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Fiske Hall turns 100 this month

10:28:55 AM CDT - Wednesday, October 06, 2004

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Fiske Hall, WSU's oldest building, will mark a milestone later this month.

On Oct. 28, 1904, a ceremony was held to lay the cornerstone for Fiske Hall, a men's dormitory at Fairmount College. On Oct. 26, WSU's historic preservation committee is hosting a 3 p.m. ceremony at Fiske Hall to mark the building's centennial.

In the past 100 years, the building, with its distinctive clay tile hipped roof, has been home to students, faculty, deans, presidents, athletes, coaches, soldiers, theater directors, the Yellow Dogs, musicians and a suffragette.

Fiske Hall

This is an architect's rendering of the Fiske Hall dormitory before it was constructed in 1904.

Photo from WSU Libraries, special collections department

The building now houses WSU's history and philosophy departments, but when it was completed in 1906, it served a much-needed purpose as a men's dorm for a tiny Congregational college.

The laying of the Fiske Hall cornerstone was a fairly impressive ceremony, according to Wichita Eagle archives. The newspaper reported Fairmount College "was in her glory" during the ceremony, where the Grand Lodge of Masons of Kansas had determined the cornerstone was "level," "well formed," "true and trusty" and "correctly laid."

"This was the first real celebration of Fairmount College to say we had arrived and had made it," says George Platt, an emeritus associate professor of public administration and WSU's unofficial historian. "The newspapers played it up big. From that standpoint, it was a big event then and it's fun to celebrate it now."

Louis Zutavern
Student Louis Zutavern was one of the residents of Fiske Hall in 1908. Although Fiske was advertised as first dorm west of the Mississippi with electricity, steam heat and indoor plumbing, it wasn't until 1913 or 1914 that electricity was added, hence the kerosene lamp on Zutavern's desk.

Photo from WSU Libraries, special collections department

WSU's special collections department, housed in the Ablah Library basement, is also commemorating the building's centennial with a special display. There are invoices for the dorm's Majestic oven range, dishes purchased from the downtown Innes department store and even a 1913-1914 petition signed by residents to get electricity.

Fiske Hall had been advertised as the first dorm west of the Mississippi with electricity, steam heat and indoor plumbing. But while the building had been wired it wasn't until the student petition was signed "in behalf of our eyesight" that light bulbs finally glowed.

President Nathan Morrison's fund-raising journal for Fairmount College is also displayed in the special collections exhibit, open to the pages where he noted that Charlotte Fiske, the building's East Coast namesake, had pledged $2,500 to build the dorm. The building, along with furnishings, cost 10 times more than that to finish.

Fiske Hall remained a dorm until 1926, when Fairmount College became the Municipal University of Wichita and campus housing for men was eliminated.

While it was a dorm, Fiske was a focal point for campus life at Fairmount. The 1914 Parnassus yearbook said "any boy" who didn't spend at least one year in Fiske "lost an invaluable part of his education." The first campus booster group, the Yellow Dogs, operated out of Fiske. One of its most well-liked directors was Ella White Brown, the dorm's "matron" from 1908-1913 who refused to lock the kitchen or storeroom. Brown, a Congregational minister who taught English and journalism, was a nationally known suffragette.

Josh Yearout
Josh Yearout, a history graduate student, works on the display of Fiske Hall memorabilia in Ablah Library's special collections department.

Photo by Inside WSU

The building also housed Army cadets in World War I and was an infirmary for flu victims in 1918.
In 1926, Fiske needed major remodeling. It went on to serve as an administration building for President John Finlayson, the music building after Fairmount Hall burned and an Army barracks during World War II.

Platt, who researched the building's history along with graduate history students, says the building hasn't changed much over the years. Food service facilities were removed when the basement was remodeled for ROTC, and a new basement entrance was constructed at the south end of the building so troops could march out.

In 1956, the first-floor lounge was remodeled into offices, the oak floors tiled and the woodwork and banisters painted white. Later the east entrance with its stone steps to the first floor was removed.

"You can do archaeological digs practically on the paint that's been applied to the banisters," jokes Judy Johnson, who thinks it's appropriate that WSU's history department, which she chairs, occupies the university's oldest building.

"It has character, it has uniqueness, it's not a box," says Johnson.

Celebrations involving Fiske Hall have generally included music, and the 3 p.m. Oct. 26 centennial celebration will continue that tradition.

WSU's A Cappella Choir, directed by Tom Wine, will sing several songs that were sung at the 1904 cornerstone-laying ceremony, including a medley of Fairmount fight songs. Shirley Beggs will sing the "Alma Mater" at the ceremony, too.

During a spring 1952 fund-raiser called "The Risque Fisque Fair," alumna Helene Sykes Barnes wrote the following version of the "Alma Mater" to honor Fiske Hall:
"Our Alma Mater, Old Fiske Hall
Leans proudly 'gainst the hill.
Now you may think that it will fall
But you're wrong, it never will.
The termites, mice and ivy
Hold the walls up firm,
It will still be standing here
When we have served our term."



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