Campus Buildings

Old Main, n.d.


Introduction  by Tanya Zanish-Belcher



Since the founding of Iowa State University in 1858, its campus and landscape have changed in innumerable ways. Benjamin Gue, state legislator, in his speech at the inauguration of first President Adonijah Welch, noted that its location was once, "a monotonous plain of waving grass only broken here and there by scattered groves." From this prairie beginning, Iowa State University's campus has grown to encompass approximately 140 buildings and landscaping of national renown.

Early campus maps from 1875 and 1898 illustrate the rapid growth of the campus. The original campus consisted of 14 buildings including several barns, Old Main (which later burned at the turn of the century) and the oldest building still on campus, the Farm House (built in 1860). The 1898 map shows 52 buildings, including several buildings still existing, such as the Hub, Morrill Hall, Sloss House, the Campanile, the English Office Building, and Lab of Mechanics.

The 20th century campus also witnessed growth, from 85 buildings in 1915, to 105 in 1930, and 135 in 1979 as well as the addition of numerous works of art. Throughout its history of growth however, the campus also lost numerous buildings to fire and the wrecking ball, such as the Chemistry Building, Margaret Hall, Old Main, the original Veterinary Hospital; Clyde Williams Stadium, and numerous barns, cottages, and temporary buildings. Iowa State continues to expand in the 21st century, with the construction of Howe Hall, the Honors Building, and the 4-H Building. The central campus remains the same however, a green park-like space filled with students, faculty, staff, and visitors, listening to the bells of the Campanile ring over the green hills of Iowa State.



The original vision of the Iowa State campus having an open central campus with a road encircling the buildings was the vision of its first President, Adonijah Welch. Faculty also planned the early landscaping with students maintaining and working with the plants. Peter Melendy, Superintendent in 1865, wrote in the Sixth Annual Report:

"There have been several hundred ornamental and shade trees, and shrubbery, set out. I deemed it essential to make an ample lawn, with here and there a tree, with shrubs for fragrance, and evergreens to relieve the golden of the summer day; with bordered walks and quiet nooks, the embowering shade of trees, with beautiful trailing vines, and shrubs, and flowers. . . By the judicious employment of trees we may effect almost any amount of alteration and improvement within the scope of landscape scenery . . . Plant trees most certainly, and wherever they would be a beauty of a refreshment, let their roots being to pierce the mould above which their branches may year after year wave with a fascinating grace and a variety - like which there is nothing else in nature."

In the first years of the 20th century, the college relied on outside recommendations, made by O.C. Simonds (1902-1903) and the Olmsted Brothers (1906). But the majority of planning and landscaping (1920s-1960s), was conducted by the Heads of Architectural Engineering and Landscape Architecture, with representation from the faculty on the Public Grounds Committee as well as the University President. In the 1960s, a University Architect was appointed, who was and is under the auspices of Facilities Planning and Management.



Thomas Gaines, in The Campus As a Work of Art (1991), proclaimed the Iowa State campus to be one of the twenty-five most beautiful campuses in the country. Gaines noted the park-like expanse of central campus, and the use of trees and shrubbery to draw together Iowa State's varied building architecture.

In 1999 a national landscape architects' group selected Iowa State's central campus as a "medallion" site. The park-like central lawn was among three central campuses selected for special recognition by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).

To commemorate its centennial, the ASLA selected more than 300 significant landscapes across the country as medallion sites. Thirteen sites were on college campuses, but only three are central campus sites - Yale University, the University of Virginia, and Iowa State.

"The sites were selected because they represent places that were to the heart and soul - places landscape architecture had something to do with making them what they are," Dunbar said.

Iowa State's central campus includes 490 acres of trees, plants, and classically designed buildings. The landscape's most dominant feature is the 20-acre central lawn. Over decades, campus buildings, including the Campanile, Beardshear Hall, and Curtiss Hall, circled and preserved the central lawn, creating a space where students study, relax, and socialize. "The grandness of its space created by structures, places, and plant material has been a special place for Iowa State students," Dunbar said.


The original vision of the Iowa State campus having an open central campus with a road encircling the buildings was that of its first President, Adonijah Welch.

Iowa State Sesquicentennial

Time Line
Cyclone Facts and Trivia

Campus Buildings

For Whom It Is Named
Campus Images

Student Life
People of Distinction
Oral Histories


This is a historic exhibit and the information provided within it may be out of date. Please contact the Special Collections and University Archives Department with questions about Iowa State history (


Resources available online

From Prairie Sod to Campus Cornerstones: Building Our Campus History


The Iowa State University campus and its buildings, 1859-1979.  


Trees of Central Campus.


For Whom It Is Named: Names of Halls, Buildings, Streets, Residence Hall Houses and Other Facilities at Iowa State University




To learn more about the Iowa State University Campus, please check the following websites, archival collections (located in Special Collections, ISU Library) and secondary sources (call numbers and locations noted).

Buildings and Grounds Division Collection, located in the University Archives

Department of Residence Buildings Collection, located in the University Archives

Celebrating 100 Years: Iowa State's Campanile
(Virtual Exhibit)

Morrill Hall: The Jewel of Iowa State University

(Virtual Exhibit)



Additional Websites

Historic Barns of Iowa State

Campus Art

Farm House


Facilties Planning and Management Campus Building Drawings


Facilities Planning and Management--Current Campus Floor Plans


Maps of the Current Iowa State University Campus