Austin Hall, the oldest building, and most notable landmark, on the campus of Sam Houston State University, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a federal program to identify, evaluate and protect America's historic and archaeological resources.
“While we embrace the future in making decisions and addressing the educational needs of our students, we have a deep and reverent respect for our past,” said SHSU President Dana Gibson. “We are greatly honored that the National Park Service has included Austin Hall on the National Register of Historic Places. Not only is Austin Hall a treasured reminder of the hopes and dreams of early Texans, it is the architectural symbol of Sam Houston State University.”
Designed in the Greek Revival style, the two-story, red-orange brick building with large white Tuscan columns and onion domed cupola is the anchor building at the north end of the campus quad in the heart of the university’s historic district. The building was recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1964.
“The application process required extensive research and documentation about the architectural distinction and historical significance of the building,” said Mac Woodward, director of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum.
Woodward, along with SHSU campus space planner Mary Holland, university archivist Barbara Kievit-Mason, and preservation specialist Allison Chambers from Ford, Powell & Carson architectural firm, compiled the narrative, photos, maps and drawings required for the application.
The application was first submitted to the Texas Historical Commission for review.
“After we satisfied all their requirements for information, they made a recommendation and forwarded the application to the National Park Service,” said Woodward.
The university received official word that the building had been approved for the listing on Jan. 30.
“We are very fortunate to have the most important historic higher education building in the state on our campus,” said Woodward. “It’s wonderful that it now has this prestigious designation.”
Texas hero Gen. Sam Houston helped dedicate Austin Hall on June 24, 1851, and was a member of the first board of governors of Austin College, the Presbyterian school which first occupied the building.
The building was completed in 1853 on the site once known as “Capitol Hill,” which overlooked the city of Huntsville and the surrounding countryside.
Following the U. S. Civil War, a local smallpox scare and a yellow fever outbreak, the Presbyterians decided to relocate their college to Sherman.
The Methodist Church bought the building in 1877, with plans to use the facility as a school for boys. That effort failed, however, and the church sold the building to Huntsville citizens.
In 1879, an item on the agenda of the 16th Legislature proposed to establish a teacher training school. The citizens of Huntsville sent a letter to the legislature informing them that a campus and building were ready to be occupied, and on April 21, 1879, Gov. Oran M. Roberts signed the law establishing Sam Houston Normal Institute as the first tax-supported teacher training institution in Texas. The first classes were held on Oct. 10, 1879, with four faculty members and 110 students.
Sam Houston Normal prospered and in 1881 Austin Hall’s cupola was removed so that a third floor could be added to provide more space.
As enrollment grew, so did the need for an expanded curriculum and additional academic buildings. Buildings such as Old Main and Peabody Library were constructed, and the extra space in Austin Hall was no longer necessary. During the 1926-27 academic year a leaking roof led to the removal of the third floor.
Occasional minor modifications were made from that time until Feb. 12, 1982, when a fire destroyed Old Main, located just a few feet away, and partially burned Austin Hall.
Although severely damaged, Austin Hall was restored, complete with its bell-tower cupola. One of the building’s most interesting architectural features—the soft molded bricks on which generations of students have carved their names—was preserved and has remained an endearing part of the building’s legacy through several restorations.
The most recent restoration was completed in 2012 with the installation of new electrical and plumbing systems, floor refinishing, and repairs to the roof, shutters and masonry. Austin Hall was rededicated on Oct. 20, 2012, and is currently used for university receptions, meetings and special events.
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