In 1909, the state of Illinois appropriated $250,000 for a building at the UI dedicated to the study of the humanities. The building was named Lincoln Hall in honor of the centennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birth.
Now undergoing a nearly two-year renovation project, the building is the focus of a new book, “Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois” (UI Press), that chronicles the history of the campus landmark from its conception to its expansion and its role on the campus. The book pays particular attention to the Lincoln art – the collection of panels, portraits and inscriptions – that adorns the building. John Hoffmann, librarian and manuscript curator at the UI Library, wrote the book to explore the evolution of the structure from a tribute to Abraham Lincoln to a center for the liberal arts. The volume identifies each of the building’s historical panels and the portraits of Lincoln’s contemporaries. Fully illustrated to show how much care was taken with the details of the design, the book provides a lasting historical record of the building’s century-long place at the UI.
“Recently, as committees and commissions to mark the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birthday began to proliferate, it occurred to me to look again at the Lincoln aspect of Lincoln Hall,” Hoffmann said. “It soon became clear that the history of the building itself was a chapter in the lasting legacy of Lincoln.”
Hoffmann said that he has been interested in the building for years. “Some time ago, a professor and I, walking to the Illini Union for lunch, fell to talking about the terra cotta panels on Lincoln Hall,” he said. “Who imagined the scenes from Abraham Lincoln’s life that can be seen from the sidewalk on the Quad? Who picked the Lincoln quotations on each side of the building? Who determined the people of Lincoln’s day who would be pictured next to those quotations?”
After extensive research, Hoffman is eager to share his findings with the general public. “The book provides a brief outline of its history,” he said. “The text is fully illustrated, both by archival images and by the photographs of David B. Wiegers and Nick Mann, which were taken shortly before the renovation of the building began.”
Editor's note: The renovation of Linoln Hall is being documented on the website of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The site also includes alumni memories of Lincoln Hall. The renovation is scheduled for completion in fall 2012.