Today’s blog post was written by guest author Alan Carver, an undergraduate student studying History at Southeast Missouri State University.
Southeast Missouri State University was founded in 1873; however, a lot has changed since then. What is now the university had its beginning as the Southeast Missouri State Normal School. The Normal School did not have the same buildings that we see around the University campus today, and one of the most noticeable differences is the construction of Academic Hall.
Before Academic Hall was constructed, the main campus building was the Normal School Building. The Normal School Building occupied the same hilltop as Academic Hall does today, on the site of Fort B, one of Cape Girardeau’s four Civil War forts. Over the course of its existence, from 1875 to 1902, the Normal School Building underwent a few changes with the expansion of the auditorium in 1883 and the addition of two wings in 1895. As the main campus building at the time, it housed classrooms, offices, and storage rooms. Unfortunately, the Normal School Building was destroyed by a fire in April 1902, ending its relatively short lifespan of twenty-seven years. The building that replaced it just three years later, Academic Hall, has been standing for over a century.
Academic Hall, constructed from 1902-1906, was built using limestone and was topped with a copper sheathed dome. Academic Hall was the new central building on campus and was meant to replace the Normal School Building. However, unlike the Normal School Building, this new construction was no longer the only building on campus. At its completion, Academic Hall was accompanied by what are known today as the Art Building, Carnahan Hall, Albert and Leming Halls. Although, Albert and Leming are no longer standing. Still under construction in 1906, was what is known today the Serena Building. Academic Hall no longer had to serve all of the school’s purposes anymore with the new buildings and halls that could house various offices and classrooms. Now, over 110 years later, Academic Hall still stands and was recently renovated, from 2012 to 2013. Most of the building’s historic interior features were preserved with the renovation and therefore the historic character of the building has been preserved.
Special Collections and Archives is fortunate to house several documents, photos, plans and other materials that document the Normal School Building, the transition from Normal School Building to Academic Hall, and the history of every other building on campus. One of the Special Collections and Archives’ most valuable resources on the subject of university buildings, and where the most of this information and photos originate, is the University Buildings and Grounds Collection. The collection contains documents on everything from the earliest campus plans to the River Campus. Anyone interested in more information on the Normal School Building, Academic Hall, or any other University building should take the time to browse this collection and its vast, varied content. Another valuable resource for learning more about the University’s history is the book Normal to University: A Century of Service, by Dr. Arthur H. Mattingly. Special Collections and Archives, Room 306 Kent Library, has several copies of this manuscript available for reading as well as several copies in the main collection that may be checked out.