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Historical Overview

Picture of building

Creation of a campus

The University of Nebraska was chartered in 1869, two years after Nebraska's statehood. After much political maneuvering and public controversy, the capital of Nebraska was relocated to Lincoln from the territorial capital, Omaha. A State Building Commission consisting of the Governor, David Butler, the Secretary of State, Thomas P. Kennard, and the State Auditor, David Gillespie, selected the site for the capital city, the State Capitol building, the State Penitentiary, the State Asylum, and the future University. Unlike neighboring Kansas and Iowa, Nebraska's early lawmakers elected to create one unified University, combining both the goals of traditional higher educational institutions with the goals of the newly legislated Morrill Act. This act, designed to provide industrial and agricultural education to the working and middle classes, has come to be known as the Land Grant act. Utilizing the program set forth in the Morrill Act, a state was able to anticipate a federal gift of public lands if a public university devoted to agricultural and industrial education was established. In Nebraska, 90,000 acres were expected. This land could be sold for revenue to build a new university, or could be held for future profits.

The State Building Commission identified four city blocks within the new capital city for the location of the University campus. This land was located on the north edge of the planned downtown area--a flat, treeless plain that offered little in the way of natural beauty, and eventually would stand in the way of the railroads which were building toward Lincoln. In spite of this, the Building Commission's decision held and the University of Nebraska campus was born.
The first campus comprised four city blocks bounded on the west by 10th street and on the east by 12th street. The northern boundary was T Street, and on the south, soon abutting downtown, was R Street. University Hall, the first building constructed for University purposes, was sited in the center of the campus in 1870, and remained the only structure on campus for 15 years. This original four block tract remained intact until 1908, when the precursor to Memorial Stadium was constructed north of T Street in what was then a residential area.

Today the original campus remains and is home to several of the University's important historic buildings.

Location of the Farm

To fulfill the University's land grant mission, a demonstration or experimental farm was necessary. In 1872 the University was provided with over 400 acres of land in several locations. When most of this land proved to be unsuitable for farming, University administrators began searching for another location. In 1874 the original farm land was sold and a 320 acre farm owned by Moses Culver was purchased. This farm was located just north and east of the city of Lincoln, and included a stone house and several outbuildings, as well as an orchard, timber and other improvements. Eventually the farm was expanded to the east and north, and slowly developed into a campus. Today what was once the farm it is bounded by 33rd street on the west, Holdrege on the south, 48th street on the east, and Huntington Avenue on the north.

The University did not develop the farm campus for instructional purposes until the turn of the 20th century. The first instructional building was the Dairy Building, razed in 1973. The oldest surviving building is the Agricultural Experiment Station, constructed in 1899, now home to Agricultural Communications.

The East Campus has been known variously as the State Farm, the University Farm, the Station Farm, and informally, simply as the Farm. As the farm evolved into a more academic entity, the name Ag College or Agricultural Campus was used. Its current name, East Campus, was formally adopted in 1964, and reflects its expanded educational role within the University.

Football and the first campus expansion

The first expansion of the city campus occurred in 1908 when the athletic field was expanded and improved. Originally located within the four block campus, the athletic field was situated in the northwest corner, running parallel to 10th street. As the campus became more congested and land within the campus grew more precious, the athletic field was crowded by new construction. Finally, with the construction of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratories in 1908, the field was moved to the area immediately north of T Street, situated in an east/west arrangement. This represented the first move of any University structure beyond the original boundaries of the old campus, and caused considerable litigation and negative publicity. It would prove to be the first of many controversial expansions.

The New University: the era of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge

After the turn of the 20th century, land for the construction of new University buildings on the city campus was quickly disappearing. The earliest decade saw the construction of the Administration Building (1905), Brace Laboratory of Physics (1904), the Mechanical Engineering Laboratories (1908), an addition to Grant Memorial Hall (1900), and the original Museum (1905). When the College of Law was constructed in 1911 behind the Library at 10th and R, the last remaining parcel disappeared.

Samuel Avery, Chancellor since 1908, had discussed with the Board of Regents his desire to retain an architect to assist with a "laying out of grounds and scheme of building" for the city and farm campuses. In 1913, the celebrated Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge was hired to develop a series of plans. These plans were to address two distinct scenarios: an expanded city campus plan that incorporated property to the east of 12th street, and an expanded farm campus plan that incorporated the entire city campus into the farm campus.

Talk of moving the entire University to the farm campus location had been circulating for over a decade. Charles Bessey, Dean of Deans, had suggested it as early as 1898. Faculty supported the idea, citing the wholesome environment as more conducive to academic pursuits. In their view, downtown Lincoln, with its pool halls, saloons, and dance halls, offered students too many distractions. Merchants in downtown Lincoln were decidedly opposed to the move, and a fierce campaign to keep the University in place was launched. In this highly charged political arena, Avery deferred to the Board of Regents, who deferred to the State Legislators, who deferred to the voters. In 1914 a statewide referendum was conducted and Nebraska voters defeated the bill once and for all. The downtown campus would survive.

