Hey friends! Welcome back to another post – today, we’re talking about historic Old Central and the Oklahoma Museum of Higher Education in Stillwater, Oklahoma. For those of you who don’t know or are new around here, I am a 2-time Oklahoma State University alum. For undergrad, I was a member of the Honors College at OSU and spent some time in Old Central. I had a couple of classes in the basement of the building and my honors advisor’s office was on the first floor! I loved this building and am super excited to write about it today! Let’s get started!
FUN FACT! To see a collection of old Oklahoma State logos click HERE. I LOVE all of them so please don’t ask me to pick a favorite…
History of Old Central
The Morrill Act allowed Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College (OAMC) to be founded on the Christmas Day, December 25, 1890. Oklahoma Territorial Governor George W. Steele signed the legislation for the college and agricultural experiment station in Payne County. 200-acres in Stillwater was selected because of the variety of soils for agricultural experimentation. Four homesteaders contributed portions of their land to make the campus. Frank E. Duck and Alfred N. Jarrell were paid to give the southern portion of the campus. Charles A. Vreeland and Oscar M. Morse were paid to give the northern portion of the campus. These four families took land from their homesteads to make the campus possible. The people of Stillwater helped clear the 200-acre tract of tall grass prairie grasses. They did this with a horse and plow and could only complete a few acres a day. This project took months to complete. Temporary buildings were raised for the campus! Keep reading to learn about Old Central – the first permanent building on campus.
James C. Neal was the first director of the Oklahoma Agricultural Experiment Station on the OAMC campus in 1891. Robert J. Barker was the first President of Oklahoma Agricultural and Mechanical College from 1891-1894.
RESEARCH TIP: To view an interactive OSU timeline click HERE. I found this website to be very helpful when researching this post!
The people of Stillwater decided that OAMC needed a permanent building for classes. In 1893, construction began thanks to $10,000 worth of bonds. “The bonds were not only the first issued by Stillwater, but also the first by any municipality in Oklahoma successfully paid at maturity without refinancing.” (OSU Timeline) In total, the building cost $25,000 to complete.
Old Central was made out of sandstone and brick masonry. The heating and cooling system installed in the building was very modern for the time. Old Central was dedicated on June 15, 1894 as the first permanent building at Oklahoma A&M! Students were allowed to use the building beginning in September 1894.
It was originally called ‘College Building’ or ‘(Old) Central Building.’ The local townspeople called the building ‘Stillwater’s Pride.’ (OSU Timeline) The new building housed a chemistry lab, administration offices, classrooms, a large assembly room, and the night watchman’s room. There was also a library which contained 1,600 volumes inside!
In 1914, stabilizing tie-rods were installed to help with the building’s unstable foundation. Soon, more cracks in the walls appeared and the building was deemed unsafe. Old Central was condemned in 1921, but the building was saved in 1928 by Henry G. Bennett. Bennett’s mission to save the building refurbish and restore the structure. Bennett passed away in 1951 and the next President of OSU wanted to destroy the building… But a group of faculty and alumni didn’t let this happen!
More renovations to Old Central began in 1962, but it wasn’t enough. The building was discontinued from use by the university in September 1969. By 1970, the Old Central Committee and Oklahoma Historical Society entered negotiations for preserving the building. The groups decided that making the building into a museum would be the best way to preserve it for future generations to admire. So, the Museum of Higher Education was established.
Old Central has withstood the test of time, it survived “three fires, a tornado, and repeated threats of demolition.” (Spurrier and Roark, 118). Historic Old Central was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 27, 1971 – scroll through the gallery below to see a picture of the certificate! From 1971-1983, Old Central was restored once again.
The Oklahoma Historical Society had an office located in Old Central for the next 3 decades. Their next restoration project began in October 2007. For more information about the restoration process, see the Spurrier and Roark’s article linked at the end of this post! The restoration process took 2 years and cost $6.7 million “to overcome the challenges involved in brining a nineteenth-century building up to twenty-first-century standards.” (Spurrier and Roark, 120-121)
After the renovations, the Honors College at Oklahoma State University moved into Old Central in 2009. It is still the home of the Honors College at the time of this post in June 2022!
Swipe through the gallery below to see Old Central through the various seasons! Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter – we love Old Central in all its glory 🙂
Inside Old Central
“The original 1894 bell hangs in the belfry, complete with its original clapper, and although according to tradition students once rang the bell for hours after football victories, hairline cracks now limit its ringing to special occasions such as honors college award ceremonies and visits by prospective students, families, and alumni.” (Spurrier and Roark, 121)
This display case is located on the First Floor of Old Central outside of the Honors College advising offices. For a closer view of its contents, please scroll up to the section about the History of Old Central for more images.
Staircase – South Side
The Watchman’s Room was located in this area. Dormitories didn’t appear on the OAMC campus until 1910. Prior to this many of the students stayed at local boarding houses which cost $2.50 to $5.00 per week. A single male student was allowed to live in Old Central if he acted as the night-watchman and janitor. Francis M. Greriner and Clarence H. McElroy were the first two students to hold the position.
Stairs & Assembly Hall on the Second Floor
The Assembly Hall has had many uses over the years including classroom spaces, ceremonies, and meeting spaces. Today, the large lecture hall seats approximately 120 people. It is a beautiful space. While researching this post, I read that the Honors Hooding ceremony used to take place there. I guess the Honors College had grown since that article was published because my ceremony was held in the Student Union. I also read that some of the first graduation ceremonies at OAMC took place in the Assembly Hall! That’s so cool!
The basement of Old Central now houses a classroom, computer lab, and restrooms. I took classes in the basement of Old Central when I was a student at Oklahoma State University. It’s a cool space! You can see the door on the left side of the picture that leads to the classroom.
I love historic Old Central! This building is so special to Oklahoma State University history and Payne County history. It was really cool to be a student and attend classes in the basement and to ring the original bell clapper after I received my Honors Hood for graduation. I love this building and my alma mater. I hope you’ll go visit Oklahoma State University and Old Central. Ever you’ll find us loyal and true!
Happy Traveling! I’ll talk to ya soon! 🙂
Oklahoma State University
Stillwater, OK 74075
TRAVEL TIP: Old Central is behind the ConocoPhillips OSU Alumni Center. It’s also very close to Hideaway Pizza and the Fire Station.
*Information from various plaques and information sheets in Old Central used. I have included pictures above within the post.
Leroy H. Fischer, Historic Old Central – Centennial Histories Series (Stillwater: Oklahoma State University, 1988).