By Kris Leonhardt
Schools in the early days of Wisconsin were generally administered by the communities in which they served or the religious organizations that created them.
By the mid-1800s, state legislators looked to develop a standardized school system and passed a bill to create a system of Normal Schools. The bidding method created to obtain a Normal School set cities against each other, in an effort to obtain a collegiate institution that would bolster their economy.
In 1893, more than 20 cities were at odds to win the rights to a State Normal School. As the sixth in the state, the school would become home to a teacher’s preparation course that would provide further education to eighth grade graduates no more than 15 years of age desiring to become certified instructors.
In July of 1893, Stevens Point defeated nearby Wausau, and the remaining 20-some communities, to become home to the newest State Normal School.
After securing a $6,000 section of property bordered by Main, Reserve, Briggs, and Fremont streets from E.D. Brown, construction began on a large imposing building designed in the Renaissance Revival style.
Classes opened on September 17 of the following year, welcoming a reported 203 students to its inaugural program.
As enrollment and program offerings increased, the school expanded and flexed to accommodate its growing needs.
In 1919, school administration declared a need for a new school library. With enrollment estimates coming in between 500-600, the increasingly cramped library quarters had become insufficient.
Floor space was not an issue. With the construction of a new auditorium, the existing Assembly Room on the second floor had become forsaken and was a perfect fit for relocation.
With $16,000 in appropriations available, an expanded library in the existing space should have been an easy fit; however, once administrative official began seeking quotes for the needed construction and equipment, they discovered their funds had fallen short.
Once funding was secured, officials were hit with a second obstacle when economically-conservative Governor Blaine refused to endorse the new library.
The school would wait until April of 1922, before plans were approved on the expanded library. Work began immediately on the second floor to create one of the finest libraries in the state.
The State Normal School would continue to expand and grow, and in 1926, it would be renamed the State Teachers College. In 1951, it would become the State College, which was succeeded by the State University. It would undergo its final name change in 1974, when it became the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
A portion of the original State building stands today, serving as a cornerstone for the sprawling 400-acre campus now home to approximately 9,500 students and 35 structures.
The remaining section is affectionately referred to as “Old Main.”
Kris Leonhardt may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.