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The construction and occupancy of Memorial Hall is best described by Dr. G. Frank Burns's book Phoenix Rising, and Winstead Paine Bone's book, A History of Cumberland University, 1842-1935. Dr. Bone was the sixth president of Cumberland University, and his great grandson, Winstead Paine Bone III, currently serves as a trustee.
Today, Memorial Hall houses administrative offices, the Division of Nursing, and the Nursing and Science laboratories. The chemistry laboratories were moved to the third floor in the early 1900s and remain there today. Until the recent renovation and construction of the old gym into a classroom building, most of the university's classes were conducted in Memorial Hall, including English, math, history, and social studies courses, as well as the science classes and laboratories.
The latest renovation for Memorial Hall came in the mid-1990s during the administration of Dr. Clair E. Martin, 24th president of Cumberland University. The first floor and President's office received new hardwood flooring, slate flooring was installed in the main foyer, and the staircase leading to the upper floors was refinished. New drywall was also installed and the ceiling was lowered. In one renovation, doors had been installed on both sides of the foyer and partitions had been constructed at either end of the first floor hallway for additional office space. Those were all removed, and it is now possible to stand at one end of the hallway and see all the way to the other end. Lighting was enhanced as well as the heating and air conditioning systems. The second and third floors of Memorial Hall have also undergone some renovation, although the renovations were not as extensive as those on the first floor. New tile flooring for the 2nd floor hallways and classrooms was installed in the mid-1990s.
Memorial Hall originally had a chapel that was an extension of the central section (western side) of the building. It was soon perceived, however, that the acoustics of this large room made it unsuitable for its intended purpose, and in 1900 it was made into a gymnasium and remained so for nearly 40 years. Then the generosity of Walter Jackson Baird, in memory of his wife, Ethel Bouton Baird, made it possible in 1939 to redecorate this room, which was named Baird Chapel. The acoustics were remarkably improved during the 1963 renovation of the building by installation of theatre type chairs with cloth seats and backs, and Baird Chapel has been used for most formal programs since. Baird Chapel received extensive renovation in the 1990s through a matching Historical Grant from the State of Tennessee and an additional gift from one of our trustees, Dr. Jeanette C. Rudy, which helped to complete the three year project.
When first built, the College of Arts had the whole first floor, the Theological School had the second, and the third floor remained unfinished until it became the Mitchell Library. University offices and a chemistry lab were also on the first floor, but the chemistry lab was later moved to the third floor, where it is still housed today.