Our Iowa Heritage: SUI -The Red Brick Campus.

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Welcome to Our Iowa Heritage. I’m Marty Boller of Iowa City, Iowa. Over the last seventy years (yes, I was born in 1951), I’ve found myself coming back, again and again, to the fact that, at my very core, I’m an Iowa Hawkeye. My Boller family arrived here (Johnson County – home of Iowa City) from Ohio in 1853. I guess you could say that the Bollers were once Buckeyes who happily converted to being Hawkeyes!

Over the last twenty-plus years I’ve assembled a lot of our Boller family history and placed it all here on this one website. When my wife, Sandy, and I relocated, after 30 years in Cedar Rapids, to Iowa City in July 2020, it began a new chapter of our lives. Several pages of that new chapter have been focused on writing about this land that I love. Iowa – This Is The Place. This fourteen-post series that starts below is just one part of that Hawkeye pursuit. Enjoy!

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Recently, while doing some research on the University of Iowa Digital Library website, I ran across a very intriguing campus map from the past. It’s name:

University of Iowa campus map, 1865-1894.

And, on that campus map, the page’s creator, typed a phrase that grabbed my attention:

Location of The Red Brick Campus of the University of Iowa from 1865 to 1894.

As I looked a bit closer, I saw that the map’s creator had placed twelve different buildings on the campus map, with one building (Science Hall – Calvin Hall) notated twice. This notation, of course, referenced the infamous move (1905) of Science Hall from University Square (i.e. The Pentacrest) to its present location at the corner of Jefferson and North Capitol Streets. I also noted that by using the term Calvin Hall, the map’s creator had drawn up this map after 1964, since that’s when Science Hall (i.e. the Geology Building) was renamed for Professor Samuel Calvin.

Now, I’m certainly not a professional historian, nor am I an Irving Weber (Iowa City’s famed historian), but as I reflected more on this map that showed the SUI campus around 1895, I found it interesting that through all my years of study, I’d never run across the phrase “Red Brick Campus” when looking at the history of the University of Iowa.

That curiosity sent me on a five-month journey, digging deeper into the facts behind this colorful phrase. And, the more I dug, the more I realized that over its 174 years of existence, our beloved University transitioned more during the mid-to-late 1890’s than it ever has or probably ever will again.

So, allow me if you will, to take you back in our time capsule to 1895 and The Red Brick Campus of the State University of Iowa (SUI).


To begin, here’s a beautiful photo of the SUI campus taken from the west side of the Iowa River in 1895.

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You’ll notice that I’ve placed some numbers on the picture so it will align itself with the Red Brick Campus Map from 1895. Below is the map itself with numbers assigned as well. These numbers will make more sense as we keep going.

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Now, let’s address the most obvious point first: the name – The Red Brick Campus.

Obviously, the name comes from the fact that nearly all of the twelve buildings, save Old Capitol, were made using red brick. Sadly, most of the photos we have of these classic structures are black-and-white, and only those few that appeared on penny postcards of the day, or Calvin Hall, which still stands today, offer us a glimpse at the amazing beauty of these stately buildings.

Here’s two perfect examples: 1) Science Hall (1884), renamed Calvin Hall, located directly north of the Pentacrest, is one of only two buildings still remaining from The Red Brick Campus, with Old Capitol being the other. 2) Homeopathic Medical Building, the last of The Red Brick Campus buildings, built in 1895, stood on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Dubuque until 1929.

(P-0191) Rare colorized Iowa City Business Section Birds Eye View Postcard w/ Chemical Lab/Pharmacy Building (left), Close Hall (center), St. James Hotel (across Iowa Ave), Hall of Liberal Arts (far right)

Meet Mr. Red Brick.

Sylvanus Johnson – Mr. Red Brick of Iowa City. Click here to read more.

Here’s Sylvanus Johnson, Iowa City’s first brickmaker. Johnson was a Connecticut native who worked in his father’s brickyard before moving to Iowa in 1839. I like to call him Mr. Red Brick since it was his brickyard in Outlot 24 (at the corner of Burlington and Gilbert Streets) that made much of the building material used in the earliest days of The Red Brick Campus. His first bricks were made on April 15, 1840 and went into the construction of a boot store on Iowa Avenue just west of Dubuque Street.

Another prominent brick maker of the day, Dennis P. Greeley, worked at a kiln on the north side of town and was a fireman at the Old Stone Capitol. In a September 1856 letter to Issac A. Wetherby (Iowa City’s famed photographer), Greeley reported that his friend would be amazed at the change in the city since his last visit, writing…

There are a great many Brick buildings going up this season – the place has altered very much.

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1868 Campus: In the beginning – four buildings – three of which were Red Brick.

