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Museum (Old)

Vital Statistics






W.L. Campbell



Also Known As:

Geography Building (after 1948)

In 1905 Charles H Morrill donated $1000 towards the improvement of museum collections, with the promise to donate $1000 every year for five years. Morrill was a self made man of wealth and influence, having served as president of the Board of Regents in the University's early years. Since 1893 he had funded the Morrill Geological Expeditions for the gathering of materials and specimens. Through this annual donation, the Museum developed a remarkable natural history collection. Morrill's donations and persistent urgings directed at University administrators finally resulted in the construction of the first Museum Building.

Designed by Thomas Kimball as a wing of what was to become a much larger building, the original building was never expanded, and Kimball's original design never completed. Prior to construction of the Museum, there was considerable concern that the collections would be damaged by fire since they were housed in old Nebraska Hall, already the scene of several fires. Charles Morrill once claimed that Nebraska Hall was "acknowldeged to be a veritable fire trap." The new Museum wing was to be designed as a fire proof building, a requirement of the regents building committee.

Built of common brick, with sandstone trimmings and a slate roof, Kimball utilized fireproof construction as instructed. Somewhat boxy, this building had a broad hipped roof and deep eaves, with decorative steel brackets. Very different from his Administration Building design, Kimball's Museum design is probably the outcome of Prairie influences coupled with a very austere building budget. The unusual window groupings, with subtle arching, fit into a grander scheme that was never realized. The Board of Regents required Kimball to prepare preliminary plans for the entire museum building, but the structure erected in 1905 was only a wing. The unbuilt portion of the museum would have extended to the west and to the north, resulting in a large structure fairly typical of museums during this time. A west vestibule was quickly added to the building during construction, but not included in the original plans, probably because of the anticipated expansion. This later led to criticisms that the building has no proper entrance.

Tragically, the museum was only a few years old when a fire occurred on March 6, 1912. Blamed on faulty wiring, the fire destroyed the wooden staircase, as well as many items in the collections. The staircase was then replaced with an iron circular unit, however, the fire was not forgotten. Years later, when Charles Morrill was an old man, he made known his intentions to donate a large sum of money for another museum, but he refused to see the original museum expanded and insisted on a new facility. In a letter to Barbour in 1925 Morrill referred to the old Museum as "a disgrace to the campus. It has two back entrances and no front entrance..."

In 1905 Thomas Kimball was already working with the University on the construction of the first Administration building. Still a relatively young man, he must have made a good impression, because Chancellor Andrews recommended him to the regents to design the new museum building in Arpil, 1905, while work on the Administration Building was in progress. His commission was 3 1/2% of the total cost of the new building, a somewhat better fee than he received for his first Univesity building.

The old Museum was located on the east edge of the original campus, along 12th street. In 1948 the name of the building was changed to Geography. In its last years it was home to the University Police department. It was razed in 1970 after Hamilton Hall was constructed.

Source Information:
bio: unidentified source, BioBib file, Archives; letters of Morrill & Barbour written between 1915 and 1927, Nebraska State Museum Archives, Nebraska Hall. Article, by Chan Burnett on Chas Morrill, museum in Nebraska Alumnus, Dec 1931, The Founders Room.