratories were placed on the north.

By the mid 1980s Bessey Hall no longer honored the name of Charles Bessey. The building fell into disrepair and undergraduates visited its unairconditioned classrooms with dread. A major renovation was funded in 1984 and the newly renovated Bessey Hall reopened in 1985. The building still retains many of its original features.

Source Information:
The University Journal, July 1916; Lincoln Journal, March 19, 1985; Archives and Special Collections, UNL Libraries