FHU Seeks Funds to Restore Old Main

JANUARY 24, 2014

Freed-Hardeman University has embarked on a campaign to raise a total of $5.5 million to restore campus landmark Old Main to its past glory so that it can be used for another century. Larry and Kay Tignor and Regina East are chairing the Chester County portion of the campaign.

“As a native Chester Countian, the two structures that stand out in my mind are Old Main and the courthouse,” Larry Tignor said. “I grew up in the Jacks Creek community and of interest to me is the architect for both stately structures was a native of Jacks Creek, Hubert T. McGee.”

“I have lived in many parts of the world during my 48 year career,” Tignor said, “and any time FHU was mentioned, the first thoughts were of the stately Old Main structure, its bell tower, my fond memories and the good, sound education I received there.”

Co-chair East also has vivid memories of Old Main. “My feelings about Freed-Hardeman University and the old administration building are very personal,” she said. She recalls starting school at Freed-Hardeman’s teacher training program and attending chapel in Old Main. In addition, she said, her first memories of church are in Old Main. The Henderson Church of Christ building had burned and the congregation met in Old Main for several years.

“Eventually,” she said, “I attended college at FHU and met my husband there, probably on the front steps because several of the students would gather there between classes.”
Both Tignor and East agree that Old Main must be preserved. “The thought of some day this building being replaced rather than restored would change the landscape of Main Street, campus and my memories,” Tignor said. “Please help us retain this great landmark and its usefulness.”

East, who recently lost her home of more than 70 years to fire, recounted her sense of loss. “All the personal pictures, scrapbooks of family history and numerous family gatherings, accolades that had been given to my father, mother, husband and me were completely and utterly destroyed,” she said, “and I would have been completely and utterly destroyed if not for my belief in God, family and education.”
“Old Main needs to be restored, not left to be destroyed by decay and ruin,” East said. “Students and visitors will profit from a better appreciation of God, home and education,” she concluded.

Despite the economic panic facing the country in 1907, A.G. Freed and N.B. Hardeman secured $7,000 in cash to launch National Teachers’ Normal and Business College and to construct Old Main. A joint stock company secured pledges for the remaining $28,000 required for construction. Putting their faith in the future, Freed and Hardeman eventually assumed personal responsibility for the entire mortgage.
The 1908-09 school catalog described the building as “the finest and the best” college building in the entire South.

“It is an elegant brick edifice, two stories with basement, finished in buff pressed bricks, trimmed with white dressed stone steps, belts, and keystones, modern in architecture, one hundred and twenty-five feet front by eighty feet deep, seventeen rooms, spacious halls and stairways, large lobbies, magnificent recitation rooms, especially designed for light, fine observatory.

The Chapel Hall is one of the best auditoriums anywhere. It is eighty feet by fifty feet, with stage in the end, having a seating capacity of twelve hundred. The entire College Building is practically fireproof.”

For more than 100 years, Old Main has served the university. It was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2012.

Important as the building is to Freed-Hardeman, it is also central to Henderson and its history. It and the Chester County courthouse define the downtown. Old Main is inextricably tied to the community. Constructed by local craftsmen using local resources, the building bears the stamp of the Henderson community. Bricks were kilned on Mill Street, and it is believed all timbers were processed on site, according to Erin Adams, former FHU archivist. McGee, who was born in what is now Chester County, designed the building with its early 20th century Italian Renaissance Revival and Italianate-style elements. Reared and educated locally, McGee also drew the plans for dorms at Freed-Hardeman. He is, perhaps, best known as the architect of Clarence Saunders’ Pink Palace, located in Memphis.

In 1907, Freed and Hardeman boasted of 3,000 square feet of “the best Hyloplate blackboard.” They went on to say “the very latest and most improved physical and chemical apparatus will be used; charges, globes, maps and surveyors’ outfit; cabinets of weights and measures of all kinds, metric and mensuration.” They promised, “The School will keep abreast of the times in modern appliances.”

That vision continues today. While public spaces including Chapel Hall, lobbies, halls and stairways will be restored to their original state, offices and classrooms will be renovated to include the latest in technology, making them efficient workspaces for 21st century faculty and students. All floors of the building will be handicap-accessible, and a sprinkler system will be installed for fire protection.

“We are not building a museum,” FHU President Joe Wiley said. “We want to restore Old Main so that it can be used for the next hundred years. We really see this building as the bridge between our past and our future. It is imperative that it be preserved.”

Approximately one-half of the required funds has been raised. Opportunities to help with the project are available. Donors may underwrite the cost of renovating or restoring a room in honor or memory of a person of their choice. In addition, the seats in Chapel Hall will be restored, and individuals may underwrite the cost of these. Donors will be identified with a small plaque on the seat. Wiley or former president Milton Sewell are available to talk with anyone interested in helping with the funding.