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Charles Chowins


Charles E. Chowins (1856-1922) played an important but overlooked role in the development of the University during its rapid expansion period in the early part of the 20th century. Chowins served the University for nearly thirty years, and is responsible, either entirely or in part, for many minor utilitarian buildings on both campuses. His greatest achievement and most significant structure is the monumental Plant Industry building on the East Campus Mall.

Chowins joined the University staff in 1896 as as assistant in the engineering laboratory and wood shops. Chowins was originally hired by CR Richards to assist students in the engineering laboratories, but he eventually began working as a construction supervisor during the building of the 1899 annex to Grant Memorial Hall. Chowins was named Superintendent of Construction, Grounds, and Buildings in 1905. He remained in this position until 1921, when his supervisory and executive responsibilities were reassigned to John Seaton. He remained on the staff as Superintendent of Maintenance and Construction, being primarily responsible for architectural work involving plans and alterations of existing buildings. He died suddenly in June 1922 at the age of 66 while recovering from surgery.

It is doubtful that Chowins was formally trained as an architect, or if he received any formal post secondary schooling. He was born and reared in England, where his father was a cabinet maker. He and his brother John, who also worked for the University of Nebraska, learned their considerable woodworking skills from their father.

Buildings designed by Charles Chowins tended to be industrial, agricultural, and in some cases, temporary. Primary buildings he designed, few of which still stand, included the Horse Barn, Machinery Hall(also known as Chemurgy), the Tractor Test Lab, most barns constructed between 1900 and 1921 including some later barns built from his plans, and his masterpiece, Plant Industry.

Source Information:
Building and Grounds files, Archives and Special Collections, UNL Libraries.
Silently He Builds, Nebraska Alumnus, 1936.