We built this campus

by Addison Mumm

As students go through their day, odds are they aren’t thinking about the students who walked the same halls 50, 70 or even 100 years ago. The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a history dating back to 1848, when Wisconsin went from being a territory to a state. Some of the buildings from those early days still stand today. If the walls could speak, they would have many stories to tell.

According to UW records, the first class consisted of 17 students taught the standard academic curriculum of the time, like arithmetic, Greek, Latin and grammar. However, the Morrill Act of 1862 allowed the university to expand physically, under the condition that the university taught courses about agriculture, home economics, mechanical arts (engineering) and military training, according to the Morrill Act documentation.

The act played out in Wisconsin in 1866. UW Campus Planning and Landscape Architecture Historic and Cultural Resources Manager Daniel Einstein explained the land the government gave us wasn’t “free” land, but land that originally belonged to the Native Americans. There are some monuments and grounds dedicated to the original owners of the UW-Madison campus land.

“The university started on Bascom Hill, or ‘college hill’ as they used to say,” Einstein said. “North Hall, South Hall and then Bascom Hall were the start of UW-Madison.”

The campus started in 1848, and by 1900, there were almost 40 buildings belonging to the academic institution. According to the UW Registry, the student body exceeded 1,800 students.

“The university purchased the land to the east of Bascom Hall where the Red Gym, Memorial Union and Science Hall stand, for the new academic programs. Land west of Bascom Hall was purchased and used for experimental farming and agriculture education,” Einstein explained.

Many, many buildings have come and gone. Social and cultural influences have much to do with the increase in campus size. Director of the University Archives David Null explained that much of the booms in campus building increases correlated with student enrollment. The student enrollment really fluctuated with American military involvement.

“There was a building boom in the later 40s to early 50s, at least partly driven by the numbers of GI’s entering school on the GI Bill after WWII,” Null said. “There was a large boom in the 60s, driven both by the availability of a lot of state and national funding for programs, but also a large increase in student population.”

According to UW Registrar records, the campus population increased about 106 percent for the 1946-1947 school year compared to the year prior. Although there were many increases in the campus building population, what went up, had to come back down. During the 60s, 65 building-related projects took place on campus, of those only six were demolitions. To adjust to the increasing student population, temporary buildings were erected.

“I think a lot of those 60s buildings went up quickly and, perhaps, were never meant to have long lives, which is why many of them have recently or are now coming down,” Null said.

The early years of the 21st century welcomed many building demolitions and renovations as Null explained. Some structures, however, have been added to the National Historic Landmarks program. These buildings have significant historical importance. UW-Madison has a few buildings on the list of historic landmarks including the Armory and Gymnasium (the Red Gym), Bradley Harold, C. House, North Hall, The Dairy Barn and Science Hall.

In the past, architects idealized what the campus could look like in potential master plans. These documents have been saved to the best of UW’s abilities.

“The University has done a number of master plans over time, starting in 1907 and 1908. Sometimes quite a bit [of buildings] got built from [the plans], the 2005 [plan] for example. But, often not a lot got built from [the master plans],” Null said.

The imaginations of the architects didn’t go to waste though. Their drafts and work showed the potential of what the UW campus could become. Today, many plans and rough estimates will help push the campus into the future, while preserving its past. According to the UW-Madison 2015-2017 Campus Physical Development Plan, the campus takes up 14,695,000 assignable square feet as of 2015. There are 39 current (2017)  building projects in various project stages, under the UW’s Division of Facilities and Planning and Management. Capital Project for 2015-2017 Near Term Development Plan requests a total of over $231 million for eight future projects.