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Alexander-Dickman Hall has been variously known over the years as "Old Sem," "Old Main," and "College Hall;" it was officially designated Alexander-Dickman Hall in 1963. Alexander was the man who first put up the money to build the college, and Dickman served as president in the 1920's. The building itself was completed in 1857. School opened in January of that year with four faculty members, making it one of the earliest colleges in Iowa. For many years, Alexander-Dickman Hall was the only structure on campus, providing housing for the President and students, classrooms, a museum, and a library. It now serves to house administrative offices and some classrooms.
Alexander-Dickman Hall is a simple dressed-stone building showing the influence of several architectural styles. The simplicity of the Neo-Classical style is evident in the evenly spaced openings and arched doorway at the middle of the front facade. Palladian windows, showing the influence of the Federalist style, appear above this doorway, and the tripartite arrangement is topped at the roof by a pedimental rise of the facade. The eaves of the roof are supported by brackets and a cornice of an Italianate design.
In 1963 the exterior of the building was restored and the interior renovated. As a result, the facade and cupola are in excellent condition, but the original room arrangement and wall and floor materials have been altered. Also, a review of an undated historic photograph shows that certain openings may have been altered in size and location. Chimneys of brick were removed and a metal statue was placed atop the cupola. The exterior changes, while not conforming to the 1857 appearance of the structure, do not compromise the overall simple style of the building.
Architecturally significant as one of the largest and best preserved native stone buildings still in use in Iowa and as the first and only building of Upper Iowa University for many years, Alexander-Dickman Hall was also crucial to the early settlement and growth of the town of Fayette. The first settlement came to Fayette County in 1840, and the town was laid out in 1855. The construction of Alexander-Dickman Hall was begun in that year, and according to the County History, "the presence of strangers in town engaged in erecting the college building stimulated the formation of a stock company to build a hotel." From the time the building of the University was assured, the development of Fayette as a market place and trade center of the county was steady, and its main competitor, the nearby town of Westfield, faded from existence.
Upper Iowa University has enriched Fayette culturally as well. The County History of Fayette County stated in 1910 that "the environments of the University have brought people to the town for the better education of their families, and few, indeed, are the citizens of the place who have not at some time attended this institution of higher learning."