During the on going debate, plans developed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge for the expanded city and merged farm campuses were widely disseminated, and were published in The Cornhusker, the yearbook of the University of Nebraska, in 1914.

The Legislature, recognizing the truly desperate need for expansion and physical improvements at the University, had passed special legislation for a University building fund in 1913. This fund would ultimately result in nearly a million dollars for University construction. At the failure of the consolidation referendum, the University moved ahead with plans to expand the city campus. The Regents acquired the property east of 12th street to 14th street, and from R to U streets. The stage was set for major growth and change.

Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge were retained as the "Official Architects of the University" in 1914 after funding for new construction was secured. With this arrangement, no other architectural firms could be retained to design future University building projects. They refined the previously published campus plans, which they called "layouts", and designed several important buildings on both the city and farm campuses. Their work, which they described as "classical", was constructed of red brick with limestone pilasters and columns on the city campus. On the farm campus they utilized the buff brick that was already in use.

Building Boom!

Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge immediately went to work refining building plans. In rapid succession they designed and constructed a total of seven new buildings. Many others buildings were developed but never built, either due to political wrangling or financial limitations. In general, the buildings were somewhat modest but well constructed and in harmony with one another. The firm established a lasting style that is still utilized on both campuses today.

The first post-referendum building was Bessey Hall (1916), constructed to replace the crumbling Nebraska Hall. The firm selected a location on the far north edge of the new University property, possibly at Bessey's urging. Unfortunately, Bessey died before the building was completed. At nearly the same time, a new Chemistry Laboratory (1916) was constructed on a parcel near the east end of Nebraska Field, the football field. Later renamed Avery Hall, this building replaced the antiquated Chemistry Laboratory on 12th and R. Chemistry was Chancellor Avery's academic home, and he knew the need was dire.

Both the city and farm campus plans called for the development of a monumental structure, a building that would serve as a focal point and anchor for the campus. On the city campus, the architects designed the expansive Social Sciences Building, now home to the College of Business Administration. The site was prominent, envisioned as the new entrance to campus following the expansion. Since the University could not afford a collection of grand structures, Social Sciences was designated to become the grand structure. Construction began in 1917. In 1918, with Chancellor Avery in Washington serving in the US Chemical Warfare Service during World War I, the partially constructed Social Sciences Building was used to house soldiers.

Teachers College, the newest College at the University, was homeless. Faculty offices and classes were crowded into University Hall, and the laboratory school was located in the basement of the Temple, resulting in its common name, Temple High. At the eastern edge of the new property, a new facility opened in 1919 that consolidated faculty offices, classrooms and the laboratory school, resulting in the new name, Teachers College High School.

While the City campus was booming, improvements on the Farm campus were occurring as well.
A new Dairy Industry Building was erected to replace the oldest academic building on the farm.
A small quadrangle of buildings was erected to create the Animal Husbandry and Hygiene Complex.

If the Social Sciences Building served as the focal point on the downtown campus, Agricultural Engineering (1918) was its equivalent on the Farm. Situated at the head of the Mall, it completed the collection of buff brick buildings that had accumulated there during the previous decade.

Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge produced modern and well constructed buildings during their years as "official architects" for the University of Nebraska. The reality however, was that the illustrious partners were dead, leaving only the aged Charles Coolidge and a partner from their Chicago office, Charles Hodgdon, to do the real work. Hodgdon was competent but not flashy, and certainly not a well known or fashionable architect. Regents began to question the University's use of "outsiders" when there were capable local architects who offered equal services at more reasonable costs.

When talk of a memorial football stadium began in the early 1920s, the University was unable to fund the project. Boosters and alumni raised the money instead, and hired two local architecture firms to develop the plans. Coolidge & Hodgdon objected to the use of local architects, citing the exclusivity of their arrangement with the University. The University responded by pointing out that the project was, technically speaking, not a University building, since no state funds were used. The Regents then elected to discontinue their relationship with Coolidge & Hodgdon after nearly a decade.

George Seymour and a New Campus Plan

When the relationship with Coolidge & Hodgdon was discontinued, the University lost its architectural overseer, and with it the assurance that a cohesive plan of development would follow. Although the University had supervising architects on staff, namely Charles Chowins and later, Laurence Seaton, these men were not empowered to determine the growth patterns of the University. From this void emerged George Seymour, a member of the Board of Regents who developed such an interest in campus planning that it would occupy him for the rest of his life.

The University continued to acquire property to the north and east of the original campus and the more recently acquired 1914 parcel. By the mid 1920s the area directly east of the stadium was acquired, and the University expanded to 17th street between R and Vine. In 1925 the University urged the City of Lincoln to accept the establishment of the "University Zone". This expanded the north boundary to the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks on the north.

