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Old Main

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University Hall
1882–1887, Wallace L. Dow; 1893–1899 rebuilt, Wallace L. Dow; 1993–1997 renovations. 414 E. Clark St.
  • (Photograph by Michelle Dennis)

Old Main is the oldest building on the Vermillion campus of the University of South Dakota, the state’s oldest public university, founded by the Dakota Territory legislature in 1862. The 286-acre campus is situated along the bluffs near the Missouri River in southeastern South Dakota, approximately 60 miles southwest of Sioux Falls. Originally called University Hall (it became Old Main in the 1910s), the building was erected between 1882 and 1887 in a Victorian Gothic style designed by Wallace L. Dow. After an October 1893 fire gutted the building, Dow redesigned it, retaining the original plan of a three-story central volume and flanking two-story wings but employing a Georgian Revival style. Inspiration for the design came from Dow’s participation in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, where he designed the South Dakota Pavilion in a Classical Revival style, using native materials.

Dow also utilized native materials in the construction of Old Main. The pink quartzite that makes up the bulk of the exterior was quarried near Sioux Falls. The corner quoins and window surrounds are sandstone, while the central tower and four cupolas are wood. Stamped sheet metal forms the decorative, education-related sculpture in the pediments.

Old Main originally housed offices and classrooms, and has an apse at the rear of the central volume that contains the auditorium. After renovations in the 1990s, the building now also houses the Honors Program and the Oscar Howe Art Collection.


Erpestad, David, and David Wood. Building South Dakota. Pierre: South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 1997.

Putz, Paul, “Old Main,” Clay County, South Dakota. National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form, 1972. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Washington, D.C.

Writing Credits

Michelle L. Dennis



  • 1882

  • 1893

  • 1993


What's Nearby


Michelle L. Dennis, "Old Main", [Vermillion, South Dakota], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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