Chapter 2. In the Beginning: Pre-1919
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8 Chapter 2 In the Beginning Pre-1919 Trouble with both producing and getting campus endorsement of decorative terra cotta panels above the secondstory windows of the new building delayed its dedication for more than a year. But on a sparklingly clear day in February 1913 Lincoln Hall was dedicated, and the university’s dynamic president, Edmund Janes James (1904-1920), was thrilled. “You ought to come out and see our building,” James boasted to a friend. “It is really the finest monument thus far erected to Abraham Lincoln in the country.” The important distinction—“thus far”—was critical because the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.—designed by Henry Bacon, who studied in 1884 at the U of I—would “soon throw us into the shade,” James said. Lincoln Hall was the twenty-seventh major building on the still-young campus, which had grown from some fifty students in March 1868 to more than four thousand by the time of the dedication. In that span, there had been about thirty campus plans, most of which were simple drawings showing where things stood, literally. Only a few of the early plans made an impact, in particular the Blackall Plan of 1905, which laid out where Lincoln Hall itself would be located. The massive Renaissance revival structure, updated and restored to its original stature in 2010-12 at a cost of $65 million , merited its name. The U.S. president’s life and words are celebrated on the exterior in a series of detailed terra cotta panels that wrap the building; the interior contains both a bronze bust of the sixteenth president and a tablet with the 272 words of the Gettysburg Address. Writing to President William Howard Taft in 1911, Edmund James said that, because Lincoln signed the Morrill Act into law in 1862, “we . . . look upon him as in a certain sense the founder of the institution.” The Morrill Act gave federal land to the states (not necessarily within their own boundaries), based on their population , to be used—sold—to underwrite the cost of building and endowing a new kind of university: public and practical. The act specifically said these new colleges should focus “to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts.” The zealous Illinois educator Jonathan Baldwin Turner—whose fierce terra cotta image stares out from the southern façade of Lincoln Hall along with nine other Civil War–era national leaders—had crusaded for these practical schools for decades. 9 ——  In the Beginning  —— Gregory was also a Baptist minister. “O Lord, how long, how long,” Turner reportedly exclaimed when he heard the news of Gregory’s appointment. “An ex-superintendent of public instruction and a Baptist preacher! Could anything be worse?” Turner and like-minded education reformers feared Gregory would too broadly interpret the land-grant act to include the classics and liberal arts. He did. He and others, however, were unhappy when the board of trustees of the fledgling Illinois Industrial University, which the Illinois legislature had set up under the provisions of the Morrill Act, picked John Milton Gregory as the school’s first regent (president). A former Michigan superintendent of public instruction and the then-president of Kalamazoo College , the bespectacled, bearded, and frail forty-seven-year-old Figure 2.1.  Workers at Lincoln Hall construction. A granite boulder, uncovered in the excavation of the lower level, today marks the grave of Regent Gregory south of Altgeld Hall. (Image dated 1910. Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives 0001879.) 10 —— Chapter 2 —— legislative horsetrading en route to landing the plum university for Champaign-Urbana. Champaign County’s bid worth $285,000—a single five-story building (nicknamed “The Elephant” and already ramshackle), some land, promises of trees and freight—beat out Bloomington-Normal, Lincoln, and Jacksonville, all of whose bids were worth more. The When Gregory took charge in the spring of 1867, the one-building campus was located between the two prairie towns of Champaign and Urbana, thanks to the political machinations of State Representative Clark Robinson Griggs, a master lobbyist and Champaign County booster. Griggs wined and dined Illinois lawmakers and engaged in Figure 2.2.  Aerial view from University Hall looking northeast, showing Engineering Hall, Physics, and other early buildings. The Illini Union replaced University Hall in 1940. (Image ca. 1917. Photo courtesy of the University of Illinois Archives 0003577.) 11 ——  In the Beginning  —— In 1870, three years after the university was...


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