Memories of ghost buildings
As we enter the summer session at VCSU, I find myself enjoying the beauty of green trees, expanses of grass in the front “quad” and the mixture of old and new buildings that make up our campus. I am also reminded of the buildings that are no longer here—ghost buildings in my memory. This week I perused the VCSU “Cornerstones” book (by the late Don Welsh, former history faculty member) to find the details outside my memory’s scope.
The first ghostly buildings that come to mind are East and West Halls, located on what is now a grassy expanse along Viking Drive, between McCoy and Mythaler Halls. All that remains today are two flights of steps to “nowhere” on the northeast edge of what was once the front lawn. As the campus grew in its first decade (reaching an enrollment of 660 by 1903), women’s housing was difficult to find. Several large homes were converted to boarding houses, including the Euclid Avenue Cottage, which held 20 students (McCoy Hall now occupies this site). In 1905, the North Dakota Legislature appropriated funds to complete “Ladies’ Hall,” which became West Hall when a second building was built next door (East Hall, in 1909). Each building was home to about 60 ladies. These two dormitories served women students on campus until new dormitories were built mid-century. They were closed and razed in 1973.
Lion’s Court, now a parking lot, also rises in my imagination when I walk west on Viking Drive. Originally constructed as a hospital by Ludvig Platou, who was the county health officer from 1906–10, the building had several resting lion sculptures in front, hence the name “Lion’s Court” when it was later remodeled into apartments. Eventually the building was sold to VCSU in 1987, and it was razed in 1989 to make room for another parking lot. Dr. Platou also built the house currently known as the VCSU President’s House, which VCSU acquired in 1921 for use by President Allen and his successors. Somehow two of the lions from the hospital ended up in front of the President’s House.
Closer to the center of campus, I can remember Park Avenue cottage, nestled between the library (to the east) and Grachien (to the north). This house was home to several faculty and their families, including both the O’Connell family and Mary Canine, whom we visited frequently. Today a sidewalk bisects that lot, and I wonder which trees are new and which were already there 50 years ago when we played hide-and-seek among them.
Although not a building, the area where Rhoades Science Center now sits was once a playground for the campus school children. I vividly remember lining up for recess and marching down the sidewalk for playtime on nice September days. There were swings, a jungle gym, and a sandy baseball diamond. The Science Center was constructed there in 1970.
Across the street to the north were housing units built in 1946 as “FHA Units” for veterans and their families. Four buildings, housing 16 families, were built along the Sheyenne River east of the footbridge, and three more were built up on the hill where Snoeyenbos Hall sits today. Viking Court, the new family housing units on Viking Drive which replaced them, were built in 1967.
More recently, the greenhouse, built in 1914 and demolished in the late 1990s, sat next to the Industrial Arts building (later called the Old Science building). Built in 1911, this building started out as the home for agriculture, manual training, and domestic science (in later years, math and science were located here). There was an iron bridge that connected this building to the back of McFarland. Shifting ground caused the removal of the bridge in 1973, and the last classes were taught in this building in 1972. The building itself was razed in 2014.
Most of us also remember the old powerhouse, built in 1909, which was replaced by a parking lot in summer 2017 and an updated facility across the street.
There may be other sites you remember that I do not—the outdoor theatre on the hill behind Robertson, perhaps, or the convenience store that sat where the Student Center is today. Or perhaps you remember some of the College Street houses that we lost as part of the city’s flood protection. Like the lions in front of the President’s House on campus, these memories help ground us in the campus history and the amazing place this university has been for so many people over the years.