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Adapted from the National Register report:
The oldest building on the Wartburg campus, Old Main was built in 1880 for the Wartburg Teacher's Seminary, an educational institution founded by the German Lutheran Synod of Iowa and Other States in 1879. It was founded to train young men to teach at Lutheran parish schools. Almost immediately, however, a program of general studies was added to the normal course in order to accommodate area students in addition to the future parish school teachers. The building at first housed all school functions: a dormitory in the attic, living area in the classrooms when they were not in educational use, housing for the teachers (originally two) on the first floor, and dining/kitchen facilities in the basement.
In 1893, the college was moved to Clinton, Iowa, and the Waverly school reverted to its original status as a strictly normal institution. Three years later, a "preparatory department" was added (corresponding to 7th and 8th grades) and a "proseminary" (now at Dubuque) were housed here. By 1913, women were admitted to the institution. After the organization of the American Lutheran Synod (which incorporated the Synod of Iowa) in 1930, Wartburg at Waverly was confirmed as the permanent home of the college. Physical expansion of the campus begun in 1888 has coincided with increased curriculum offerings, particularly in the social sciences. "Old Main" is still the centerpiece of this active institution.
The building holds historical significance as the first structure associated with German Lutheran higher education in Iowa. Its architecture is typical of the period in which it was constructed: a simple vernacular adaptation of the Italianate style with a restrained use of decoration.