The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Special Report Our Place

Columbus campus has grown from farm to intellectual force

How did this all come to be? Take a step back in time through the major milestones in the development of our Columbus campus.


After a statewide competition determines the university will be located in Franklin County, the trustees purchase 331 acres — most of it formerly the Neil farm — for $117,508. The property includes a stream, several bogs, a wooded area and seven houses. Rickley House, a farmhouse at 15th Avenue and High Street, becomes the president’s home.


Cincinnati landscape architect Herman Haerlein creates a plan for campus. His design includes a main building surrounded informally by smaller buildings. He remains a consultant until 1903, mapping out roads as well as Mendenhall Laboratory, Page Hall, Townshend Hall and the Armory.


The main building, later known as University Hall, is constructed for $112,484 by J. Snyder of Akron, but was not complete when the first classes were held Sept. 17, 1873. It houses classrooms, the first library, faculty and administration offices and, temporarily, student living quarters. Two dormitories are built the following year.


Then-new Mendenhall Laboratory is emblematic of the haphazard nature of construction projects before a full-time architect is hired. A professor who helps with planning decides the building should be oriented slightly off parallel with nearby structures and have an opening on the lecture hall’s south wall. When he teaches about light during fall term, the sun shines through the opening and onto his lecture table.


The Olmsted Brothers, a nationally known architecture firm specializing in campuses, is asked to create a plan for the university. They suggest systematic growth and maintaining the green space of the Oval.

(Historical photos throughout this package are courtesy of University Archives.)

The original land deed for the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College — dated September 19, 1870 — sealed the agreement between the state of Ohio and six landowners, leading to The Ohio State University we know today.
A 1913 Columbus campus map showing existing and planned development
The Mirror Lake Islands in 1909


Alumnus Joseph Bradford, who earned a mechanical engineering degree in 1883, becomes the first university architect. He oversees placement and construction of some 40 buildings. The master plan of 1913 shows a distinctive Oval for the first time. In 1917, Bradford convinces the trustees to place Ohio Stadium in its current location. A plan drafted in 1920 suggests locating new buildings by academic groups.


World War II has an enormous effect on campus development. The G.I. Bill makes higher education possible for many veterans, and Ohio State’s enrollment leaps 67 percent from 1940 to 1946. A housing crisis results, and G.I. Village (site of today’s Buckeye Village) is built to house 810 men and 152 families. The need for academic spaces, including storage for more books, leads to construction of the Thompson Library stack tower in 1951. Agriculture facilities are moved west of the Olentangy River to free up land for development.


John Herrick serves as director of university plant studies. He oversees the 1959 master plan of Caudill, Rowlett and Scott, which urges the university to be more intentional about its outdoor spaces, identify and preserve buildings of historic significance, use the Olentangy River as an aesthetic asset and reduce vehicular traffic on campus. The plan suggests building dormitories and a student union on the Olentangy.

An 1873 etching of University Hall
An aerial photo of Ohio Stadium under construction in 1922
Morrill and Lincoln Towers under construction in 1966


The university’s first regional campuses open in Marion and Newark. Others soon follow in Mansfield in 1958 and Lima in 1960. In Wooster, 30 acres of land near the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center becomes the site of the Agricultural Technical Institute in 1972.


President Novice Fawcett proposes a separate West Campus to house freshmen and sophomores. Fifteen buildings are planned; only five are built. In 1984, West Campus becomes an administrative and research campus.


Enrollment surges continue as children of WWII veterans — the baby boomers — reach college age. In 1966, enrollment at Ohio State is 40,277, an increase of 85 percent from a decade before. Facilities totaling more than 1 million square feet are constructed on the Columbus campus from 1967 to 1973, including Morrill and Lincoln Towers and Drake Union.


The One Ohio State Framework ties the university’s academic goals with campus development. It prioritizes the concentration of academic activity, space to promote partnerships, enhancement of residential and recreation areas, and a transformation of the Olentangy River and other natural environments.


After making significant progress with Framework 1.0, university leaders collaborate with faculty, staff and students to begin work on an update in the fall of 2015. That work leads to Framework 2.0, a broad vision in which Ohio State’s academic mission drives its physical environment.

Monica DeMeglio contributed to this timeline.