Center for Archival Collections

Archival Chronicle

August 1989: Volume 8, Number 2

BGSU Archives Serve Wide Audience | Architecture: University Hall | Archival Chronicle Index | CAC Homepage

Bowling Green State University Archives Serve a Wide Audience

Aerial View of BGSU

 The Bowling Green State University campus has grown in all directions from the original administrative buildings. Today, student residences surround classroom, recreational, and service facilities. University Archives Photograph Collection.

Just as an individual's life story can be traced through the documents (letters, journals, legal papers, etc.) which he or she writes, an institution's growth and influence is revealed through the documents created to conduct its business. Administrative interest in preserving the historical records of Bowling Green State University began during the presidency of Frank J. Prout (1939-1951). Although only one box of records exists documenting his administration, included in this box is the report of a committee appointed to study the preservation of university documents.

In February 1948, this committee recommended that a faculty member be appointed with responsibility to collect university-created documents and that space and secretarial assistance be provided. The report also listed the types of records which should be kept, a list which is remarkable for its continuing importance and validity today. Unfortunately, no other information exists within Prout's records or the other collections within the University Archives to complete the picture. That is, how did Prout view the recommendations and to what degree did he act upon them? Almost twenty years passed before the Bowling Green State University Archives were officially established and housed within Jerome Library. This committee's report illustrates both the importance of creating institutional archives, as well as the problems inherent in creating archives years after the establishment of the institution, as many records are no longer extant. It also provides a glimpse into the "gems" of the archives--those documents that have withstood both environmental problems and the human inclination to "pitch," and now help create the historical picture of Bowling Green State University.

Examples of these "gems" are numerous. Other presidencies are very well documented, one example being that of William T. Jerome (1963-1970). Of special interest are Jerome's thoughts on certain events or issues which he would have typed and appropriately filed. This is especially evident during the campus unrest occurring immediately after the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970. Numerous files exist in his papers including letters from parents, Jerome's official letters and private thoughts, and records documenting the administrative response to outrage over the deaths of the Kent State students. Other administrative files include the Board of Trustees' minutes dating from the first appointed Board in 1911 through the present, and records documenting the changes occurring within the areas of academics, facilities, planning, development, and student affairs.

Files documenting student government, as well as student academic and social organizations, also are held within University Archives. These files, along with complete sets of the yearbook (The Key), the annual catalogs and student handbooks, the student newspaper (The BG News), and a collection of over 10,000 photographs document all facets of student life on campus from the beginning years to the present. Oral interviews with past and present administrators, faculty, staff, and students have been conducted, and the transcripts are open to the researcher. These interviews greatly assist in filling in the "gaps" left by the paper documents as well as providing personal opinions of major events and issues pertaining to the development and expansion of the University.

The University Archives are rich in their research potential and CAC staff welcome both administrative and scholarly use of the collections.

--Ann M. Bowers

University Hall: An Academic Design for an Academic Setting

The formal gate and oval drive leading to the Administration Building (today called University Hall) echoed the tone of dignity and tradition set by Classical Revival design. This entrance was "swallowed up" by a rapidly-growing post-war campus. University Archives Photograph Collection.

Architect Louis Sullivan predicted that the "damage" wrought by the colossal copies of classical architecture that pervaded the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition would last for fifty years. However, he found few sympathetic ears on America's college campuses.

University Hall, ca. 1920s

In fact, the return to the disciplined design of classical architecture during the late nineteenth and early centuries was welcomed by academic institutions across the country. Where better to locate academic designs than in an academic setting? Besides, architects and the general public felt that the formal classical facade expressed civic virtue, a belief shared by college administrators.

Little wonder that a newly-established teachers college in Bowling Green, Ohio would opt for the established and venerable look of classically-inspired architecture for its new campus. The first and most prominent of Bowling Green's Classical Revival buildings is University Hall. Started in 1913 and completed in 1915, it was originally known as the Administration Building.

But how did the monumental Greek and Roman motifs of Classical Revival architecture find their way to rural northwest Ohio?

Initially an east coast phenomenon, Beaux Arts and the later more refined Classical Revival architectural styles were promoted by American architects trained at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They and legions of lesser-known architects who trained under them were all influenced by the academic design principles of the Ecole, which included the study of Greek and Roman architecture, composition, and symmetry.

By the 1880's the over-indulgent decoration of the High Victorian period was being rejected in favor of the discipline, form, unity, and sobriety of classical architecture. The so-called "White City" of the Chicago Exposition simply dramatized the changes that had occurred.

Classicism influenced nearly all building types and especially dominated public building activity of the era. The City Beautiful Movement, which sought to make the nation's cities more enjoyable through urban planning, proposed that major buildings be constructed in the context of squares, parks, and tree-lined boulevards. Some twenty-four state capitols were built, and the centers of America's cities were redefined with the construction of libraries, museums, city halls, and courthouses.

It was natural, then, for college and university trustees to seek a visible link with classical learning and ideals through campus planning and architecture. They wanted their institutions to demonstrate a sense of permanence by providing a continuity with the past.

Thus, when Governor James M. Cox called for the creation of two new normal schools at Kent and Bowling Green, the Classical Revival was in its prime. In fact, even before selecting a president, the Trustees of Bowling Green took advantage of increased appropriations and appointed the Columbus architectural firm of Howard and Merriam to draw plans for the new campus.  After a slow start because of defective land titles and inclement weather, construction on the Administration Building began in mid-1913.

University Hall is typical of the oversized but serene composition of the Classical Revival style. Massive doric columns and a substantial dentiled cornice give the building its planned monumental look, leaving the impression that the builders intended it to be here forever.

University Hall has undergone numerous alterations, including a completely reconstructed interior and new windows. In the early 1970s, a proposal to demolish the building was rejected because of high demolition costs and the "sentimental value of the building."  Today, the University's historic buildings do in fact offer what their builders intended, a time-honored sense of place and an enduring setting for learning.

--Glenn A. Harper