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History of the Administration Building

University of Kentucky
The Administration Building: A History

By Frank Stanger, Reference Archivist

Administration Building circa 1905
Administration Building circa 1905
(Photo courtesy of UK University Archives and Records Program)

In 1878 the Kentucky legislature severed the official connection between the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky (later the University of Kentucky) and Kentucky University, a private sectarian school of which the A&M College had been a department. The resultant loss of the College's first home on the Ashland-Woodlands campus necessitated the acquisition of a new tract of land on which to site the A&M buildings. The fifty-two-acre city park and old fairgrounds on Limestone Street, just south of the downtown portion of the city, were donated by the municipality of Lexington for this purpose. On this location were erected between 1880 and 1882 the independent College's first structures -- a men's dormitory (later named White Hall), the President's house, the campus heating plant, and the Administration Building.

Designed by Architect H.P. McDonald, the building was built of brick fashioned from campus clays and stone, at a cost of $81,000. It opened in 1882. A year previous, when funding for construction failed, President James Kennedy Patterson pledged his entire personal fortune as collateral against the money borrowed to complete the project. Solemn dedicatory ceremonies on February 15, 1882, which included White Hall and the President's house, were attended by, among other notables, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth, and featured the Honorable Henry Watterson as Orator of the Day.

In the early days of State College, the Main, or College Building, as it was then called, encompassed the administrative operation and academic instruction of the institution in its entirety. Originally housed in the building were all campus offices, classrooms, and related facilities including: the College armory and the classrooms used by the Commandant of Cadets; a shop; the President's Office (equipped with fireplaces and a classroom); a natural history museum; two laboratories; the Normal, French, German, English, Mathematics, Classical, and Preparatory departments; an assembly room containing an organ; a smaller chapel (which was able to seat the entire student body, faculty, and staff); the headquarters of the Union Literary and Philosophian societies; and the Kentucky Geological Survey.

Gracing the roof of the building was a tower crowned by a cupola, 157 feet in height. The cupola featured a clock (supposedly built by a professor) and a "captain's walk", and housed the local Weather Observatory. This structure was progressively dismantled and shortened or altered and after 1919 the roof of the edifice manifested the "flattened", gabled appearance which characterized it until the recent fire.

Administration Building circa 1920
Administration Building circa 1920
(Photo courtesy of UK University Archives and Records Program)

During the administration of President Henry Stites Barker (1911-17) a project to reconstruct the frontal faade of the three-story, Victorian-style building with the addition of stone pillars, was initiated and later abandoned. A post office and bookstore were created in the basement in 1918 (both removed in 1925). A cafeteria was opened in 1919, which served the campus for ten years.

In the spring of 1948, with the removal of the Ancient Languages and Political Science departments to new quarters, the Administration Building for the first time housed only University administrative departments. These included the offices of the President, Vice President, Dean, Comptroller, Registrar, Dean of Men, Dean of Women, the Information and Personnel offices, and the Public Relations Department. Interior renovations of the structure, varying in extent and scope, were carried out in 1929, 1939-40, and 1964.

Administration Building 1967
Administration Building 1967
(Photo courtesy of UK University Archives and Records Program)

A fire on May 15, 2001, presumably ignited by a welding torch as repairs and renovations of the building's guttering were in progress, destroyed its roof, gutted its second and third floors, and left the first floor and basement flooded and water-damaged. The University's Board of Trustees on June 20 of that year approved a proposal to restore and reconstruct the building, and interior and exterior design planning began immediately.