Old Main

Augsburg's Immigrant Roots

Augsburg College, founded by Norwegian immigrants, is one of Cedar-Riverside's oldest institutions.

On Augsburg's campus, at the intersection of 21st Avenue and 8th Street South, is the "New" Old Main. This was the center of campus for most of the 20th century and while it continues to host classes and student activities, most students now flock to the Christiansen Center. When "New" Old Main opened in 1902, it replaced the original Old Main, once located a block to the north. Old Main provided all the classrooms, dormitories and dining facilities as well as a gymnasium and a chapel for Augsburg's early students.

When Old Main opened in 1872, the halls were filled with young men speaking Norwegian on their way to classes. Augsburg's early leaders had a dual mission: to preserve their Norwegian heritage (through language and religion) and to prepare Norwegian students for life in America (by learning English and through civic participation). They saw "assimilation," or adapting to American life, as a two-way process where Norwegian immigrants could maintain a distinctly Norwegian identity as they also became Americans. These two objectives were hard to balance. If students wanted English classes, they had to take them at the University of Minnesota. Norwegian language prevailed in many Augsburg classes, among student groups and in the student newspaper, The Augsburg Ekko, into the early 20th century.

Norwegian Lutheran values sometimes conflicted with American culture. In the late 19th century and early 20th century, faculty and students who pursued a pious life on campus, did not like the proliferation of saloons, bars and dance halls in the neighborhood. Some participated in Temperance campaigns which put them at odds with some of their neighbors, while others stayed close to campus, earning them a reputation for being insular. But Augsburg students fiercely debated issues of the day through clubs like the Demosthenian Society. Early debates held in Old Main, for example, concluded that (a) the library was more important than the temperance lodge, (b) co-education of sexes was most recommendable and ought to be introduced to every institution of learning, (c) unlimited religious freedom as practiced in the US was productive of religious revolution, and (d) the Scandinavian element in the US ought to as soon as possible assimilate with the American element. These debates were held in English, which was rare for Augsburg student groups.

Today you are more likely to hear Spanish or Somali in the halls of Old Main than Norwegian. In fact those halls where the original Norwegian students rushed to class have been gone since 1947 when demolition of the original Old Main created room for Science Hall.

Augsburg has played an important role for the Norwegian community and its descendants in Minnesota. The demographics have changed over the last 150 years and so has the curriculum. True to its origins as a school founded by immigrants, however, Augsburg has remained an important institution for waves of newcomers and residents in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

Images

Original Old Main, 1872

Original Old Main, 1872

Old Main was the first building constructed on Augsburg's campus. Originally located on 7th street and 21st Avenue, it was the center for all student activities. It housed classrooms, dormitory and dining facilities, a gymnasium, library and chapel. Norwegian immigrants and city leaders had donated land and pledged financial support to build Old Main, but unfulfilled pledges delayed its construction. According to legend, a Norwegian servant girl, Karen Danielson, loaned Reverend Ole Paulson the $60 needed to get started. At three stories, it was the tallest building around. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives View File Details Page

Augsburg Seminary, 1885

Augsburg Seminary, 1885

When Augsburg moved into Cedar-Riverside, it found a mostly rural landscape. Old Main was Augsburg's first building, surrounded by open pastures. By 1885 Augsburg Seminary had grown to include a residence for professors and an additional dormitory. All these early buildings were heated by stoves, and students helped chop wood to keep the fires burning. The shed behind the professor's residence originally served as a barn for horses, a common mode of transport. Image courtesy of Borchert Map Library | Source: Sanborn Fire Insurance Map, 1885-1889, Vol. 1 View File Details Page

Student dorm room in Old Main, 1880s (recreated in 1930s)

Student dorm room in Old Main, 1880s (recreated in 1930s)

Early Augsburg students ate, slept and studied in the same building. Extracurricular activities included chopping wood for heating, managing the library and operating the dining hall (to feed themselves and their professors). Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives View File Details Page

The Augsburg Ekko

The Augsburg Ekko

Augsburg's student newspaper, The Augsburg Echo, has been published since 1898. It was first written in Norwegian, under the name Augsburg Ekko. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives View File Details Page

Chapel Service in Old Main, 1897

Chapel Service in Old Main, 1897

Old Main housed all activities for Augsburg students: classrooms, dormitories and a chapel--required attendance for students. Several students are identified with Norwegian surnames: Eriksen, Hansen, Lundquist, Pedersen, and Bjornson. In the back of the room are early Augsburg faculty, many of whom had emigrated from Norway, including Georg Sverdrup and Sven Oftedal who later became presidents of Augsburg. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives View File Details Page

Norwegian and American

Norwegian and American

Norwegian immigrants, faculty and early leaders of Augsburg College, Georg Sverdrup, Sven Oftedal, and Sven Gunnerson, developed the college's mission. They wanted to preserve Norwegian heritage and to prepare Norwegian students for life in America. "We believe that our people, who have left their native land to establish homes within a nation that will play a predominant role in world history, must be given an opportunity to develop their potentialities. We believe that not a single one of the many nationalities in this country should lose its identity before having an opportunity to make a distinctive contribution to our evolving American culture. Hence, it is the obligation of our school to help Norwegian-Americans find their place in the emerging American nation." [Fjord to Freeway, p. 21]. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives | Source: Carl Chrislock, From Fjord to Freeway: 100 Years, 1969 View File Details Page

Old Main, 1918

Old Main, 1918

The "New" old main was dedicated in 1902 and is Augsburg's oldest building. For most of the 20th century it was the center of the College's campus. Initially it housed all classes and provided a library, a gymnasium, a chapel, dormitories and the modern convenience of indoor plumbing. Today, Old Main hosts classes but many activities have been moved to other campus buildings. Image courtesy of Augsburg College Archives View File Details Page

Street Address:

725 21st Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55454 [map]

Cite this Page:

Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Old Main,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed November 19, 2017, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/2.

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