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In the mid-1850s the main portion of Center Hall was erected to mark the success and lofty aspirations of the still-struggling, young liberal arts college founded in the "far west" in 1832 to educate teachers and ministers. William Tinsley, the architect selected, had been born in Ireland but later migrated to Indiana, where he had designed a building at Indiana University, among others.
Center was preceded on the "new" campus by South Hall, which had suffered a serious fire just as the building was completed in the summer of 1838. Architect Ithiel Town of Town and Davis, New York, is credited with the plans, which were severely compromised by a complete exterior and interior renovation in the late 1800s. Old South was razed in the mid-1950s to make way for Baxter Hall, the new social sciences building.
Since the original plan for the college was to line up the main buildings facing a through highway (now Grant Avenue), the more ornamented facade of Center and main entry to the college faced toward a central south drive through the wooded campus. In the 1920s, the college trustees adopted a plan proposed by Jens Frederick Larson to reorient the campus inward with the new, Larson-designed Pioneer Chapel as its focal point from Wabash Avenue. An open green mall bordered with trees and sections of arched brick walls, plus a drive around the mall would visually connect the buildings. The original, very simply finished back of Center Hall now "faced" the Mall. The center drive from Grant Avenue up to Center Hall was maintained to make the college visible to traffic on that approach. As soon as funds were available after the Civil War, the two wings were added.
Center Hall has played a significant role in the life of the college. All but the first president of the college have had their offices in this building. Many of the major, as well as daily, decisions about the college have been made there. Over the years, two college bells in Center's steeple have rung students to class. The building has also been the location for many pranks and freshman-sophomore fights. Today's student cashes checks in the Business Office in the north wing, attends classes or stops by a professor's office in the center section, and registers for classes and reports to the Dean of Student's office in the south wing.
Although some interior modifications have been made over the years, some are reversible. As much as possible has been done to keep the original dignity of the building intact, preserving its high ceilings, original woodwork, stairs, and floors. The building has three usable floors and all space is in use. The exterior has been maintained as close to its original state as possible, with changes being considered only for air handling and insulation purposes.