Alumni Hall’s Basement

Indoor Track in Basement of Alumni Hall

It might surprise some people to learn that the most versatile and widely used part of Alumni Hall was not the classrooms or the theatre, but the basement.

An April 1890 issue of the Coup d’Etat, a student newspaper, described the basement as intended to be used as an armory and a space for cadets for “company evolutions in winter and inclement weather.” The room also housed bathrooms and lockers, as well as a chemical laboratory.

Although it appears its use was multipurpose from the beginning, the builders likely didn’t expect the many transformations the basement would see in future years. The lowest level of Alumni Hall has served as an indoor track, the Gizmo, a computer center, the mailroom, the gymnasium, the bookstore, a shooting range, and home to a few administrative offices. The basement was also the last part of the building to remain open and in use before all of Alumni Hall closed.

The photo above is from the basement’s tenure as the school’s indoor track, taken in 1923. This track was state-of-the-art when it was constructed in the 1920s, as no other school in the area had one like it. The 1927 Knox Alumnus described how the construction of the track, conducted by students and led by the track coach, “required the removal of several supporting posts in the basement.” The pits required for field sports like pole vaulting, shot put, and high jump were dug into the floor of the basement due to the low ceilings.

The track stayed open until around 1940, and by 1946, the Hearth was opened in the east wing of the basement and the bookstore next to it followed a few years later.

1891 Fundraising

1891 Check to the Alumni Hall Fund

Anyone who has ever raised funds knows that every little bit helps. Documents like these that trace the process of fundraising for the original construction of Alumni Hall take that idea to a new level, with little pledges here and there, like this $5 one. We hope Lizzie Freer paid on time! Otherwise, her pledge is 121 years overdue.

Part of the Mix

Currently housed on the third floor of Old Main, the move to Alumni Hall will allow the staff of the Lincoln Studies Center a greater opportunity to fully engage with the Knox community.

Their space in Alumni Hall will be larger than their current home in Old Main and will provide more space for research materials and equipment and a better ability to accommodate visitors.

“We are grateful for these improvements,” says Douglas Wilson, co-director of the center. “We look forward to being part of the mix in the newly renovated Alumni Hall.”

Modern Languages in Alumni Hall

Class taught by Professor Vasili "Bill" Fiedorow in Alumni Hall

The above photo is a shot of a class taught by Professor Vasili “Bill” Fiedorow in Alumni Hall. Fiedorow taught Russian and French at Knox for more than 30 years, from 1972 until his retirement in 2005. Fiedorow passed away in September 2013.

Around the time he started teaching at Knox was when the Modern Languages department was located in Alumni Hall. It remained there until the building’s closing, when it then moved to George Davis Hall.

We don’t have a date for this photograph, but judging from the hair styles on these modern languages students, can we agree that it seems safe to place it somewhere in the late 1970s or early 1980s?

Army Activities

Shooting Range in Alumni Hall Basement
One of the most notorious uses of the basement was for a firing range. As students saw on our tour of the basement, there are still bullet holes that can be seen in the walls where the targets were placed. The rifle range is not the only part of Alumni Hall’s military history, though. Alumni Hall has served the campus during both World Wars as an important resource for soldiers.

From 1918 to 1919, during the first World War, the east wing was designated as the YMCA “Hut” under the direction of two secretaries appointed by the War Department. Classrooms that formerly served the Philosophy and Economics departments were transformed into lecture rooms for the 250-soldier unit at Knox. The 1920 Gale states that the Gale offices were turned into a canteen. The Hut served the campus for three months, and was especially useful as a clinic when the 1918 influenza pandemic hit campus. The Gale also recalls that a lot of entertainment took place at the Hut for soldiers: “Stunts were put on at the Hut at the regular times by men of the unit; boxing matches and sings were held; “World Forum” lectures were arranged for every Thursday night. The Hut was the best place at Knox for men of the unit to feel the Knox spirit, and the college atmosphere as it should be.”

In 1943, during World War II, the Headquarters of the Air Force Training Detachment were housed in Alumni Hall. College campuses were utilized for the recruitment and training of soldiers. In 1944, the Army Specialized Training Unit was also housed in Alumni Hall.

Alumni Hall was also the home of Knox’s ROTC program until it was discontinued in 1990.

Under Construction: 1890 Edition

South Side of Alumni Hall Under Construction circa 1890

Much of this blog has been about current construction updates. Had it existed during the original construction of the building, this is what readers likely would’ve seen. This is a photo of the original construction of Alumni Hall, looking towards the south side. And to give you a sense of where this was taken, it appears that the photographer stood where Seymour Hall is now located.