The Ohio State University Alumni Association

Special Report Our Place

Philanthropists influence our campus landscape

The Armory Wexner Center for the Arts

From top: The Armory, which stood on the Oval for six decades, was destroyed by fire in 1958. Architects picked up some of its features in the design of the Wexner Center for the Arts, which opened in 1989.

Like campus itself, approaches to financing the university’s new classroom buildings, laboratories, residence halls and other facilities have evolved over time.

The Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862 authorized each state to receive federal land to be used to support colleges of agriculture and mechanical arts. However, it did not provide funding for the construction of buildings, explains Raimund Goerler, retired university archivist. The land-grant money the state received for the Ohio Agricultural and Mechanical College was invested in bonds, and the revenue from those was intended to cover the institution’s operating costs.

From 1871 to 1891, the Ohio Legislature appropriated $350,000 (roughly $7.1 million in 2017 dollars) for capital improvements and other expenses at Ohio State, according to a 1984 history about campus development by William J. Griffith, former assistant vice president for campus planning and space utilization.

In that context, it makes sense that when the first 25 students arrived in 1873, the entire university fit under one roof. University Hall housed classrooms, a library, a chapel, administrative offices, apartments for faculty and living quarters for male students. In the meadows and wooded areas around University Hall were service structures, such as barns and paddocks.

“The concept that the university began with the small village — which was typical of most colleges and universities — fit the economic and political circumstances of the time,” Goerler says.

In the 1890s, the university’s needs grew enormously. Urbanization across the nation and the state resulted in more high schools opening and parents taking a keener interest in investing in their children’s education, including college. Enrollment at Ohio State increased nearly 128 percent — from 527 students to about 1,200 — from 1890 to 1900, Goerler notes.

Despite the swell in enrollment, the Legislature was unwilling to finance additional buildings, Griffith’s history reports. But in 1891, lawmakers did provide state funding for the university through an annual tax levy for operating costs, Goerler explains. “It was pivotal,” he says, “because it enhanced the university’s ability to build a budget and get money from the state.”

University trustees then were able to issue bonds to raise almost $600,000 to construct Hayes Hall, Orton Hall, the Armory, a central heating plant, a boiler and power house, Townshend Hall and a biological science building and to make improvements to other structures.

“It was a large sum at that time,” Griffith writes, “and the indebtedness was not paid off for many years.”

In the decades that followed, the university relied on state and federal funding, as well as revenue bonds sold to the public with the promise that they would be paid back with interest, to construct additional academic buildings, residence halls and dining facilities.

Sullivant Hall Hummel and Treman Hospital for Companion Animals

From top: Dance students practice in a bright studio in Sullivant Hall, which reopened in 2014 after renovations. The Hummel and Trueman Hospital for Companion Animal opened in November.

Students and alumni raised money for Ohio State’s first student union, which opened in 1911 in what today is Hale Hall. The Ohio Union — the first student union at a U.S. public university — contained a barbershop, bowling alley and billiards, reading and writing rooms, and a trophy hall.

Donors also made Ohio Stadium a reality. In 1920, a fundraising campaign kicked off with “Stadium Week” events that included pageants, a parade down High Street, and other activities in Columbus and other communities where alumni lived. A $1 million goal was exceeded in three months.

In the 1980s, with construction of the Wexner Center for the Arts, the university changed its approach to financing campus buildings. The building is named for Harry L. Wexner, father of Ohio State alumnus Leslie H. Wexner ’59, founder of L Brands and a principal donor to the center.

“The Wexner Center — the successful, largely privately financed building — now becomes part of the way the university does buildings,” Goerler says. “You find state money and private money and put it together. The state’s not going to provide all of it.”

Since then, the generosity of donors has shaped the development of Ohio State’s campuses across central Ohio. More than $262 million was raised for the creation and improvement of facilities in the But for Ohio State Campaign, having an enormous impact on everything from the way students are educated in the arts at Sullivant Hall to discoveries in athletic performance and injury treatment at the Jameson Crane Sports Medicine Institute to the care four-legged family members receive at the new Hummel and Trueman Hospital for Companion Animals.

Learn more

To support spaces for learning, research and living on campus, visit osu.edu/giving.