Before I walk you through the list of all twelve buildings of The Red Brick Campus, allow me here, on this 1868 artist’s map of Iowa City, to show you the same area of land represented on our 1895 campus map. Note on this map the first four buildings of the SUI campus are depicted. Building #1: Old Capitol (1840), Building #2: Mechanics Academy (1842) located two blocks east of University Square (as it was called then), Building #3: South Hall (1861), and Building #4: North Hall (1865).

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In a promotional piece from 1900, the University’s original four buildings are pictured. Note in 1900 the Mechanics Academy was called Old Mercy Hospital, Old Capitol was called Central Building (or Central Hall), and North Hall was called Library Hall since it become the second home of the University Library (1882-1901).

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So now, allow me to introduce you to the buildings of the University, known in 1895 as The Red Brick Campus. If you click on the main picture or follow the “click here” link, you’ll discover more of the interesting story behind each of these classic structures. I hope you will enjoy the SUI tour!

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1. Old Capitol: The Icon of the University (1840 – present).

On July 4, 1840, Territorial Governor Robert Lucas came from Burlington to dedicate the cornerstone of the Old Stone Capitol. The date of the University’s founding is February 25, 1847, only two months after the beginning of Iowa statehood (December 28, 1846). In 1857, when the State Capitol finally moved to Des Moines, the State bequeathed Old Capitol to the University. Today, it’s become the Icon of the University of Iowa. Click here for more details…

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2. Mechanics Academy: The Cradle of the University (1842 – 1897).

Mechanics Academy not only housed the first classes for University students (1855), but it also became the first home of University Hospital and Mercy Hospital (1873 – 1897), the first location of the University Library (1855 – 1859), and the first office of the State of Iowa Historical Society (1862 -1865). Click here for more details…

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3. South Hall: The University’s Ten-Chimneyed One (1861 – 1901).

South Hall will be remembered as the three-story, ten-chimneyed, red-brick building which stood directly south of Old Capitol. It served the University for forty years, first as a dormitory/boarding hall and later as a classroom building, providing a meeting place for students and faculty alike. Tragedy fell upon South Hall on March 10, 1901, when along with the adjoining Medical Building, it was completely destroyed by fire. Click here for more details…

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4. North Hall: The Grandfather of the University (1865 – 1949).

North Hall was constructed in 1865, to be used, in part, as a University Chapel. The original recommendation, made by Governor Samuel Kirkwood, requested funds for a chemistry laboratory, chapel and astronomical observatory, and over the years, North Hall, the two-and-a-half-story, red-brick classic, certainly became a multi-use facility. Until it was demolished during the summer of 1949, its greatest distinction was that of being the oldest existing structure actually built for the University’s use – grandfathered into on-going campus purposes from its glory days to 1949. Click here for more details…

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5. Medical Building: The University’s Ill-Fated Medical Experiment (1882 – 1901).

The Medical Building was built in 1882 and was constructed to house the growing Medical College. Over its short 19-year existence, this stately building, located adjacent to South Hall, was twice remodeled, the last time in 1888. Twice struck by lightning and once having its roof torn off in a wind storm, the nemesis which seemed to pursue this building completed its work of ruin on March 10, 1901 when a fire made short work of the interior wooden construction. Click here for more details…

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6 and 6A. Science Hall (Calvin Hall): The University’s Only Mobile Home (1884 – present).

Science Hall, known as well as the Geology Building, is a three-story red-brick building built in 1884 for the purpose of housing the sciences. To make room for the new Hall of Natural Science (Macbride Hall), Science Hall was moved during the summer of 1905, inch by inch over a distance of 200 feet to its present location on the corner of Capital and Jefferson Streets. Today, Calvin Hall, as it is now known, stands as the sole surviving relic from the Red Brick Campus that once was. Click here for more details…

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7. Chemistry Laboratory & Pharmacy Building: The University’s Controversial Park Place (1890 – 1973).

It was decided in 1890 to locate this new building, dedicated to the study of Chemistry and Pharmacy, in the City Park area – a controversial idea indeed! Once opened two years later, the facility began showing signs of faulty construction almost immediately. In 1922, it was remodeled into a library (East Hall Annex) and in 1930, the Electrical Engineering Department made it its headquarters until its demise in 1973. And even in its passing, there was more controversy! Click here for more details…

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8. Close Hall: The University’s Home for Jesus, Jumpshots and Journalism (1891 – 1968). 

Made of red brick, construction of the building was completed in 1891. The cost was supplemented through a contribution of $10,000 by Mrs. Helen S. Close in order for the YMCA and YWCA (Young Men & Women Christian Association) to have a ministry home near campus. The three-story building contained offices and recitation rooms on the first floor while the second floor housed literary societies. The basement of the building housed a gymnasium as well as an industrial chemistry lab. In 1924, Close Hall became the home of the School of Journalism and The Daily Iowan press room. A fire destroyed the second floor in 1940, but the building was saved and utilized until its demise in 1968. Click here for more details…

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9. Observatory #2: The University’s Eye to the Sky (1891 – 1923).

