Old Main (University of Arkansas)

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Old Main, University of Arkansas
Old Main in 2007, with the recently added south tower clock face
Location Fayetteville, AR
Coordinates 36°04′07″N94°10′18″W / 36.06870°N 94.17170°W / 36.06870; -94.17170 Coordinates: 36°04′07″N94°10′18″W / 36.06870°N 94.17170°W / 36.06870; -94.17170
Built 1875
Architect John Mills Van Osdel
Architectural style Second Empire
NRHP reference # 70000131 [1]
Added to NRHP June 15, 1970

Old Main is the oldest building on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. [2] It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the University (especially to alumni and residents of the state of Arkansas), and of higher education in general in Arkansas. [3]

University of Arkansas Public research university in Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

The University of Arkansas is a public land-grant, research university in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is the flagship campus of the University of Arkansas System and the largest, best-known university in the state. Founded as Arkansas Industrial University in 1871, its present name was adopted in 1899 and classes were first held on January 22, 1872. It is noted for its strong architecture, agriculture, business, communication disorders, creative writing, history, law, and Middle Eastern studies programs.

Fayetteville, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Fayetteville is the third-largest city in Arkansas and county seat of Washington County. The city is centrally located within the county and has been home of the University of Arkansas since the institution's founding in 1871. Fayetteville is on the outskirts of the Boston Mountains, deep within the Ozarks. Known as Washington until 1829, the city was named after Fayetteville, Tennessee, from which many of the settlers had come. It was incorporated on November 3, 1836 and was rechartered in 1867. The four-county Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Statistical Area is ranked 105th in terms of population in the United States with 463,204 in 2010 according to the United States Census Bureau. The city had a population of 73,580 at the 2010 Census.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.



Old Main was constructed between 1873 and 1875 as part of a land grant for the state of Arkansas. [4] At this time it was known as University Hall. [2] It was designed by Chicago architect John Mills Van Osdel, [3] and construction was carried out by William Mayes of the firm of Mayes and Oliver. [5] G. N. Wright was one of the contractors. [6] In 1873, the University of Arkansas purchased Van Osdel's plans for the University Hall at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (demolished in 1938) and erected an identical structure.

Chicago City in Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in Illinois, as well as the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,716,450 (2017), it is the most populous city in the Midwest. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland, and the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the United States. The metropolitan area, at nearly 10 million people, is the third-largest in the United States, and the fourth largest in North America and the third largest metropolitan area in the world by land area.

The contract to construct the Hall was signed by the superintendent of public instruction, Joseph Carter Corbin, [2] who was the highest elected African American official in Arkansas during Reconstruction.

Most of the building materials used in Old Main came from local areas, [2] because the nearest river port was 60 miles away and the nearest railroad was 150 miles away. [7] 136 miles of lumber came by oxen-drawn wagons from the Peter Van Winkle Sawmill near historic War Eagle Mill in Benton County. [2] [4] The red exterior bricks were made from clay dug on campus and fired in kilns built west of Old Main. [4] The brown sandstone used for the foundation and basement was also quarried from near the building site. [3] [4] The five-story building contained 2,600,000 bricks when originally constructed.

War Eagle Mill

War Eagle Mill is a working gristmill in Benton County, Arkansas. A mill has been located on the site as early as 1832, but was destroyed three times, and last rebuilt in 1973. The mill currently operates as an undershot gristmill, and houses a store and restaurant. The mill is located approximately 10 miles east of the city of Rogers in War Eagle, Arkansas.

Benton County, Arkansas County in the United States

Benton County is a county located in the U.S. state of Arkansas. As of the 2010 census, the population was 221,339, making it the second-most populous county in Arkansas. The county seat is Bentonville. The county was formed on September 30, 1836 and was named after Thomas Hart Benton, a U.S. Senator from Missouri. In 2012, Benton County voters elected to make the county wet, or a non-alcohol prohibition location.

Brick Block or a single unit of a ceramic material used in masonry construction

A brick is building material used to make walls, pavements and other elements in masonry construction. Traditionally, the term brick referred to a unit composed of clay, but it is now used to denote any rectangular units laid in mortar. A brick can be composed of clay-bearing soil, sand, and lime, or concrete materials. Bricks are produced in numerous classes, types, materials, and sizes which vary with region and time period, and are produced in bulk quantities. Two basic categories of bricks are fired and non-fired bricks.

After nearly a hundred years of use, Old Main had really begun to show its age, and in 1981 the building was closed for safety reasons. [2] [4] After a considerable period of debate over whether to restore the old building or tear it down, restoration work began in the summer of 1989 and Old Main was renovated extensively. The renovation proceeded ahead of schedule, and it was finished during the spring semester of 1991 [4] at a cost of $10 million. [5] It was rededicated during the Fall of 1991. [2] [5]

Prior to the extensive restoration of 1986–1991, the building was fondly remembered for its large, open, and decorative central stairwell.[ citation needed ] However, this stairwell effectively formed a chimney which violated any number of building codes to which the renovated building would have to conform. To preserve the stairwell's appearance and function while still conforming to modern safety standards, an innovative automated fire protection system was installed which would slide out and close protective fire doors from concealed storage areas on each floor, effectively sealing the stairwell off.[ citation needed ]

In the original building, stairwells were also sited at either end of the central "shotgun" hallway. These were closed off during the 1986–1991 restoration. Additional stairwells were sited at the ends of the wings, again to conform to building codes.

