Old Main, 1536 Hewitt Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota

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Old Main

Address: 1536 Hewitt Avenue W
Neighborhood/s: Hamline-Midway, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Saint Paul, Minnesota
Ramsey County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: 1880/1884
Primary Style: Victorian Gothic
Major Alterations: Some/mostly intact
Historic Function: College/university
Current Function: College/university
Architect or source of design: Warren H. Hayes
Builder: G. Summers
Material of Exterior Wall Covering: Brick
Building Permit Number: 11387
Part of the Site: Hamline University

Hamline-Midway Saint Paul Ramsey County

Old Main, 1536 Hewitt Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota
(44.967125° N, 93.16525° WLatitude: 44°58′1.65″N
Longitude: 93°9′54.9″W

The following information is from the 1983 Ramsey County Historical Society & St. Paul Heritage Preservation Commission Site survey form:

Date of site visit 2/1/1982 by fieldworker: R. Younger

The year built is given as 1887 on the historic site survey form.

Significant details: "Symmetrical facade dominated by 4 story central entrance tower with a steeply pitched pyramidal roof with dormers and capped by a smaller pyramidal spire. Entrance is recessed within an archway, and located under a 2nd story rectangular oriel window. The central 3 bays on the main facade project in front if the side bays and have windows grouped in 2's and 3's with polychromatic brick and stone detailing. Most of the 1st floor windows are rectangular with segmental brick arches; 2nd story windows are rounded arched. Numerous gabled wall dormers with paired single windows. dark brick belt courses at levels of lintels on 1st and 2nd floors."

Additions and alterations: "Renovated recently. New concrete steps and light fixtures on exterior, brickwork cleaned."

Significant site and landscape features: "This building is located at the center of the Hamline campus with a deep setback from Hewitt Ave."

Additional comments: "By 1910-11 the school had 251 students in the "Collegiate department" and 56 in the preparatory department [which] closed in 1911. Historically Hamline University has been affiliated with the Methodist Church."

Historical background: "Hamline University named for Bishop Leonidas Hamline was chartered in 1854 in Red Wing and was initially a preparatory school. By the early 1860's the school included a college program but by 1869 they suspended operations due to the lack of funds. While trying to raise funds the school decided to move to Saint Paul but reopening plans were delayed by the panic of 1873. Under the direction of Reverend John Stafford the school reopened its doors in 1880 in St. Paul in a 5 story building known as University Hall, known today as 'Old Main.' Dr. George Bridgman served as the president of the institution from 1884 until 1912 and was largely responsible for developing it into a well-established school."

Statement of significance: "Hamline University is historically significant as one of the oldest educational institutions in the state. Old Main is one of the most sophisticated and oldest college buildings in the State and is an excellent example of the Ruskinian variety and of High Victorian Gothic architecture as practiced by Warren H. Hayes, a Minneapolis architect who was well known for his church designs and was probably selected as the architect of this building because of his experience in designing church auditoriums (University Hall contains a large auditorium). The building is wonderfully intact and is the center of campus activities."[1]



This historic building in the Hamline Midway neighborhood was placed on the National Register on September 22, 1977.

The following information is from "The National Register of Historic Places in Minnesota: A Guide" compiled by Mary Ann Nord (2003, Minnesota Historical Society Press):

"University Hall (Old Main), Hamline University (9/22/77) 1536 Hewitt Ave., St. Paul Victorian Gothic brick-and-stone campus center designed by Warren H. Hayes and built in 1883." (193)

The historic site survey form gives the building's date as 1887. However this is incorrect, as is the National Register guidebook's date of 1883. A more complete history, and the source that is most likely correct, is given in the Hamline University history written by David W. Johnson. Johnson states that University Hall was initially built in 1880 with a gala opening held on July 20, 1880. However the building suffered a fire in February 1883. The building was then rebuilt and re-opened on January 4, 1884.

The following information, which gives a great recorded history of the beginning of the Hamline Midway neighborhood, as well as University Hall/Old Main in specifics, is from "Hamline University: A History 1854-1994" by David W. Johnson, Hamline University Press, 1994:

NOTE: It is important to clarify here that Hamline University is indeed Minnesota's first chartered University and it was begun by the Methodist church as is stated in the 1983 historic site survey. However it's important to note that while Hamline University began in 1854 in Red Wing, Minnesota, its history in St. Paul in the Hamline Midway neighborhood has been since the university relocated here in 1880.

According to David W. Johnson's history, "[Walter Pitt] Murray's rewritten bill, approved by the legislature, received the signature of Territorial Governor Willis A. Gorman on March 3, 1854. A trustee committee accepted the charter on May 9, 1854, and on July 10 formally announced the University's location in Red Wing." (4). The university that the Methodists wanted to charter was named after its establishment for the Methodist Bishop Leonidas L. Hamline (who was living at the time in Sharon Springs, New York) due to his generous financial gift which helped establish not only what became Hamline University but also Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. (5-6)

According to Johnson "Hamline University took root in Red Wing primarily because [William] Freeborn and two other trustees - ex-Governor Alexander Ramsey and B.F. Hoyt - owned land in Red Wing." (5)

The university's main building (which has since been demolished but is notated by a historical plaque)in Red Wing was built and opened in January 1856. However Johnson states "When the building opened in January 1856 the University was already in its second term, having conducted the first year's classes from November 16, 1854 to August 15, 1855 in rooms housed on the second floor of the village general store." (6)

Hamline University was faced with financial troubles from the outset, and after many meetings, began looking to leave its home in Red Wing. A committee was formed in Red Wing "which was presdisposed to relocate Hamline in St. Paul or Minneapolis, and had as its principal spokesman an individual who was determined to relocate it there." (14)