George Seymour began work on his master plan in 1925. Less interested in buildings, his real interest was in the creation of "vistas", framed views of the campus. He promoted the creation of the Greek zone, the Memorial Mall east of the newly completed Memorial Stadium, and the enhancement of landscaping. He vigorously opposed the placement of unsightly tennis courts on the Mall. It was at Seymour's urging that the columns, surplused when the Burlington Station in Omaha was remodeled, were brought to Lincoln and located on the campus near the Stadium. It was Seymour's plan that formalized the malls and the closing of 12th street, and anticipated the placement of future structures such as the Library, the Student Union, and the new Administration Building. The Seymour Plan continued to serve as the primary campus plan until the post World War II campus building boom rendered it impracticable.

Ellery Davis and his impact on the Campus

When alumni decided it was time to build a stadium they turned to two local architecture firms, Lincoln's Davis & Wilson, and John Latenser & Sons, from Omaha. Both had connections to the University—Ellery Davis was the son of a Dean and a graduate of the University, and Latenser had served as the architect for the Temple and several buildings on the Omaha medical campus. Both were eager to gain University commissions, having been shut out during the exclusive Coolidge & Hodgdon years. Ellery Davis and his firm went on to design a dozen buildings for the University between 1923, when the Stadium was erected, and the early 1950s.

Stylistically Davis's designs perpetuated the work of Coolidge & Hodgdon. He wisely continued use of red brick and limestone on the city campus, and did not stray from the "classical" details that embellished the earlier buildings. He worked closely with Professor Barbour on his first commission, Morrill Hall, and eventually won his confidence. However, early in the planning phase, Barbour privately confided in Charles Morrill that he doubted if Davis had ever been in a museum, such was his naivety when they began to collaborate.

Eventually Davis became the unofficial campus architect. Although he did not have an exclusive contract with the University, he and his firm served as the sole designers of city campus structures for twenty years. Oddly, he designed only one building on the farm, the Crops Laboratory, and for this project he duplicated exactly the exterior of the adjacent building, Coolidge and Hodgdon's Animal Pathology building.

Depression and War

With the advent of hard times during the 1930s, growth of the University came to a standstill. Buildings fell into disrepair, faculty took massive pay cuts, and enrollment stagnated. Only two new buildings were constructed on the city campus in the 1930s; Raymond Hall, which was funded in 1929 before the economic climate became desperate, and the Student Union, constructed in 1938 with student fees. The war years proved no better. Building maintenance was deferred, at least partially due to rationing and shortages, and again enrollments declined. Love Library, Love Memorial Cooperative Residence Hall, and an addition on Raymond Hall called Love Hall, were all financed by the estate of Lincoln mayor and businessman Don L Love and his wife, Julia Love.

Growing Pains

In the mid 1940s, after years of austerity, the University was suddenly inundated with GIs returning to college following military service. Enrollments swelled at unprecedented rates, and although administrators were anticipating the serge, it was still unmanageable. In 1947, over 10,000 students enrolled at the University; 6,000 were GIs, adult men with serious plans. Parking problems became legendary. The onslaught of students necessitated the erection of numerous temporary buildings to house important services such as student health, veteran's affairs, and counseling. The situation at Nebraska was not unique. Most institutions of higher education swelled during the post war years, and each of these universities needed new buildings. Housing, industry and business enterprises boomed as well. It seemed everyone needed a new building. The resulting shortages of bricks, steel, and other building materials delayed the completion of several new buildings at the University of Nebraska.

Post-war Nebraska Legislatures recognized the need to make substantial improvements at the University. In 1947 funding for a long term building program was provided for the first time in more than twenty years. The 1950s saw the construction of desperately needed housing for male students, improved engineering facilities, and the consolidation of administrative services in the new Administration Building. These new buildings took on a decidedly different appearance--sleek, modern, and unadorned. Ellery Davis's "classical" elements disappeared, and the architect died in 1956. New architecture firms began designing new buildings; even the Davis & Wilson buildings constructed during this period were a departure from the past.

A Modern University

With the advent of the 1960s, a new generation of students, the baby boomers, caused enrollments to swell to even greater heights. Each year, student numbers increased and crowding became a fact of life. Between 1961 and 1968, enrollment at the University doubled. High capacity dormitories were constructed, the Union was expanded twice, in 1958 and again in 1968, and two skyscrapers were added to the campus, Oldfather Hall and Hamilton Hall. By the late 1960s enrollment was approaching 20,000 and expected to climb even higher.

During the administration of Chancellor Clifford Hardin (1954-1968) the University expanded yet again, acquiring the factory formerly owned by the Elgin Watch Company. The Elgin factory was converted into the beginnings of an Engineering complex and renamed Nebraska Hall. Property north of the Missouri Pacific railroad tracks was developed for still more high capacity dormitories, making a total of seven. At the farm campus, the first non-agricultural buildings were introduced with the construction of the new Dental School, Nebraska ETV, and the Nebraska Center for Continuing Education. The farm campus was officially renamed East Campus. By the end of the decade, the University was a large and thriving enterprise of more than 100 classroom buildings, research facilities, athletic buildings and dormitories. The original 11 acre campus had grown to more than 500 acres on two campuses.


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