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Main Hall

When Alabama Girls Industrial School opened in 1896, it had a classroom building, which for many years was called merely the Chapel, and a few temporary “out buildings.”  There were no living quarters; however, the president found several good families who agreed to board girls that first year of operation, and shortly after began planning the construction of a dormitory.  The Southern Railroad hauled the building materials free of charge.  The work went so well that West Wing, with a capacity of about 100 girls, was ready by the fall term of 1897.  It was the first of the three wings constituting Main Hall.

Before 1907, during the presidency of Dr. Peterson, what is now Central Main, containing the basement dining room, was added.

When Dr. Palmer became president in 1907, he made the completion of the dormitory top priority.  The job was finished late in the summer of 1908.  Following the plans of the architect William Earnest Spink of Birmingham, the East Wing was built, the West Wing enlarged and the front finished.  The complete building housed more than 400 young women and, at one time, was thought to be the largest female residence hall in the Deep South.

Special features of Main are the two tubular Kirker-Bender fire escapes, which have been the terror and delight of generations of students, and the balky elevator affectionately called “Mr. Otis.” It is very noticeable that the arcade on either side of the front entrance differs in style of architecture.  The west side has arches and the east side has straight lines with modified doric columns.  No one seems to know why.  The exterior has remained essentially unchanged but the interior has undergone a number of renovations and alterations.  In the early days, there had been a wide staircase leading from the second floor into the lobby.  In 1946, it was replaced and in 1986 restored.

(This is an excerpt from White Columns & Red Bricks by Lucille Griffith, Ph. D.)

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