"...the Board on September 24, 1872, received a proposal from St. Paul residents Girart Hewitt and E. F. Drake, who offered to sell to the University the southwest quarter of Section 27, Township 29, Range 23, in Ramsey County - which included the future Snelling Avenue location - for $54,000. After weeks of complex negotiations, the trustees and the conference commission on removal finally decided on December 11, 1872, to accept the proffered tract under terms which now specified that Hewitt and associates would in effect donate half the site, the title to be transferred when Hamline completed construction of a University building to 'the walls of the first story.' ...The trustees combined their acceptance of the offer with a resolution that Hennepin and Ramsey Counties raise $50,000 to erect the necessary buildings." (14)

"...the trustees had recently set aside 60 acres located east of the main campus as endowment, and had arranged to plat and lay out this area into streets, blocks, and lots. The remaining 17 acres would become the campus proper." (16)Thus the University decided to raise the necessary funds to relocate the campus selling off their land and as Johnson put it "to risk its future by speculating in real estate." (16)

David Johnson goes on to detail the various financial difficulties in raising the fund to relocate, as well as the complex troubles brought on by the financial panic of 1873, as well as a grasshopper plagues which were causing devastating crop failures recurring over several years during this time.

"By the summer of 1880...University Hall was essentially complete. On July 20, over 1,000 people attended its formal dedication. President John, who had formally taken office the previous May, was on hand to participate in the gala event. At long last, the University stood ready to welcome its students once more. Hamline's 11 year-hiatus had ended." (20)

"Hamline University 'stood grim and bare, like a monument in a desert with nothing between it and the North Pole,' when the first term of the college year began on September 22, 1880. Wheat stubble from the recent harvest surrounded the four-story brick and limestone building which loomed up from the treeless prairie, while a lone stack of straw directly in front of the mansard-roof structure greeted the 60 students and five faculty who arrived to take up their prepatory and collegiate work together. Immediately to the north, and apart from the real estate deal struck eight years earlier with Girart Hewitt, a major reason for the University's otherwise inexplicably bleak and barren location were the short line tracks of James J. Hill's St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Manitoba Railroad. One mile to the south, beyond the Territorial Road which ran diagonally from St. Paul to St. Anthony, and University Avenue which ran rough and ungraded from the capital to Minneapolis, lay the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railroad. A solitary house stood just west of Snelling Avenue, five others were in the process of being built. What could be said for amenities? No graded streets, no sidewalks, no street cars, no water pipes, and no fire protection. If the University's founders had consciously sought a more desolate and depressing setting for the rejuvenated college, they could not have done a better job 1." (21-22)

    • The #1 source citation in Johnson's book for the above quotes were "Leonard J. Dobner to Henry L. Osborn, November 24, 1935; Frank H. Cone to Henry L. Osborn, January 30, 1937; miscellaneous letters from alumni to Osborn during the mid-1930s; Dobner in "AB", XXX (January 1934) and in "Oracle", November 30, 1893; MMC, 1874, p. 48" (386).

At first the students and staff lived together in University Hall as well as attended classes there. In 1882 a "Ladies Home" was built next to University Hall and was "architecturally similar" to University Hall. The building was under construction during the summer of 1882 and was scheduled to open in December of 1882. (23)

A fire "swept through University Hall in February 1883, burning the structure to the ground. Apparently caused by defective flues and chimney, the fire had gutted the building by the time the horse-drawn engines of the St. Paul fire department arrived." (23)

After the fire, the newly built Ladies Home "had become a home not only for female faculty and students but for the entire college." (23)

"Officials quickly made plans to reconstruct the destroyed stucture. The executive committee of the Board met at once and decided to rebuild, and on March 8, the trustees authorized building plans. They also personally subscribed more than $10,000 toward the estimated $61,000 needed to clear debris, rebuild and refurnish, construct a separate heating plant in order to avoid repetition of the earlier disaster, and pay architect's fees." (23)

"Constructed on the same foundation but with only three stories above the basement instead of four, the new structure was dedicated, debt-free, on January 4, 1884. Although the original University Hall had contained quarters for women, Ladies' Hall now provided ample space for female students, while the third floor of the rebuilt structure became a dormitory for men." (24)

Note: There is no mention in Johnson's text of Warren H. Hayes or any architect attribution to the construction of University Hall or Ladies Hall.

The following information comes from " A Guide to Architecture of Minnesota" by David Gebhard and Tom Martinson (1977, University of Minnesota Press):

"Hamline University, estab. 1880 Hewitt Avenue at Snelling Avenue North Old Main (1883) is a classic example of Ruskinian Gothic architecture, although except for its pointed arches it is not really Gothic at all." (page 95)

The following information comes from "AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source of the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul" by Larry Millett (2007, Minnesota Historical Society Press):

"Old Main, 1536 Hewitt Avenue, Warren H. Hayes, 1884" "This towered brick pile is just what an old campus building should look like. It was constructed, quickly, when Hamline's first university hall burned down in 1883, just three years after opening. Architect Warren Hayes is best known locally for his Romanesque Revival churches, but here he did a fine turn in the Victorian Gothic style. The pointed arch windows, the bands of brownstone threading through the brick facades, and the steep-roofed tower with its dormers and spire are all signature features of the style, which strove for colorful and picturesque effects." (565-566)

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Hamline University Admissions Building Giddens Learning Center Manor House Peterson Dormitory Hamline School of Law Drew Hall of Science Bush Memorial Library Norton Field Hamline University Boiler Plant Charles M. Drew Residence Sorin Hall


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