Old Main Arches Offer a Look at UMD’s Historic Past

Northland Uncovered: Old Main at UMD

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The years spent in college are years major growth happens for students in a number of ways. In this week’s Northland Uncovered, we talk to a former student and employee of UMD about the memories he has of Old Main. 

What is now a set of arches in a grassy field, was once a home for learning for eager students. 

“Except for a science building on the present campus, Old Main was the campus,” explained Ken Moran, a former student and employee of UMD.

Moran started his Freshman year at the University of Minnesota – Duluth in the fall of 1951.

Back then, it was a much smaller group of students; just 1207 including Moran. 

“You basically knew everybody, at least recognized everybody,” Moran said.

Because it was a commuter campus, one memory sticks out in Moran’s mind more than others. 

“Parking was a bit of a problem because it was all on–street parking and there were no parking lots at all,” said Moran.

If you wanted to get to class on time, you had to be there early.

“If you had an 8 o’clock class, and lots of people had an 8 o’clock class, you’d better be early enough to find a spot to park,” laughed Moran.

Because there were no parking lots, students spent cold and warm days alike hiking to the “new campus” for classes in the science building.

“Their classes were held on the half hour, classes down here were held on the hour, you had a half hour to get up there, a half hour to get back,” explained Moran.

Though the university has grown drastically from the 1200 students when Moran was attending, it wasn’t always that way.

The beginning of the university came from a Normal School that opened in 1902.

In 1921 it became a State Teachers College.

“That was the point where men entered the campus. It was still predominantly a women’s campus, for ladies, but men came in because there were more opportunities; secondary education, administration,” Moran explained of the State Teachers College.

In 1947, the school became a branch of the University of Minnesota.

Moran was around for a big part of the changes. 

“I saw each building as it went in place,” said Moran, “not only did I receive my education here; I worked for 42 years on the campus as a photographer. I enjoyed every minute of it.” 

He says his favorite part of attending UMD was the professors.

“These are formative years for you; these people were great helping you through formative years,” said Moran.

Old Main gave students from around the Northland life-long memories. Now, the “new campus” is providing the same thing, because Old Main is no longer here. 

“It was burned. Arsonists burned it down. That was a little traumatic for me, because I was driving to work that morning and heard “well there was a fire at Old Main” and I thought “Oh I’ll probably see a blackened window someplace,” it was smoldering ruins,” described Moran.

Following the fire, the remains were demolished, the arches were kept as a tribute, and the area was made into a city park.

“I enjoy, and occasionally will go out of my way, just to drive by on 5th street just to see the arches again,” said Moran.

There were three other buildings on the Normal School campus.

The “lab school” is where the Large Lakes Observatory is now housed.

Torrance Hall is used for apartments and Washburn Hall was sold and is no longer university property.

Leaving decades of history among modern research. 

“It’s very nostalgic to come back to this and I like what was done with this. I like the arches,” said Moran. 

Ken graduated from UMD with a psychology degree. 

He tells FOX 21 he owes a lot to UMD because it’s where he met his wife.

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