C a p s u l e H i s t o r y o f C a m p u s D e v e l o p m en t
Establishment of the Illinois Industrial University

The Griggs Bill, signed by Governor Richard J. Oglesby on February 29, 1867, officially established the location of the Illinois Industrial University in Urbana-Champaign and gave authority to the Board of Trustees to formulate plans for the development of the new institution. The original Board of Trustees, appointed by the governor, hired John Milton Gregory as regent to head the new University. These leaders had one year to assess University holdings, prepare courses of study, and hire educators before the enrollment of the first class on March 11, 1868.

The resources with which the new Board of Trustees had to work were not ideal. The only structure on campus, the seminary building of the former Urbana-Champaign Institute, stood on the north end of what was originally called Illinois Field, now the site of the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology.


The Seminary Building of the Urbana-Champaign Institute was also
known as the "Elephant." It was destroyed in 1881.

Dubbed the "Elephant," perhaps for its unattractive exterior and huge proportions on an uncompromisingly flat landscape devoid of trees, shrubs, or grass, the seminary building was the largest structure in the twin cities and served a variety of purposes. Its five stories included a kitchen, a dining room, recitation rooms, a power plant, and dormitory rooms for up to 130 students. Though the building (destroyed in 1881) was said to be "ready to receive students" in Champaign County's bid for the industrial university, the Building and Grounds Committee recommended in its first report an expenditure of $7,850 to modify the exterior and increase the usefulness of the building. In this same report, the committee also recommended that the University acquire the land between the 10-acre tract surrounding the main building and the 160-acre tract beginning just south of the present site of Foellinger Auditorium.

The Board of Trustees realized the need to consolidate land holdings to ensure the University's orderly growth. With this purchase, the grounds formed an inverted T-shaped area, extending from University Avenue on the north to Mount Hope Cemetery on the south, with an additional 410 acres south of the cemetery. This T-shaped section (see appendix 2) forms the nucleus of the campus within which a majority of the University of Illinois's historic buildings are located today.

The early years of the University under Regent John Milton Gregory were difficult because public industrial universities were largely without precedent. Gregory and the Board of Trustees struggled with the major problems of curriculum and funding. Financial problems were acute in the early years since there were few appropriations from the legislature. Over the first twenty-five years, the University received only slightly more than a total of $750,000 from the state, an amount far too small for the University's purposes and aspirations. By selling bonds, lowering salaries, and abolishing positions, the University survived this financially dangerous period.

Some amenities, however, were retained. In November 1867 a horticultural committee recommended that an experienced landscape gardener oversee the orderly development of the grounds and that provisions be made for an arboretum of ornamental, forest, and fruit trees. By the time the first students arrived in 1868, the grounds around the main building had been graded and fenced. During that same year, the Board of Trustees set aside land north of Green Street for the proposed arboretum. The grounds continued to be improved through mandatory student labor.

As early as 1870, increasing enrollments led the University to recognize the inadequacies of the original seminary building. The state legislature appropriated $125,000, partially for the construction of a new main hall (later known as University Hall) and the Mechanical Building and Drill Hall in 1871; it would be twenty years before the legislature would approve another appropriation of this magnitude.

Next...The First Plans

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