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President's Desk

McFarland Hall: The story behind the name

Jun 14, 2018

In my last column, I wrote about the “ghost buildings” on the VCSU campus. I hope you remembered a few of them! Each of those buildings was known by its function or location (Old Science, West Hall, Park Ave. Cottage). But now all the buildings on campus are known by people’s last names. I am curious (and I hope you are too!) about what’s behind a building’s name, and in the next few columns I plan to look at a few of those named buildings and the people they were named after at VCSU. Many of the details in this column come from “Cornerstones,” the VCSU centennial history by Dr. Welch.

The first and best-known building on campus is the Main building, now referred to as “McFarland Hall.” This building was constructed during the summer and fall of 1892, initially under the supervision of Miss Emma Bates, instructor in mathematics and reading, who was appointed interim principal when our first president, J.W. Sifton, took a train west in April of that year after a disagreement with the Board over the building’s planned location.

George McFarland, originally from Ohio and most recently an instructor at Madison State Normal (South Dakota), began work at Valley City Normal in August 1892. The original title of “principal” was officially changed to “president” in 1906; the students apparently referred to him as “Prexy” if one can believe the school annual (“The 1914 Blizzard”).

The building itself was completed by December 1892, at a cost of $26,220, under the direction of Valley City contractor J.C. Drake. It was built of red pressed brick and trimmed with Duluth brown sandstone, and included nine recitation rooms, library, assembly room, cloakroom, and principal’s office. From its inception, the building reserved space for a training school, which accepted children in kindergarten through high school, in order to provide Normal School students with practice-teaching opportunities. As early as 1893, the training school included a kindergarten, one of the first in the region.

The building as we know it today has two wings. The west wing—originally called Science Hall, which housed the expanded library; science, geography, English, and history classrooms; a manual training room; and, on the third floor (which we now call the fourth floor), a gymnasium—was completed in 1904. The east wing was completed in 1906 as the Model School, with space for all grades, a gymnasium, manual training room, and critic-teacher accommodations. This area was used for grades K–6 until 1965, when the Model School was closed. Today Enrollment Services, the Registrar, and the School of Education have their offices in this wing.

McFarland served as president from 1892–1918. Many consider him the “father” of the college. He left behind a campus of nine buildings, and enrollment growth from about 20 students to over 500. His impact on higher education in North Dakota continued, as he was asked to lead the newly established Minot Normal from 1922 to his death in 1938. In 1953, Old Main was named McFarland Hall, in recognition of his contributions to field of education and his tremendous work in securely establishing two institutions of higher education in North Dakota.