Old Main

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Old Main (Built 1883)

Originally submitted by: Emily Perry, Drake University, Sept. 16 2010.


As the oldest building still around at Drake University, Old Main was established with the intent of housing the administration offices for the university. It is the place where many important decisions for the university have been made.[5] Old Main was the first building constructed on the Drake University campus, followed by the Science Hall in 1893. The building is currently located between Carnegie Hall and [[Howard Hall].

George Carpenter first envisioned Drake University by climbing up a tall elm tree, known as the Chancellor's Elm, pointing to the plot of land and declaring that there would be where a new university would be built. This tree was once located in the current front lawn of Old Main.[5] To this day, Old Main is considered a symbol of both Drake's past and its future.[5]

"Words cannot dedicate this building; it must be dedicated by the deeds of those who are to go forth from its intellectual shrine. May the seeds of wisdom here sown blossom in glorious deeds that shall silently ripen for eternity!" - D.R. Lucas, one of Drake's founders, said during his dedication to Old Main [5]


A photo of Old Main taken between 1920-1922, Contributed by Mr. Chuck Hinkle BA '82

The construction of Old Main began in August of 1881.[5] With an estimated building cost of $30,000,[4] Iowa’s Governor, General Francis Marion Drake, donated $20,000 to help fund the construction.[2] C.B. Lakin was hired as the architect of Old Main and J.S. Meyers was contracted to act as the superintendent of the construction.[6] Workers were paid $10 for each thousand bricks laid. The building was completed and dedicated in 1883.


The largest room in Old Main used to be the chapel, which was used not only for religious purposes, but for academic assemblies as well.[4] It also housed the Executive Offices, the old Women’s Gymnasium, the School of and Domestic Science classrooms, and laboratories for Botany and Geology.[1] In 1900, they added the addition of the Sheslow Auditorium, where many events took place such as the popular women's intramural basketball games.[2] At the time, such events in this auditorium drew in very large crowds. Every hallway originally led to an inside stairwell which split off into separate lower and upper levels of stairs.[4] Each room was also heated by stoves, which is why Old Main has so many chimneys.[4]

A photo of Old Main in 1972, contributed by Mr. Phil Leeson, AS'76

After the Auditorium was added, General Drake, who was a generous donor, believed that the administration building needed a "face lift."[6] In 1903, there were renovations such as a stairway leading to the attic above the auditorium, as well as passage ways that lead backstage. He removed the old entrance and added one that was better proportion-wise. They also added onto the bell tower, adding more embellishments. Since then, a few new doorways have been created through the walls inside, as well as a few shut off.[6]


One of the largest scandals that occurred on campus was the notoriously known burglary of the bell clapper, supposedly stolen by the “filthy five." The clapper was missing for twenty years and was discovered mysteriously on the front doorstep of the Office of University Relations after decades of disappearance.[3] The criminals still remain anonymous today, though a mysterious source reveals them to be three males and two female graduates of the class of 1960.[3]

A picture of Old Main Today, taken by David Peterson

A similar scandal occurred during the 1920's. The clapper was found in a mysterious, dusty box tucked away in the corner of her Des Moines residence, which is now the Dial Center.[3] Two law students were living the house at the time of the scandal.[3]

Other Related Information

The building is referenced in a book titled Old Main: Fame, Fate, and Contributions to Campus Planning and Design by Richard P. Dober copyright 2006 and is featured on the front cover of the book.


  • 1. Administration building. (1911). Drake University Records.
  • 2. Bock, B.C. (1986, September 23). Times-Delphic, p. 6.
  • 3. Caper of the copped clapper. (1981, June/July).Perspectives, p. 12
  • 4. C.B. Lakin. (1977, May).
  • 5. Happy 100, old main. (1983, September 16). Times-Delphic.
  • 6. Ritchey, CJ. Drake university through seventy-five years 1881-1956</span>.
Current location of Old Main: 2507 University Ave., Des Moines, IA.