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Dakota Datebook

Preserving Francis Hall

There is much interest in architectural preservation these days, so it’s interesting that already back in 1923, there was concern about losing a historic building at the North Dakota Agricultural College in Fargo. The building was Francis Hall, the second building constructed on campus. It was built in 1893 at a cost of $17,000, and was named for O.W. Francis, a former president of the school’s board of directors. It served as a dormitory, had a dining room, a reception area, and was also home to the “Department of Domestic Economy.”

The building was converted into classrooms and laboratories in 1899. It housed labs for horticulture, veterinary science, agriculture, and household economics.

In 1922, the college’s administration wanted to add a new agricultural building and they decided that Francis Hall was in the way. By early February, 1923, the Fargo Forum was reporting on a strong movement to save the building, writing: “Because of growing sentiment expressed by students, faculty and alumni, Francis Hall, second oldest building on (campus)…will be moved, if it is possible to do so, intact to a new location 225 feet from its present site…”

The article continued, “Opposition to the razing of Francis hall began as soon as announcement was made that a new building would be erected. While the student body and alumni, as well as the faculty, expressed desire to see a new and much-needed building erected, they balked when they thought of the fate of Francis hall…”

The Board of Administration called for bids to move the building, but, it soon became apparent it would be far too expensive. Instead, they found another site for the new agricultural building.

School president John Sheppard said, “many pranks and stunts were played at Francis Hall.” One story he told was of some pranksters bedding down a 2-month-old calf in the dormitory bathroom for the matron, Mrs. Holderman, to discover. Sheppard said he never did learn “how the beast got in there.”

In 1959, the ND Legislature appropriated $76,000 to renovate Francis Hall, but school president Fred Hultz convinced the 1961 legislature to instead demolish it. A portion of Francis Hall’s location is now home to Hultz Hall – named for the man who pushed for the historic building’s demise.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

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