Old Main: The heart of the campus

The brick-and-stone structure we now know as Schofield Hall stands at the center of the UW-Eau Claire campus, surrounded by younger buildings that gradually sprang up around it as enrollment and academic programs expanded.  Before blueprints were drafted for any of these other buildings, however, the entire college was contained within that one single structure.  The then Eau Claire State Normal School building’s early concept sketches depict a semi-Greek-Revival style façade.  This was supplanted by the final collegiate gothic design, complete with sandstone trim locally quarried in Downsville, which was constructed at the cost of $225,000.  When it opened to the first class of students in September of 1916, it was equipped with state of the art facilities, including science laboratories, a gymnasium with mezzanine that doubled as an event space, and a training school for prospective teachers.  One thing, however, had not quite been completed: the cafeteria.  Students and teachers alike were forced to bring sack lunches until October.

As the number of students increased steadily through the years, quarters in the college building became more cramped.  Despite the plans of presidents Harvey Schofield and his successor William Davies for expansion, the Great Depression and the onset of World War II ensured that the college remained limited to that one building.  That all changed in 1952, when the complex on the corner of Garfield and Park Avenues—incorporating what is now Zorn Arena, Brewer Hall, Kjer Theatre, and the now demolished Campus School—was built.  With the new buildings came a colloquial change of name for the original building: Old Main.  An official change of name came eight years later, in 1960, to Schofield Hall.

Throughout the building boom on campus in the 1960’s and 1970’s, new academic programs were added and existing academic programs expanded beyond Schofield Hall into newer facilities that could accommodate their needs.  In 1976, the need for administrative space was greater than that of academic space in the old main building, and the interior underwent a major redesign to become UW-Eau Claire’s administrative hub.  It has been the center of campus government ever since.

Schofield Hall is listed as a historic site in the city of Eau Claire, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  While the interior and the purpose of the structure may have transformed over the years, its place as the heart of UW-Eau Claire’s campus has never changed.

Scroll through historical images below.