(Gannon.edu)

Old Main used to be what?! History of campus buildings intrigues students

Sep 29 • Features • 6219

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There is much more to Gannon University than meets the eye. While the buildings on the outside may appear to be ordinary, their individual stories are fascinating.

(Gannon.edu)

The campus is a mix of old-fashioned and modern buildings, all of which have unique and individual stories within themselves.

The history of the university begins with Old Main, which is located on the corner of sixth and Peach streets. Formerly the Strong mansion, it was completed in 1893 by Charles and Annie Strong at a cost of $480,000, and furnished for an additional cost of $800,000. 

Charles and Annie Strong, one of the wealthiest families in Pennsylvania at the time, made their money through investments in the railroad and utilities industries.

Over the years, many prominent guests such as Lech Walesa, former president of Poland and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were entertained in the mansion.

On Sept. 17, 1912, President William H. Taft, a Yale classmate of Charles Strong, came to address a Chamber of Commerce dinner and stayed at the Strong Mansion during his visit.

The Strong Mansion was then purchased by Bishop John Mark Gannon for $50,000, for use as Gannon College, an all-male institution with an enrollment of less than 20.

One of the main rooms in the building, called the “Gold Room,” was originally used as a gentlemen’s parlor and smoking room when it was the Strong mansion. The room is full of 14 karat gold leaves, giving it a value of more than $30,000 alone.

The dining room, which is right across from the Gold Room, was used as the student cafeteria when the building served as Gannon College during its original founding in 1941.

The Old Main board room is used for various banquets and conferences the university is hosting. When the building belonged to the Strong family, the board room served as an entertainment room for guests.

All of the classrooms, the cafeteria and dorm rooms were  in Old Main, as the entire building also served as the school at the time.

Today, the building is valued at more than $7 million and is home to the offices of upper administrators, including the president, provost, alumni services, communications and more.

Melissa Hanigosky, a sophomore chemistry and chemical engineering major and tour guide, said that on tour, Old Main holds more than an aesthetic value.

“When taking families on tour, I tell them that one of the main reasons we show Old Main is because it’s interesting to see where our campus began and where we are now,” she said.

The families find it interesting that we went from being an all-male school in one building to a co-educational school spread over five blocks.”

Melanie Evans, a sophomore psychology major, said the history of Old Main is quite fascinating.

 “A background like that gives Gannon a historical context that larger schools may not have,” she said. “It’s really cool to know that just this building alone has had so much history.”

While there are no classrooms in Old Main, the building is still heavy with student participation due to meetings that occur in the Old Main Board Room and the dining room.

Another building on campus with lots of unknown history is the Gitnik Manse, also known as the Office of Admissions.

Before the building was home to admissions, it was home to four different families over a period of about 100 years.

First to live in the home was Francis F. Marshall, an attorney who was appointed U.S. commissioner under President Lincoln’s first administration in 1861.

 He was admitted to practice in the U.S. and Supreme Courts in 1864, and formed a law partnership with his father and succeeded his father, James C. Marshall, in a number of his other positions.

Francis and his family took up residence in the household from 1885 to 1887.

After Marshall and his family moved out, the building went through periods of vacancies and residencies until 2000, when Paul Gitnik purchased it and took it upon himself to do a complete renovation to the exterior of the building.

Some of these renovations included roof and gutter replacement, brick restoration and more.

It was purchased by the university in 2004, and has served as the university’s office of undergraduate and transfer admissions as well as the Center for Adult Learning.

The next time you take a stroll through any building on campus, take a moment to think of what that building was originally and what it is now..

The building didn’t always house what it does today. The university itself has a historical background, but so does every building that comprises the campus.

Hanigosky said she believes the history of Gannon makes the campus what it is.

“A lot of our buildings have different stories that make us unique,” she said. “It also gives us character.”

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