Old College

Northwestern University’s first building was constructed in 1855 at what is now the northwest corner of Hinman and Davis Streets in downtown Evanston. The cornerstone was laid in June, and the frame building was completed in the fall, with classes starting November 5, 1855. That first year, with two faculty members, Northwestern enrolled ten students. Building costs for the three-story frame structure totaled $5,937. The building, later called “Old College,” originally housed a chapel, six classrooms, and rooms for two literary societies; attic lofts served as dorm rooms for several of students. In the 1860s the University’s first library was also housed in the building.

When it was built, Old College was considered to be only a temporary building, but it served until 1869, when University Hall, regarded as the first permanent University structure, was constructed. In 1871, Old College was moved to the present location of Fisk Hall, and a new wing was added. By this time, the building was the home of Northwestern's Preparatory School (later known as the Evanston Academy), known to its students as “Old Prep” or “Old Prepsides.” When Fisk Hall was built in 1899, Old College was moved again, this time north of Fisk, where the McCormick-Tribune Center now stands.

In turn Old College housed classrooms, a weather observatory manned by students for the U.S. Department of War in the 1870s, a naval training program during World War I, and the offices of the College of Liberal Arts. Old College became the Education Building when Northwestern established its School of Education in 1925-6.

Old College survived a number of proposals for its demolition. Then, on July 24, 1973, lightning struck the building, triggering an automatic sprinkler system which flooded the building. While checking for water damage, inspectors found water seepage through plaster walls and in the electrical system, and discovered that dry rot decay had severely weakened foundation and supporting timbers. Rather than invest $500,000 to renovate Old College during a time of straitened finances, the University elected to raze the building.

Old College, Exterior: Prior to 1899 Move
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Quick Facts

Date: 1855

Architect: J.M. Van Osdell and (?) Bawman