It was on this day June 19, 1897: The chimney on the southwest corner of North Hall at The University of Iowa was struck by lightning.

The oldest building is torn down

Thanks to Our Iowa Heritage says: North Hall, constructed in 1865, and originally intended as a University Chapel, underwent multiple transformations over its history. Governor Samuel Kirkwood initially proposed funds for a chemistry lab, chapel, and observatory, leading to North Hall's emergence as a versatile facility. Its distinct red-brick structure, standing as the university's oldest purpose-built building until its demolition in 1949, earned it various names over time, including Chapel Hall and Library Hall. 

Located north of Old Capitol on University Square, North Hall's layout featured a main entrance facing south and an additional entrance on the east side, providing access to its basement and first-floor levels housing the Physical Science Department. The building spanned sixty-one feet east to west and ninety feet north to south, with a first story reaching fifteen feet in height and a second story towering twenty-seven feet. 

The cornerstone was laid on July 4, 1865, with initial construction costs exceeding expectations, prompting Governor Stone to approve an additional $13,000 and further donations of land and materials totaling $7,000 to complete the project. 

Troubles came for North Hall

In a significant setback on June 19, 1897, lightning struck North Hall's southwest chimney at 4:00 am, triggering a devastating fire that obliterated the second floor, home to the University Library, and caused substantial damage to the Physical Science Department's equipment. The fire consumed about 25,000 books, 15,000 pamphlets, and valuable collections like the Tallant and German libraries. Salvaged books were temporarily relocated to Unity Hall, the basement of the Unitarian Church, until North Hall's restoration was completed by October of that year. 

Repairs Began on North Hall

Post-fire repairs altered North Hall's appearance, replacing its original gable roof and chimneys with a flat slate roof. Despite these changes, the building resumed its role swiftly, uninterrupted in serving the university community. Throughout the early 20th century, it housed departments such as Home Economics, Music, and Speech until its conversion to storage in 1942 marked the end of its active academic use. 

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Use Came to an End

North Hall's legacy as a center for education, community, and institutional growth persisted through its various roles, culminating in its final chapter as a storied landmark in the university's history. 

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