Albion Interactive History / Old Gymnasium

Albion Interactive History

Albion Interactive History / Buildings / Albion College

Old Gymnasium, 1892
    Renovated Spring 1921  

    Demolished Summer 1988

Block +
US Census Block # 34-118


  • First built in 1892, Lewis Fiske president.
  • Damaged by fire in the early 1920s.
  • Became Art studio in 1925 after Kresge Gymnasium completed.
  • When Stockwell Memorial Library completed in 1938, art studio moved.
  • Gymnasium used for classes in home economics.
  • Bell tower and dormer windows were destroyed in a fire.
  • Renovated for use as dining facilities after a 1921 fire.
  • Demolished during the Vulgamore administration, Summer 1988.

Old Gymnasium was completed by the fall of 1892. In 1921 the upper portion ofthe building was damaged by fire, and the new building looked significantlydifferent from the one constructed in the fall of 1892. The original building possesseda steeply pitched roof with dormer windows and a large tower. The tower waslocated on the north side near the northwest corner of the building. The base of the towerremained visible after the reconstruction as a slight projection of the wall.

The 1892 gymnasium seems to have been extremely popular with students of the time if an editorial from the Pleiad, is an indication of popularity The Pleiad hailed the new structure as “a mecca to all our students,” “an ornament to our already beautiful campus,” and predicted the disappearance from among students of “round shoulders and hollow chests,weak flabby muscles and similar defects.”

The main room of the new building was 63 feet long and 36 feet wide. This served as “a medium sized apparatus room for regular class work.” Up a flight of stairs and running around this room was a gallery which could also be used as an indoor running track. Two small offices adjoined the large room. These were used as instructors’ offices. The basementcontained “baths, lockers, and dressing rooms.”

After the fire in 1921, the structure was rebuilt as “a modern Cafeteria” where meals were served to students at cost.

In 1938, the old gymnasium contained the art department shortly after the completion of Kresge Gymnasium. The art department then moved to Stockwell Memorial Library when it was completed. The home economics department moved into the old gymnasium from North Hall, further augmenting the classroom space in North Hall.

After seeing a variety of uses, and being a widely recognized structure onAlbion’s campus, the gymnasium was demolished in the summer of 1988. Today thegymnasium’s bell sets on a stone pedestal on the east lawn of RobinsonHall.

Colored postcard of the gymnasium.

Image Source: James B. Field, Souvenir of the City of Albion, 1894.

A girls’ physical culture class in the new gymnasium.

The gymnasium building was erected in 1892, and saw a variety of uses before it was demolished in the summer of 1988. The structure suffered a major fire in 1922, after which it was converted into the college cafeteria.

College cafeteria, salvaged from the gymnasium fire in 1922.

Source: Gildart, Robert. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Chicago: Donnelley Lakeside Press, 1961.

From the Albion College Archives


The purpose of the original gymnasium for Albion College, completed in 1892, was to “secure physical culture on the part of the entire company of students, strengthening the bodily forces of such as are in health, and correcting deformities and physical weaknesses of others…During college days, while the mind and nervous system are being taxed, the physical being should receive constant care, both to meet the strain incident to earnest college life and to fit for the labors of coming years.” (unidentified source, n.d.)

The site chosen for the Gymnasium, designed by Wells D. Butterfield of Detroit, was that of the building known as the Bell House. Albion’s most wealthy citizen at the time and College Trustee, Jason W. Sheldon, bought the rickety Bell House and had it moved to the west side of South Monroe Street, between Cass and East Porter Streets, a section then low and marsh-like. The new building had on the west a frontage of 52 feet, a depth of 94 feet, while on the east end there is an extension, making the width 70 feet. The building was primarily constructed of brick and fieldstone, with three entrances, one for men, one for women, and another as a special entrance. The structure possessed a steeply pitched roof with dormer windows and a large tower. There was a gallery up a flight of stairs that could be used as a running track. The building also contained a general room for instruction and drill, offices, a ball court, lavatories, bath rooms, dressing rooms, lockers, etc. In 1893, the bell from the Bell House was placed in the Gymnasium and, for nearly 30 years, it was used to call classes in the morning and afternoon.


In January of 1922, a fire broke out in the south roof of the west end and rapidly spread throughout the entire upper part of the building. A frozen fire hydrant impeded the work of firemen, in addition to lack of enough pressure to throw the water to the top of the structure, and as a result the building burned until the tower caved into the ruins, carrying with it the college bell. The fire, which began around 9:45 a.m. was finally deemed “out” at 12:30 p.m.

“Though considerable dampness was in evidence because of the immense amount of water thrown upon the ruined building, there was a unanimity of dry eyes among the students, who seemed to look at the proposition from the standpoint that a brand new gymnasium would now have to be forthcoming in the very near future.” (“Albion College Gymnasium Ruined by Fire,” Pleaid, January 1922) The original building, which cost approximately $10,000 to build, would have required about $15,000 to rebuild and have never been adequate for basketball or indoor gymnastics. The cry, “Io Triumphe” could be heard over the destruction caused by the flames.

A roof was put on the remnants of the building, and it was turned into a cafeteria, where meals were served to students at a cost. But when Susanna Wesley was built to house and feed students in 1925, the cafeteria was no longer necessary.

ca. 1915

The Arts Department (now Art and Art History) moved into the building in 1930, when it was designated the “Hall of Fine Arts”. In 1938, however, the Arts Department moved to the then newly-constructed Stockwell Memorial Library, when the name of the old gymnasium changed again; this time to the “Hall of Home Economics” for the newly devised major.

The building was finally razed in 1986, after the Home Economics Department was eliminated by faculty vote in 1984. The final reason for razing the building rather than restoring it was simple: “The building was salvaged 60 some years ago by putting a roof on it. Its architectural integrity is nothing like it used to be.” (Doxtader, Beth. “Home Economics building faces ax: ‘Razing’ the roof planned for 1986,” Pleiad, February 8, 1985)

All photographs are from the Albion College Archives Photograph Files, unless otherwise noted.


See also:
Campbell, Jen. (1998, March 27). “Historic bell tells story.” Pleiad. Retrieved 11 June 2003,

Source: Albion College Archives, 2003 [Downloaded July 3, 2003]

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