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BACK IN TIME: DWU gymnasiums

This picture of the early gymnasium and athletic grounds at Dakota University, as Dakota Wesleyan University was originally named, was published in the university’s catalog for 1899. (Photo courtesy of Dakota Wesleyan University Archives)1 / 2
This undated photo of Morrow Gym shows the heating plant at the right. Morrow Gym was torn down in 1993. The heating plant remains and is the current Physical Plant. (Photo courtesy of Dakota Wesleyan University Archives)2 / 2

While the building date is unknown for Dakota Wesleyan University's early gymnasium, catalogs before 1899 noted that, with the combined aid of students, faculty, and the citizens of Mitchell, funds had been gathered to fence an athletic field, grade a half-mile track and build and equip a commodious gym adequate to all the needs of the best athletic training. By 1905, however, DWU wanted to expand or replace this facility, which was located west of Old College Hall, pictured in the background, to accommodate the growing needs of the school.

A campaign to secure building and endowment funds for both a gymnasium and science building was undertaken in 1909. In June 1910, during the university’s 25th anniversary, DWU broke ground for both buildings. Donations from Andrew Carnegie and the Rockefeller Foundation, along with $50,000 from James J. Hill of Minneapolis, helped bring Science Hall, which is now Hughes Hall, to completion in 1912.

But economic challenges -- drought, crop failures and a scourge that affected hog production -- along with a change in the presidency at DWU, delayed subsequent building of a gym. In 1917 the Rev. W.D. Schermerhorn was hired as DWU’s president, and fundraising for the new gym was renewed as part of the endowment campaign. J.T. Morrow, a DWU trustee since 1900, pledged $30,000 for the gym in 1918, and the board voted unanimously to name the building Morrow Gymnasium. Architect Mr. Ellerbe of St. Paul was employed to draw up plans for a new gym for the existing foundation, located south of Old College Hall.

A heating plant was added to the project in 1919. G. Schwartz and Co. of Rochester, Minn., was employed for the general contract, and McGeary and Son of St. Paul was hired for the heating and plumbing. By November 1919, the heating plant was in operation, and Mr. Morrow had passed away. Mrs. Morrow promised to add whatever was needed above and beyond the Morrows’ original $30,000 pledge to complete the gym. In January 1920, Morrow Gymnasium officially opened and was declared by President Schermerhorn to be the cause of great delight and satisfaction among the students. By that spring, the Mitchell community was using the gym as well. At their Nov. 23, 1920, meeting, the DWU trustees noted the people of Mitchell had been very kind to the university during the past year.