Front & Center:
Kent State’s first 50-year plan
Its seal proclaims 1910 as the founding date for what would become Kent State University, but the first structure to become a part of the institution was begun on June 18, 1912.
To celebrate that event, the stores in town were closed and a band led marchers and vehicles out East Main Street to the site for a grand cornerstone laying ceremony at Merrill Hall. It was named Kent State Normal School in 1911 in honor of William S. Kent, who donated the 53 acres used for the original campus. It is the only public university in Ohio named for an individual.
Although legislatively established as a normal school that would award only elementary teaching certificates after two years of training, the school’s first president, John E. McGilvery foresaw Kent as a major educational institution and developed a “50-year plan” to attain that goal. He directed George F. Hammond of Cleveland to generate an architectural master plan. The plan involved a symmetrically balanced set of buildings located along the ridge to the west of the then-present Merrill and Lowry Halls. In keeping with that plan, on March 19, 1913, the Ohio House passed an appropriation bill authorizing construction of an auditorium, library, gymnasium and office building along with an “agricultural and training-school” building (now Kent Hall) and a powerhouse. The Ohio Senate passed the enabling bill within a month.
McGilvery advertised in Kent’s initial brochures (1912) that a 4-year degree for school administrators was intended, and by June 1915 he had the institution’s name changed to Kent State Normal College due to the addition of four-year degrees. By then the additional buildings had been added or were under construction. Kent State's enrollment growth was particularly notable during summer terms. In 1924, the school's registration for summer classes was the largest of any teacher training school in the United States.
In 1929, the state of Ohio changed the name to Kent State College as it allowed the school to establish a college of arts and sciences.
President McGilvery’s many contributions were later acknowledged by awarding him the title of President Emeritus (1934). He was also hired as director of alumni relations and given an on-campus office. In his alumni relations position, McGilvery campaigned vigorously to get the institution designated a university (1935) and headed a fund drive that combined state support and federal depression recovery funds (1938) to construct a new building for the university’s science departments. In recognition of his role, the trustees unanimously voted to name the new chemistry, physics and biology building McGilvery Hall.
In the late 1990s, the University began a series of green building renovations, which included the complete renovation of the historic original campus.
This colorized version of Hammond’s architectural rendering
appeared on post cards of the era. circa 1913