Copyright 2003 By Bob Hibbs
Saturday April 24, 2004 

Postcard 241: Horse Power for Jessup Hall

jessup hall

Horse-drawn wagons pose for a 1922 image during excavation for Jessup Hall on the University of Iowa’s 
Pentacrest Campus. Background buildings are 1866 North Hall at right and 1895 Dental Building. 
The image is courtesy of retired Iowa City firefighter Bob Edwards.


By Bob Hibbs


An image of horse-drawn wagons posed in what became the basement of Jessup Hall is a vivid reminder that every edifice on the University of Iowa’s 14-acre Pentacrest Campus was built by human and animal muscle, not by modern hydraulic equipment.

Eleven buildings have been erected on Pentacrest, not counting outhouses, firewood sheds or storage cribs. Another structure, an observatory, was moved onto Pentacrest for the 1909-1916 period.

Old Capitol was erected at the heart of the Pentacrest during the 1840s, its dome finally put in place the first time in 1850, then rebuilt after a 2001 fire. The other four surviving Pentacrest denizens were completed early in the 20th century.

All, of course, have been extensively updated. In fact, nothing about Old Capitol is original except its perimeter walls. It’s even air conditioned, with an elevator and computer hookups.

Oldest of the four academic halls surrounding Old Cap is 1902 Schaeffer. It was extensively renovated in 1998, but despite modernization, Schaeffer retains its century-old character.

Macbride Hall was completed in 1908; MacLean Hall in 1912. Both also have seen updates.

The final large Pentacrest hall to be built was the one northwest of Old Cap, originally called University Hall and now named for the president during its construction, the university’s 11th chief executive, Walter Jessup. He served 18 years ending in 1934, second only to Virgil Hancher’s 24 years as the longest presidential tenure.

The horse-and-wagon construction image comes courtesy of retired Iowa City fireman Robert Edwards, who inherited it from his parents. Edwards, who retired in 1987 after nearly 30 years as a fire-fighter, reports that his late father worked in the UI plumbing shop.

Although his father is perhaps a workmen in the image, Edwards believes the men probably are contract employees, rather than university regulars as was his father. However, a wagon sideboard at the center of the image carries “SUI No. 4” labeling.

Source of the image is unknown; but, it may be the work of the late 50-year UI photographer Fred Kent.

Behind the excavation, the image displays a corner of North Hall as right. The background structure is the 1895 Dental Building with the southerly of its two west wings still attached.

The wings housed dental clinics until 1917 when a new dental building now called Trowbridge Hall was opened. The west wings were demolished to make way for Jessup, but the main section of “Old Dent” survived until 1975.

First occupied in 1924, Jessup Hall since 1970 has in addition to academic classrooms housed the President’s Office, which was moved as Old Capitol was closed for conversion into a museum. All previous presidents had been housed in Old Cap since UI began continuous operation in 1860.

Jessup Hall also is site of the 1991 murder of vice president Anne Cleary by disgruntled physics student Gang Lu, who also killed four others during his campus rampage, including himself.

The four current “halls” on Pentacrest are replacements for six earlier brick structures, three of which burned without being rebuilt. A fourth – 1866 North Hall – also burned, but was rebuilt. Collectively, they’re called “the red brick campus” and during their era housed nearly all university activity.

The North Hall fire in 1897 not only destroyed a substantial portion of the UI library, but claiming the life of Iowa City firefighter Kirk Leek, the first of only two local firemen killed in the line of duty during the community’s 165-year history. The other was Robert Hein who died in 1971 of injuries from a 1969 Mercy Hospital explosion.

Although the UI campus now sprawls over 1,900 acres, the four square blocks of Pentacrest has a heterogeneous history, indeed.

Next Saturday: Stories of Iowa City’s Congregational Church.

Bob Hibbs collects local postcards and other historic ephemera and researches history related to them. 

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