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Old Main
Old Main

Built: 1886-1887

Currently Houses:

UW President, Vice Presidents Offices, Board of Trustees Board Room, Cowboy Parents (formerly APUW), University Legal Counsel


This building comprised the University when it opened in 1887 – even before its construction was completed. As early as 1881, Gov. John Hoyt had requested that the State Legislature accept 65 sections of federal lands to establish a university. Action was not taken until 1885, however. According to historian Deborah Hardy, Hoyt said years later : “Had the establishment of a university not territorial legislature would have considered it at all.”

The territorial legislature selected the town where the university would be located. Stephen W. Downey was the principal proponent of Laramie as that location. The popular myth that after the capital location went to Cheyenne, Rawlins chose the prison rather than the university is untrue. As the second-largest “city” in the territory, Laramie was second in line to chose an institution and its leaders wanted the university, although that meant the loss of the territorial prison (established here by the federal government in the early 1870s). Even John Hoyt argued for the University to be located in Laramie, in spite of the fact he had already formed an institute in Cheyenne that might well have become the basis for a state college. Because more than the original block oOld Mainf land was needed for campus, the Union Pacific sold the remaining 20 acres to the University (for $37.50 per acre).

In the early years, every function was housed in Old Main – then known as the “Main Building.” When Dr. Grace Raymond Hebard accepted the job as university librarian, she presided over a collection of some 3,000 volumes stacked in the library on the second floor. The "assembly room"held not only  morning assemblies for the entire university, but also served as a primary lecture hall for visiting dignitaries. Even though the room was large enough to accommodate the entire student body and faculty well into the early 1900s, it was not large enough to hold the huge crowd that came to hear President Theodore Roosevelt on visit visit to Laramie in 1903. Instead, he spoke from the front (west) porch prior to mounting a horse and riding 50 miles over the summit to Cheyenne.

At that time UW consisted of Old Main, a barn behind it to the east, Mechanical Hall, Science Hall (now Geology), and a “new” gymnasium completed in 1904. 14 young students who, according to historian Wilson Clough, “trooped up the wooden stairs” to their rooms on the south side of the building. In 1909 a “Normal School” building was constructed. Old Main’s tower was removed when it was determined to be unsafe in 1916, making it easy to date photographs of Laramie based on the presence or absence of that architectural feature. Major renovations of the structure were made in 1949 and again in the middle 1970s.

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