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University Hall ... a grand site on the open prairie
University Hall, 1871


Construction of the first building on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, University Hall, began just a few months after the University was founded in 1869. University Hall, or U-Hall, represented the aspirations of the local and state community and developed from an idea "that the new state needed an institution of cultural learning; it was built for farmers and frontiersmen who sought for their children the culture which the centuries had accumulated." (Cornhusker Annual 1925) Homesteaders, pioneers and their children, many of whom still lived in sod houses, saw the new university building as an inspiration for the future.

Workers placed the cornerstone for the building on 23 September 1869. Citizens of Lincoln celebrated this first step with speeches by the state governor and attorney general, a banquet that served over 1000 people, and a brass band from Omaha that kept people dancing until 4 a.m. Despite its celebratory beginnings, U-Hall also garnered criticism because of the cost of building the structure. Nebraska had just recently achieved statehood and many Lincoln residents believed the plans for the University had developed too hastily.

The original proposal for building U-Hall gave a cost of $128,000 and the final cost increased to $152,000 before construction ended. Shipping lumber from Chicago to East Nebraska City, an early town just five miles east of the Missouri, added to construction costs. Oxen teams and wagons hauled the lumber over 65 miles of prairie roads to Lincoln.

Looking north at University Hall from 11 Street, Lincoln, Nebraska


In 1871, the first classes were held in U-Hall, when six faculty members provided instruction to about 20 students. The building housed administration, a recitation hall, student classes, a boys dormitory, the library, and a chapel. The attic housed the offices of the first student newspaper, The Hesperian, and organizations such as the Y.M.C.A. and the U.S. Post Office claimed space. A wide variety of social activities, such as debate clubs and literary societies took place at U. Hall. For fifteen years, it remained the only building on campus.

University Hall suffered from faulty construction from the moment the doors of the building were opened. The building was immediately declared unsafe and three professional architects were employed to examine it, their report, which came out in June 1871, pronounced the structure safe and classes began as scheduled in September 1871. Six years later, the north wing of the building was abandoned and a second team of architects examined the structure. This team declared the building unsafe and proposed a complete new building. While the University Board of Regents resolved to build a new building, Lincoln citizens were reluctant about the idea. They did not want to chance a decision to remove the University to another city in the state. Architects hired from Chicago and Dubuque declared the building could be repaired with a new foundation. Lincoln took on the cost of the new foundation and a new roof.

University Hall after the top two floors were removed, 1925.

The early repairs kept the building in use until 1925, when it was declared structurally unsafe. The top floors of the building were removed. The damage to the original foundation, and deficiencies in the materials used to construct the building added to its demise. UNL students and alumni were vocal about the loss of U-Hall. For over fifty years it had served as a place of historical and educational importance. George P. Shidler, a 1903 graduate, claimed that "what all Mid-western universities need is something which modern architects cannot provide by skills or craftsmanship, and that is tradition. U-Hall is tradition at U. of N. She was born from the virgin prairie when the campus was but waving buffalo-grass. She stands a monument to the dreams of those sturdy pioneers who passed beyond. The old brick building was the University of Nebraska to them because she was the mental picture which flashed through their minds when the University was mentioned. Tradition and sentiment are more lasting than style. We want Her the way She was when She adopted the thousands of farm boys and girls who came to Her from the Land of the Flat Waters, the homes of kerosene lamps and horses and buggies and corn and cattle and hogs." (Nebraska Alumnus, 1925)

Miss T. Agnes Gordon taught the last class held in U-Hall on 21 May 1948, Bulldozers leveled the remaining floor the same year.


Old U. Hall 1870-1925

Brave old Tower!
Serene and wise and kind,
Gazing for fifty years across a prairie land,
From whence came trooping eager boys and girls.
You called them in for blessing,
For mothering a while.
Fifty years. And now--
"A lonely place against the sky."

A man loves long the places where he once was young.
Buildings have faces, - aye, and souls as well;
There are no empty rooms.
For every brick that falls
From the crumbling walls,
Some clear, bright memory lives;
Voices ring in the long, high halls;
The silenced bell still peals
For victory, and undaunted calls, as in its prime,
To duty and to prayer;
The bright flag flies against the arching blue;
The light shines there.
Brave old Tower!
A hundred thousand hearts remember thee.

Flora Bullock, '97 '99

  • University Hall, Building and Grounds File, Archives and Special Collections, University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • "Base of a Toppled Monument," The Nebraska Alumnus, September 1948
  • "U-Hall Gives Up Long Fight," The Nebraska Alumnus, December 1925
  • University of Nebraska Department of Public Relations, "A Sketch of the Circumstances and Events Leading to the Chartering of February 15, 1869 of the University of Nebraska and a Report on Phases of the Early Life of the Institution," n.d.


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