Each week I have the pleasure of going through past issues of the Douglas County Herald for the Looking Backward column. I get to pick out tidbits of information about people, community, and happenings that were once considered important newsworthy articles.
It is an interesting task, a fun job, but once in a while, it is a sobering dose of reality, as it was this week.
Upon perusing the front page of the February 22, 1894 issue, it was truly difficult to find a fun news item to reprint as the main page was filled with murders, suicides, drownings, criminal actions, and more. The text was depressing and sad to read; 1894 was akin to what we hear today, but back then, news writers were more graphic in their presentation. Political correctness was not part of the standard.
As I got to the bottom of the page, there was a small article about Drury College that read:
(February 22, 1894) –– The construction of McCullough Hall of Drury College has been let for $14,000. The structure will be two stories high and used as a dormitory for girls. Fairbanks Hall being used for the boys.
When I entered Drury College in the fall of 1971, I lived in Fairbanks Hall. The building was my new temporary home away from home, and at that time, it was a girls dormitory. The building was at least 77-years old and already designated a historical site.
As a dorm it did not offer suites with a central bathroom area like dorms of today, instead each floor was dotted with box-like rooms, tiny closets, steam heat radiators and no amenities whatsoever. There were only two phones per floor, and they were located in the middle of the hallway, and both were pay phones.
Nonetheless, Fairbanks Hall had character, class and old-fashioned charm. And, it was filled with freshman coeds –– all about the same age, all learning about campus life for the first time.
Fairbanks Hall was the perfect place to be.
As cited in 1894, Fairbanks was built as a boys dormitory, and that fact was still evident in 1971 as the facilities had not changed. The only difference was that instead of boys, each floor housed at least 50 coeds, and there was only one communal bathroom on each floor.
Privacy was not an option.
It seems surprisingly out of the ordinary that Drury administrators made the ‘wise’ decision to house approximately 135-plus female students within a building that offered minimal restroom facilities. That meant on our floor 55 coeds vied for personal time in one big bathroom, each and every day. Getting ready for class each morning. Primping for a date on Friday or Saturday night. It was a zoo. It was fun and truly memorable. That was Fairbanks Hall.
And, it must be noted that our bathroom only offered one big long mirror. Chaotic.
As I recall our communal bathroom had one walk-in shower with several shower heads so four or five could shower at one time. There were five or six bathroom stalls, four sinks, and four urinals, which some coed residents used as shelves for personal items.
My room was located at the end of the second floor hallway, and it was solely a big box room with a closet about the size of a door. That’s it.
My roommate was Susan Spiesz from St. Louis and we each had a metal twin bed and personal storage area made from wooden crates.
And, not nearly enough room for all of our clothes, but Spiesz was a great roommate.
Our room location was special, however, because we were at the end of the hallway and that gave our room two windows – one looking east over campus and another looking north to the tennis courts.
My remembrances of Fairbanks Hall are special and delightful. That first year was a wonderful learning experience about life, people and friendships, as well as academics. I would not change a moment.
That majestic old building was the perfect place, as it offered a special environment for cultivating friends and wonderful memories.
According to Drury history, Fairbanks Hall was “the building in which Drury opened in 1873.” It was a majestic old stone and brick structure with a grand entrance on front that included a long staircase with portico. The building was three stories tall, with attic space above. It faced west on Benton Avenue, but while living there in 1971, students preferred using the back entrance as those doors were closer to parking and classes.
Fairbanks Hall was torn down during the summer of 1978, but there is still a concrete marker noting it’s historical significance. The marker is located on North Benton Avenue, 1/10-mile north of East Central.
Even though Fairbanks is gone and Drury has changed considerably, my memories live on. That first year in Fairbanks Hall will always bring to mind happy thoughts, wonderful friendships, life-impacting skills and heartwarming experiences – all deeply cherished.
Hopefully, Fairbanks Hall had a profound impact on many others who had the pleasure of spending their first year in that majestic old building. For me, it truly was the perfect place to be.