Remembering Old Main

2011-06-09T00:45:00Z Remembering Old MainBY CODELL RODRIGUEZ, THE SOUTHERN The Southern
June 09, 2011 12:45 am  • 

CARBONDALE - To celebrate Old Main, architects talked about the history of the building and the people behind it Wednesday in the John C. Guyon Auditorium in Morris Library.

The speakers were David Simmons, an architectural historian from St. Louis; John Parkinson, president of Image Architects Inc. in Carbondale; and SIUC architecture professor Jon Davey. The event celebrated the building that burned down in 1969 and acted as a way to preserve the history.

People were also to share memories Tuesday and Wednesday for a WSIU documentary. Interviews for the documentary will continue from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. today at the library.

Simmons talked about the architects behind the Normal Building that burned down in 1883 and Old Main, built in 1889. He also talked about the structures themselves. He said the Normal Building was to be the symbol of Little Egypt. The contract was originally awarded to St. Louis architect Thomas Walsh but later went to Carbondale architect James Campbell. The building had 41 rooms, eight furnaces and no indoor toilets. Simmons said it was built in a Venetian Gothic style.

"It was a beautiful building, there's no doubt about it," Simmons said.

After the building burned, plans were eventually drafted for a replacement. The contract went to St. Louis architect Isaac Taylor, who was later chief architect for the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Taylor was charged with building a structure on the site of the old Normal Building with a similar build but with a tower.

"People thought it was a wonderful building and yes, it had indoor toilets as well," Simmons said.

Parkinson spoke about how Old Main was built to make a community. He went into the history of Carbondale and Col. Daniel Harmon Brush's idea to take a field by crossing railroads and building a town. He said Brush always wanted to have a college in Carbondale.

He said as Carbondale grew as a railroad town, the people who came to work ended up sending their children to the Normal School. He said the image of Old Main became a sort of flag for the region and when the second building burned, the decision was made to move on rather than try to rebuild it a third time.

Davey's presentation focused on how computers brought back Old Main. After he began teaching at SIUC in 1981, he challenged his students to take a section of Old Main's design and convert it for use on computers. He said then Chancellor John C. Guyon found out about the project and asked to have the computer designs to be used to make Old Main medallions to give to the Alumni of the Year. Davey said it was fitting that the students were giving back to students.

Unfortunately for the class, in hindsight, the Texas Instruments computers they used were rudimentary, so the designs had to be stored on multiple disks and the completed design took 45 minutes to actually show up on the screen. However, the project was successful in preserving the memory of Old Main.

"Old Main lives on digitally," Davey said.



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