Spring 2006

A Stately Reminder


The trio of stately columns that stands at WSU’s Fairmount Avenue campus entrance off 17th Street points back in time to the early years of Fairmount College and to the life — and death — of the  college’s first president.

From the day he arrived in Wichita in 1895, President Nathan J. Morrison envisioned a library that would both academically and physically occupy the focal point of Fairmount College, whose new campus occupied the highest ground in Sedgwick County. For the next 12 years the library was rarely out of his mind as he struggled to raise operating money, searched for the right faculty, arranged living quarters for students, collected books and considered new ideas — a curriculum in agriculture, for example.

By 1900, Andrew Carnegie’s program to fund community library buildings was well established, but only a few colleges had received grants. Morrison felt, however, that he had a good chance, and on May 31, 1904, the Fairmount College Board of Trustees voted to apply for a Carnegie grant of $50,000. A year later Carnegie’s secretary telegraphed the college that $40,000 would be awarded contingent on Fairmount’s ability to raise $40,000 for its endowment.

In January of 1906, The Wichita Eagle reported that Morrison had secured $33,013 in pledges, including $10,000 from the Congregational Education Society, $1,813 from students and $7,700 in other local pledges. The Eagle, in a prophetic tone, also noted that the “purpose of this undertaking is not only to accommodate the students of the college but to make this library an intellectual source for all people dwelling in the Great Arkansas Valley.”

Plans moved forward, and Albert R. Ross of New York was selected as the architect. Ross had worked for the well-known firm of McKim, Mead & White before starting his own practice. He designed the first libraries for a number of cities, including Denver, Atlanta, San Diego and Washington, D.C. His Milwaukee County Courthouse was designated a National Landmark in 1976, and the Washington library on Mt. Vernon Square is now the City Museum of the District of Columbia.

Ross’ 1908 glass-walled summer home on an island off the coast of Maine is a fascinating example of International Style architecture, predating more famous houses by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

After Christmas in 1906, Morrison left on his annual trip to the East to raise money and collect books. In late March he met with Carnegie, and the $40,000 grant was finalized. Morrison and Ross soon left for Wichita. As usual, the 78-year-old Morrison traveled in coach to save funds, although suffering from a serious cold.

They arrived in Wichita on April 7, and the next day Ross met with the Board of Trustees. He presented plans for a Classical building fronted with eight columns that would sit at the north end of Fairmount Avenue. A few changes were made in the building. Basement windows were enlarged to allow more natural light, and ornamentation was removed from the façade, probably to reduce costs.

On the morning of April 11, 1907, a small group gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony, and the photograph of the event provides a magnificent, although poignant, glimpse into the university’s early history. Holding the shovel is Wichita lumberman Howard Darling, who served on the Board of Trustees from 1894-1926.

Behind him, virtually presiding over the event, is Mrs. Lucetta Carter, businesswoman and long-time supporter of the Fairmount library. On the left, hat in hand, is Dean Isely. Professors Solandt and Hoare can be identified. The man on the far right, next to President Morrison, is presumed to be architect Albert Ross.

Morrison probably got out of bed for the event. Although the temperature reached 73 degrees that day, he is wearing an overcoat and clearly is not well. A few hours later, just after midnight on April 12, he died of pneumonia. The photograph was probably taken by Theodore Morrison, the president’s son, the college librarian and an excellent amateur photographer.

Because of Morrison’s death — and Isely’s the following summer — plans were delayed, and it was not until early in 1908 that the cornerstone was placed. The building of Carthage stone and light buff brick opened in 1909 and a few years later was officially named the Morrison Library. It served the college well, but by the 1930s was considered too small for the growth plans of the new Municipal University of Wichita.

When a new library was opened in 1939, the Carnegie building, renamed Morrison Hall, was used for a number of programs, including art. It was termed the Art Building after the new structure was officially designated the Morrison Library.

Albert Ross’ Carnegie library burned in 1964, probably the result of an overheated kiln. The columns survived the fire and continued to preside over the original campus until the early ’70s when plans for the Ulrich Museum preempted the site.

Under the urging of former University Regent/Trustee Kathlien Edmiston ’33, three of the columns were then moved to their present location at the Fairmount Avenue entrance where they now serve to remind everyone of the university’s  origin as Fairmount College.

The university will host a very special public celebration for the groundbreaking’s centennial in April 2007. Everyone is invited.


Aviatrix Marvel

Marvel L. (Nordyke) White ’35, who passed away Jan. 1 in Wichita at the age of 99, certainly lived up to her first name.

Stamp of Approval

Award-winning entertainer Karla Burns ’81/81 never met Wichitan Hattie McDaniel (1895-1952), the first African-American to win an Academy Award.

A Stately Reminder

The trio of stately columns that stands at WSU’s Fairmount Avenue campus entrance off 17th Street points back in time to the early years of Fairmount College.

Found Stories

One hundred years ago, back when Fairmount College was young, one family forged the first Shocker sports dynasty.