Morrill Hall is one of many iconic buildings that define the campus of Iowa State University. It was named after Justin Smith Morrill, the author of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act.
Built in 1891, Morrill Hall speaks of a distant time when cost was no object and architecture had seemingly unbounded, expressive creativity. The $30,000 construction bill seems absurd today.
The unique structure was originally built to serve three purposes–a library, museum, and chapel. The chimneys at each of its four corners had an unconventional purpose. They are designed to bring air into the building for ventilation rather than provide an exhaust for heat-producing fire.
Growing up in Gilbert, Iowa, I lived only fifteen minutes from the Iowa State campus. I had the opportunity to perform at a piano recital in the cylindrical tower section of Morrill Hall. I still remember that recital–not so much for how well I played, but for the beautifully rich sound emanating from that grand piano, reverberating off of the wooden floors and old plaster walls.
Morrill Hall is one of those landmark buildings that always draw me back to my college days, when I passed by its mauve-colored brick walls on my way to class. Even with my amateur painting skills, any Iowa State alum is sure to recognize this painting.
In 1996, Morrill Hall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. That same year, it was declared unsafe, and its offices were vacated. When plans were laid to renovate the condemned building in 2005, patrons raised $9 million to cover the costs. It officially reopened in 2007.
Morrill Hall is now home of the Christian Peterson Art Museum. It is another hidden treasure in the state of Iowa, a state rich in tradition, practicality, and beauty.