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Preserving Francis Hall

2/7/2005:

There is much interest in architectural preservation in North Dakota 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 the campus. It was built in 1893 at a cost of $17,000 and originally served as a dormitory; it had 28 rooms housing 56 students, along with a dining room, a reception area, and space for the “department of domestic economy.”

The building was converted into classrooms and laboratories in 1899, when enrollment increased, and was named after O.W. Francis, a former President of the NDAC Board of Directors. The new space housed labs for Horticulture, Veterinary Science, Agriculture, and Household Economics.

In 1922, the college’s administration wanted to add a new Agricultural Building to NDAC, and they decided that Francis Hall was in the way. By early Februay, 1923, the Fargo Forum was reporting a strong movement had developed to save the building. “Because of growing sentiment expressed by students, faculty and alumni,” the Forum reported, “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, according to plans announced from the college this week.”

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... In a front page article this week, the Spectrum, weekly student paper of the college, suggests that the building be used as a clubhouse for the many student organizations which now have no home...”

In response to the pressure to save Francis Hall, the Board of Administration called for bids to move the building. But, it soon became apparent that step would be far too expensive. It was a large, 2-story, brick affair measuring 48 by 131 feet. College authorities rejected all the submitted bids and, instead, found a new site for the proposed Agricultural Building. The new plan would still carry out the plans of the landscape design chosen by authorities in 1921, while permitting Francis Hall to remain standing.

President Shepperd, the NDAC President from 1929 to 1937, 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. M.F. Holderman, to discover. President Shepperd said he never did learn “how the beast got in there.”

Shepperd said that practical jokers also enjoyed targeting the domestic science department. “Try as we might,” he said, “it seemed impossible to catch the young rascals.” Shepperd later decided their crowning achievement came when Art Fowler and Lee Greene’s class stole a roasted turkey from the oven and got away without being caught. “I have seen many daredevil deeds perpetrated by students,” he said, “but that of stealing a roasted turkey hot from the oven while the cook’s back was turned leads all others which have come to my notice.”

In 1959, the ND Legislature appropriated $76,000 to renovate Francis Hall, but Pres. Fred Hultz convinced the 1961 legislature to instead demolish it. Where a portion of Francis Hall used to stand is now Hultz Hall – named for the man who pushed for the historic building’s demise.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm