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February 19, 2019

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The wrecking ball did its job

Clark Hall played an important part of ONU's history

“One, two pick up sticks.” There are no sticks to pick up any longer. The wrecking ball has done its job on Clark Hall. Only a few pieces of cement foundation need to be broken apart, dropped into a truck and hauled away, then the earth grassed.

The first section of Clark was built 69 years ago as Ohio Northern’s first residence hall. In more recent years, the two-story structure stood empty or housed a variety of office. Here is a story about Clark’s history, which we posted earlier, but will repeat for those who may have missed it the first time. The article was researched and written by Paul Logsdon, retired head librarian of Heterick Memorial Library.

By Paul Logsdon, ONU archivist

“Well done thou good and faithful servant….”

Easily overlooked and soon to be demolished, the homely, two-story brick building next to the Heterick Library, Clark Hall, has played an important part of Northern’s history.

Constructed in 1949, Clark Hall was the university’s first purpose-built dormitory. How and why it was built tells a great deal about the university.

Dr. Lehr’s thoughts on dorms
During its first four presidents, Ohio Northern, unlike many other schools, did not have dormitories. Under the administration of President Lehr (1871 – 1900), this was due, in part, to a lack of funds but also to a belief that better alternatives existed. As Lehr observed:

One of the marked features of the Ohio Normal University [the institution's name was changed in 1885] is that the students are not herded together in large halls, as is the custom and manner of arrangement of many other institutions.

The plan is certainly not conducive to good manners or morality. It is a fact well known by all college students that the Hall is the place for fun and the breeder of mischief. We have avoided this by inducing the citizens to room our students. In this they are brought into the families and are made to feel at home and comfortable.

In case of sickness, the lady of the house having few to care for, assists in nursing and supplying them with those delicacies so essential to speedy recovery.

Students roomed in the several dozen boarding houses scattered throughout the village of Ada. Meals were either provided by landladies, cooked by students themselves or taken in Ada’s restaurants, several of which offered meal plans to students.

ONU’s first cafeteria
In 1922, however, the university opened an on-campus cafeteria in the basement of the now-demolished Brown Hall.

While limited funding continued to be an issue, Northern was able to offer female students housing by the purchase of several residences. In January 1930, the university bought its first house, Dr. Lehr's former residence, from P.W. Turner and converted it into a hall for some 15 women.

Lehr had sold the home to Turner in 1903, and, in honor of its most recent owner, it was christened Turner Hall.

The impressive structure stood on the site of the present Stambaugh Hall. By 1939, Northern owned and operated five such facilities.

World War II enrollment plummets
Construction of any sort halted during WWII when enrollment briefly dropped below 200. In the postwar period, however students flooded the campus, many attending under the G.I. Bill.

The old boarding house system could not cope with the crush, and the university was pushed to offer on-campus housing. Fortunately, there was a wealth of inexpensive war-surplus housing available, and by Fall quarter 1946, the university had in place 114 trailers and five barrack-style dormitories for single men.

Even so, the housing shortage delayed the beginning of classes that year by a week. Jammed onto the campus in three “trailer colonies” these facilities did little to improve Northern’sappearance, but they met a pressing need.

Fire destroys Turner Hall
The Board of Trustees had wrestled with the dormitory issue since the 1920s, but funding always seemed to elude them. Finally, in 1949, the university was forced to act when, on February 3, 1949, a fire, destroyed Turner Hall, one of the converted houses for women.

Retiring President McClure proposed a new women’s dormitory to the trustees. They agreed, and by that Fall all the necessary lots had been purchased.  In November, it was announced that Campbell & Co. of Lima had been awarded the contract for the building.

Clark dedicated in 1950
The architect was Albert Traver of Lima. The first phase of Clark Hall was dedicated during Homecoming 1950. The dormitory was named for John H. Clark, an 1899 graduate of the university’s college of law and university trustee.
In the beginning, the building's first floor was designated a student union, a facility for which there had been considerable agitation. A second floor, added in 1951, was to house approximately 30 co-eds until a larger dormitory could be completed.

At that point the second floor would be occupied by male students. As it turned out, the entire structure was designated a women's dormitory, and the student union was omitted.

Clark Hall a women’s dormitory
The change was prompted by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950. As President McIntosh observed:

It soon became increasingly clear that the international situation was becoming increasingly serious, and that a girl's dormitory would not be a possibility in the immediate future. With the military situation becoming as tense as it has become, it also became evident that Ohio Northern must make every effort to increase her enrollment of young women at all costs.

Fall 1950 found 90 female students occupying the new building. By today’s standards, the 12 x 12 ft. rooms were small though Clark had its own lounge, kitchen, dining room and laundry.  

Next autumn, Phoebe Lamont, formerly the housemother at the Terrace women’s dorm, become Clark’s first housemother. She was forced to retire in Fall 1954 due to ill health, but, although her tenure was brief, numerous accounts indicate that she was well-loved by “her girls.”

They installed a plaque (sadly missing) in her honor over the fireplace in the main lounge.

Clark Hall expanded
Clark was an important first step in meeting student housing needs, but it was not the last. In 1958 the growing need for more women’s housing temporarily met by opening of Stambaugh Hall. In 1964 a south wing was added to Clark for 114 additional female students. 1991 the remodeling of the first floor lounge and over the years the individual rooms were renovated to keep current with student needs.

In the end, however, Clark, smallest of the dormitories, proved to be difficult to renovate and repair. It was still in use in 2005, but the following year, Northern announced plans to demolish Clark during the final phase of a $71 million housing improvement plan.  Not all elements of the plan were carried out including the removal of Clark Hall.
While not housing students, Clark continued to serve Northern offering a home to various activities and offices. On February 28, 2011, the Information Technology Office, driven from the basement in the pharmacy building by flooding, was relocated to Clark’s south wing.

The English as a Second Language Program was also housed there. The following year, the north wing was dedicated to prayer services for the institution’s growing Muslim student body.  

Clark Hall, a modest beginning 7 decades ago
 As one looks at the extensive student housing now available, one can remember that those facilities had their modest beginning some seven decades ago with Clark Hall.