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Alumni Association’s 150th: New life for Old Main Project

Old Main building

The Old Main building.

Old Main was the first building of Illinois State University, the oldest state institution of higher learning in Illinois. Now a website dedicated to bringing Old Main back to life is connecting people to the past.

The website, OldMain.IllinoisState.edu, features new material from a team of anthropology and archaeology students working on the Old Main Project, which is dedicated to telling the building’s story through the analysis of excavated remains, oral histories and historical documents.

Visitors to the updated website can discover a 3-D virtual tour, created by student Dave Watt, that will let them experience the feel of the ISNU Natural History Museum and Library, once housed in Old Main. They can imagine the fiery lectures that filled Wrightonian Hall or the music that drifted from concerts in Philadelphia Hall in the building that was once the heart of campus. A new timeline of the building is also available.

Those visiting for the first time can experience interviews from alumni from the 1930s and 40, such as Ellen (Petty) Hendrix, who often continued her work as editor of The Index yearbook in Old Main’s basement even after the janitors locked the doors at night. J. Russell Steele shared his experience working as a student employee to the janitor and talked about winding the great Old Main clock.

“The building lives on in the memories of those who used it when it was the University’s centerpiece,” said Distinguished Professor of Anthropology James Skibo, who helps oversee the Old Main Project.

Old Main was razed in 1958 and it would seem that little remains of this structure’s 100-year story.

“As discovered in a 1981 archaeological excavation, Old Main’s foundation and much of its lower floor remain intact just below today’s flower beds on the Quad,” said Skibo.

The updated website is also connected to a new Facebook page that will offer tidbits and history about the building.

“Anytime we discover something new that we can add to the website, we will post it on Facebook,” said Associate Professor of Anthropology Gina L. Hunter, adding that though Old Main no longer stands, the building is filled with stories. “Did you know that two students were married in Old Main’s clocktower in 1911?”

Initiated in 2009, the Old Main Project is co-directed by Skibo and Hunter, and is affiliated with Illinois State’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology and master’s in Archaeology program.

 

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