Old Main rich in history

Story by Sarah Coleman

Photo by Luke Nankivell

oldmain_luke-w2000-h2000Students on Drake University’s campus know Old Main for hosting everything from rock drummer Kenny Aronoff to the Brocal Chords to performances included in the Keys to Excellence Piano Concert Series. Old Main is also home to Student Account Services, Dean of Students and the President’s office.

While many students only know of the current use, Old Main has a colorful and history.

Old Main was built in 1883, making it the oldest building on campus. It is featured in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was meant to house administration offices, but it has been a key location in Drake history. The high Victorian Gothic-style building was built next to the Chancellor’s Elm, on what was then considered “second rate” land because of the many trees had grown there

Construction began in August of 1881 with a budget of $30,000, Workers were paid $10 for every 1,000 bricks laid. The building originally housed a chapel, the executive offices, a women’s gymnasium, laboratories and the School of Domestic Science.

Elder D.R. Lucas, one of the original founders of Drake, created the concept that led to acquiring the land for the university. He spoke at the dedication of Old Main.

“Words cannot dedicate this building. It must be dedicated by the deeds of those who are to go forth from its intellectual shrine. May the seeds of wisdom here sown blossom in glorious deeds that shall silently ripen for eternity,” Lucas said.

In the 1920s, the bell clapper was found in a dusty box tucked away in a Des Moines residence, which has now become the Dial Center. At the time, two law students lived in the residence.

A group of students called the “filthy five” — three males and two females from the class of 1960 — repeated the stunt of stealing the bell clapper. After being missing for 20 years, it was discovered on the front doorstep of the office of University Relations.

As time has passed, the building has changed. In 1969, the Chancellor’s elm was cut down due to Dutch Elm’s disease. A rock had been placed under the elm by the Class of 1898, and it has held different meanings to the campus. Originally, a girl would need to be kissed at the rock to be considered “co-ed,” as in to be attending a coeducational establishment. But since the 1960s, the rock has been a hot spot to find some lifelong luck. Kissing on the rock would lead to marriage and a life of happiness.

Between Old Main, Sheslow auditorium and the Kissing Rock, Drake has held onto the traditions and beliefs of its past.

Comments are closed.