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The History of Eastern Illinois University's Old Main


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



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old main

The text and images appearing here are taken from the centennial exhibition on the history and architecture of Old Main—a joint venture of the Tarble Arts Center and the History department’s Historical Administration Program. "The Architecture of  Eastern’s ‘Old Main’: Aesthetics, Education, and Politics" ran from November 20, 1999 through January 16, 2000.

Old Main: The Beginning 
Marking the 100th anniversary of Eastern's Old Main, a century's worth of images emerge to tell the story of the school's founding mission.  This section offers an overview of architectural styles that dominated the campus during the first half of the 20th century.

A Building for the Ages 
Examine the artistic elements incorporated into Old Main's construction and explore its evolution from "drawing board" to completed structure.

Charleston: The Normal School City 
The political background of Charleston's  selection as the site for the school is highlighted in this section.  With the construction of the school the face of Charleston changed.

The Campus: A Changing Landscape 
This section explores how our campus has changed over the years with images of Eastern's lost vistas and early classroom photographs.

A Future for the Past
The treasure of our campus architecture is a heritage worth protecting.  See what Eastern Illinois University is doing to meet its obligation to preservation.    

That "Noble Project:" The Founding of Eastern Illinois University and the Origins of Old Main 1895-1899
Dr. Terry A. Barnhart

A Building for the Ages: The History and Architecture of Old Main 
Dr. Nora Pat Small

1999-2000 Exhibit Gallery & Acknowledgments and Snapshot Gallery
So many people contributed to the completion of the Old Main exhibit and thanks are in order.  You can see "snapshots" of the Historical Administration class in action as they construct the Old Main exhibit.  You can also see images of the final product.

"Old Main" stands today as a tangible link to the past and present of Eastern Illinois University. The building’s history and architecture embody the ideas, values, and personal visions of those who willed the university into existence in 1895, and the construction of Old Main as its first building in 1899. Those voices and visions became an enduring part of Eastern’s heritage, which we appropriately commemorate in 1999. The 100th anniversary of Old Main and the opening of classes at Eastern Illinois State Normal School (as EIU was originally known) is indeed an occasion for substantive reflection. Eastern’s mission and identity have changed dramatically over the years, yet withal we have continued to build on time-honored traditions. As Eastern has grown into the regional university of today, it continues to draw strength from its past. Each generation of faculty and students who have taught and attended EIU has added to that experience and left its signature in history.