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Dec. 3, 2009 Volume 31, No. 14

Saving a piece of history

A (barely) rolling stone

Removing the original Academic Hall cornerstone during the week of Thanksgiving break are Mid-Continental Restoration crew members John Kruger, kneeling, and Jonas Greenway, center. Ed Drane, right, project manager for Campus Facilities-Planning, Design and Construction, supervised on the job. Rob Hill photo

Past and future

Original Academic Hall cornerstone finds a new home in Jesse Hall

For more than 90 years, it might have been out of sight and out of mind, but it was still very much a part of Mizzou’s historical legacy — the original cornerstone from old Academic Hall, the university’s first building, which burned in 1892. The stone was saved from Academic Halls ashes, and in 1915 it was mortared into place in the memorial gates at Eighth and Elm streets that form the north entry to Francis Quadrangle.

Now, the venerable icon is moving again. During the Thanksgiving break, a crew from Mid-Continental Restoration Co. of Ft. Scott, Kan., used a concrete saw and chisels to cut the stone out of the surrounding structure, load it onto a pallet and haul it away on a front-end loader.

The move is expected to be completed by next spring when it takes up residence in its new home in the rotunda of Jesse Hall. The cornerstone will be positioned to face the Columns, and a surrounding display will feature information about Academic Hall, the fire and the Columns. Design for the display will be decided in a contest for students in the architectural studies program in the College of Human Environmental Sciences. A formal dedication will take place next fall.

The cornerstone was first laid during an elaborate Fourth of July ceremony in 1840.  By the time of its most recent move, the stone had settled into obscurity. It was located at the very bottom of the west gate, and visitors had to crouch on their hands and knees to read the faded inscription. As the roadway was built up over the years, paving material covered the first few inches of the stone.

According to a centennial history of the university written by former MU history Professor Jonas Viles, the memorial gates weren’t built until 1915. They were constructed with some of the $3,383 that Mizzou finally received from the federal government in reparation for damages caused by Union soldiers who occupied the university during the Civil War.

Yankee troops were garrisoned in Academic Hall during 1862. Viles’ book documents a report from that time which found that soldiers had used virtually every room in the building. They broke or stole all the chemistry lab equipment. They looted carpets, building fixtures and hundreds of library books. The room was used as a military prison and “had little left but floor and walls,” the report said.

Tom Schultz, director of development for MU who helped engineer the cornerstone’s move, estimates it will cost about $30,000, with the entire amount coming from private donations.

“The cornerstone is a very important part of our university’s history,” Schultz says. “We want to make sure we preserve it for future generations. Now, with the help of some very generous donations, it will be restored and become the centerpiece of an educational display showcasing MU’s history.”

Why go to all the trouble? Because artifacts like the cornerstone give us a flavor of the university and how things have changed over the years, Schultz says.

“It’s about more than just these objects themselves,” he says. “Nearly 170 years ago, the people of Missouri said, ’Let’s build a great university.’ It’s the vision of the university that’s projected. Don’t you think that’s what makes us a great university, that we have all this tradition?”