During the Civil War years, Governor Samuel Kirkwood believed there was a great need for our State University to have an astronomical observatory. The first one was built in 1874, a small brick building located at the north end of Clinton Street (where the President’s Home now stands). In 1891, a second observatory was erected on the Red Brick Campus, located nearer the newly-built Science Hall, directly west of where the Dental Building would be placed in 1894. The building remained there until 1923, when brought down to make room for the new University (Jessup) Hall. Click here for more details…

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10. Dental Building: The University’s Eye Tooth for Eighty Years (1894 – 1975).

Built in 1894, this three-story, red brick and wooden structure was the second home of the College of Dentistry. But even before the doors opened for classes in 1895, it was already too small to accommodate the growing enrollment. For decades, long after the College of Dentistry moved on, stalwart Old Dental remained ensconced, being used for a variety of purposes over the years before its passing in 1975. Click here for more details…

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11. Homeopathic Medical Building #2: The University’s Second Medical Opinion (1895 – 1929).

For much of the 19th century, there were two approaches to the way doctors treated sickness and disease: allopathic medicine vs. homeopathic medicine. In 1876, the University decided to add a Homeopathic Medical Department to the school’s curriculum, but not without a lot of controversy. Built in 1878, the first Homeopathic Medical Building was a two-story red-brick structure built on a small lot on Clinton Street. In 1895, a new, and much larger red-brick Homeopathic Hospital and Medical Building was ready for occupancy, setting up camp on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Dubuque Streets. Click here for more details…

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12. Unity Hall: The University’s First & Fourth Student Union (1870 – 1932).

Originally the Unitarian Church, the University rented this unique red-brick facility for student activities from the late 1880’s until 1906, when it purchased the building for multiple uses. With a major renovation in 1911, Unity Hall, also called Old Unity, became the home for Iowa’s first Student Union, providing meeting places for student clubs, extracurricular activities and dining in the basement. Outgrowing the space in 1913, the Union went through two more locations in three years, only to return to Unity Hall in 1916, sharing it with the School of Music until the new Memorial Union opened in 1925. Click here for more details…

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13a – 13d. The Forgotten Few: The University’s Four Little Engines that Could (1840’s – 1923).

In 1895, there were four additional facilities on the Red Brick Campus, all small buildings not shown on our map since they were technically not full-sized facilities. Yet, throughout their life spans, all four played vitally important roles in the day-to-day work of this growing university. From the very beginning (1860) when University Square was the only campus (outside of Mechanics Academy), the Water Closet met one of the most primal human needs; the Horse Barn housed all transportation needs of the nineteenth century; the Armory/Power Plant supplied heat to the campus; while the tiny Weights & Measures Building gave students a place to grab a smoke between classes! Click here for more details…

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The Red Brick Campus (1895).

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The Red Brick Campus: Ten Years Later (1905) – The “New University” in process.

In 1900, new University president, George MacLean, (1899-1911) picked up on President Schaeffer’s ideas of a modernized campus and proposed a dramatic “New University” plan to eliminate all of the existing buildings surrounding Old Capitol, replacing them with three fine buildings similar in size and style to the new Liberal Arts Building (1898). In a letter to the president of the University of Oklahoma, MacLean wrote:

The overwhelming majority of universities have hodge podge buildings which are dropped here and there like ostrich eggs in the sand . . . at great cost, we are rescuing this university from these defects.

By 1905, only ten short years after The Red Brick Campus of 1895 . . . the dramatic changes are beginning to occur. Below is the Campus Map from 1905. Notice how different our beloved University looks on paper. We’ve gone from twelve buildings (and four support facilities) to twenty-six, with another ten being proposed. A closer look at University Square finds that two of President MacLean’s “New University” buildings are nearing completion (Liberal Arts and Natural Science) and the other two are on the drawing board.

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Click here to view the postcard story of the Wieneke family.

The modern-day Pentacrest, or as SUI students in the 1920’s lovingly called it The Five Spot, is now taking shape.

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Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

History of the State University of Iowa: Aspects of the Physical Structure, Katherine V. Bates, MA (Master of Arts) thesis, State University of Iowa, 1949

University of Iowa Libraries: Iowa Digital Library website

Iowa City: An Illustrated History, Gerald Mansheim, The Downing Company, 1989, p 35

The Old Stone Capitol Remembers – When Iowa City Was Young, Benjamin F. Shambaugh, The State Historical Society, 1939

Wetherby’s Gallery – Paintings, Daguerreotypes, & Ambrotypes of an Artist, Marybeth Slonneger, Hand Press (2006), p 54


RedBrickCampuslogo03 Click to go to the first Red Brick Campus story: Old Stone Capitol…

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Click here for a complete INDEX of stories listed CHRONOLOGICALLY…

Click here for a numerical INDEX to all of the U.S. postage stamps, postal cards, and coins in our collection…