The original 19th century Corinthian iron columns, featured prominently in almost all photographs of Old Main's wings, remain in place to this day. To conform to building codes, all but one floor's worth have been reinforced with welded steel and encased in fireproof boxes.[ citation needed ]

The original columns in Giffels Auditorium were preserved in the renovation process. In order to preserve these columns while still conforming to building codes, they needed to be rendered non-structural. The north wing of the building was therefore completely reconstructed such that loads are carried by the walls instead of the columns. The distinctive "inset" look of the windows of the modern Giffels auditorium are a result of this restructuring and reinforcement.[ citation needed ]

In 2005 the building underwent another round of renovations. At that time, it received a new roof, aging mortar was replaced, and a clock face [2] was installed in the south tower.

During its history, Old Main has housed many different departments and served many different administrative functions. It currently houses the offices of the J. William Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, its honors program and five academic departments, as well as classrooms and meeting spaces.

Architectural features

The north tower stands 130 feet tall and the south tower stands 123 feet tall. The front doors of the building still retain their original hinges.[ citation needed ] The cornerstone of the building lists its original cost in 1871 dollars, $186,000.[ citation needed ] The sweeping stairwell leading to the attic of the building found at the center of the top floor is original to the structure.[ citation needed ] The walls of the rooms in the central "shotgun" hallway are structural and largely conform to the plan of the original building.[ citation needed ] The cast-iron sides of the seats in the Giffels auditorium are supposedly cast from original molds.[ citation needed ]


View from top floor of Old Main, looking at the J. William Fulbright Peace Fountain in front of Vol Walker Hall. Old Main Arkansas view.jpg
View from top floor of Old Main, looking at the J. William Fulbright Peace Fountain in front of Vol Walker Hall.

The arboretum (the large lawn area in front of Old Main) is a home to one of every type of tree in Arkansas (with a few exceptions, such as the umbrella magnolia, Magnolia tripetala) and once used to be a training ground for military officers when military tactics were taught at the University. It also served as a place where the band would march and play. Today, the band practices in Baum East (a parking lot on campus), and the arboretum is simply a green space where students can study, play games, or simply stroll through and enjoy.

James William Fulbright statue

In 2002, a statue of former student, law faculty member, president of the University, congressman, [8] senator, and namesake of the college housed in Old Main, J. William Fulbright, was erected in the rear courtyard of the building. [9] President Bill Clinton gave a much-anticipated speech at the dedication ceremony. [10] [11]


In 1879, the first official bell for Old Main was installed. That bell still exists today, but is no longer in regular use. The last two times it was used was when it rang 10 times in 1985 to mark the $10 million received through donations for the restoration process and in July 1989 to mark the beginning of renovation.[ citation needed ] Electronic bells were installed during 1949, and dedicated to those students lost in any war.[ citation needed ] These bells wore out and were replaced with a computerized bell device.[ citation needed ] It plays the Westminster Chimes every hour from 8 am- 8 pm, a musical selection after noon and the alma mater after five o'clock.[ citation needed ]

Senior Walk

Old Main from the front side where Senior Walk begins. Old main fayetteville.jpg
Old Main from the front side where Senior Walk begins.

Senior Walk is a tradition unique to the University of Arkansas. Senior Walk was established in 1905 by president John Tillman. Each year, all graduates have their name carved into the sidewalk that circles, and cuts through campus. The walk begins directly in front of Old Main with the first graduating class, of 1876. [9]


Clock Mechanism on display on Fourth floor of Old Main OldMainclockworks.jpg
Clock Mechanism on display on Fourth floor of Old Main

Even though when Old Main was built, the southern tower was meant to hold a clock, one was not put in when the building was constructed. Although there was no clock face, the building did have a bell [12] in the opposite tower that rang every hour and half-hour and could be heard all over campus, as well as most of downtown Fayetteville and surrounding areas.[ citation needed ] When President Bill Clinton gave a much-anticipated speech at the J. William Fulbright statue dedication ceremony, Clinton asked Chancellor John White, "Where is the clock?" [13] [14] [ citation needed ] Three years later, Old Main received a clock face. [15]

On October 27, 2005, after more than 130 years without a functioning clock face, a specially constructed clock was completed and dedicated [15] on the South Tower. [16] This was in celebration of reaching a "Campaign for Twenty-First Century" campaign goal of $1 billion [9] and also included the replacement of aging mortar between bricks, replacing the roof, and other minor aesthetic improvements to the building.

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  1. National Park Service (2007-01-23). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places . National Park Service.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 http://www.fayettevillehistory.org/historic_buildings/
  3. 1 2 3 https://oneness.scup.org/asset/53136/Final_CPMP_90310_web.pdf
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 http://www.arkansasalumni.org/s/1429/wideMenu_plain.aspx?sid=1429&gid=1&pgid=440
  5. 1 2 3 http://www.uark.edu/rd_vcad/urel/info/campus_map/498.php
  6. http://libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections/findingaids/oldmainltr.html
  7. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
  8. http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?entryID=1652
  9. 1 2 3 //oneness.scup.org/asset/53136/Final_CPMP_90310_web.pdf
  10. http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2002/nov/25/local-sculptor-has-fulbright-statue-dedicated/
  11. http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article/57604/clinton-to-dedicate-fulbright-sculpture
  12. http://www.kincoconstructors.com/project-portfolio/project.asp?project_id=55&current=&category_id=17
  13. http://www.balzerclockworks.com/Current/Arkansas1.htm
  14. http://www.uatrav.com/2005/11/01/oldmaincomplete/
  15. 1 2
  16. http://chancellor.uark.edu/images/fall05chanletter.pdf