Friday, October 26, 2012

Sesquicentennial Stories: The Promise of UK #122

The Ezra Gillis building is the second oldest building standing on UK’s campus, predated only by the Main Building.  Over the past 120 years, the Gillis building has been home to many collegiate activities. One of the principles of a land-grant institution was that they provide agricultural support for the surrounding community and state.  In the mid 1880s, the Executive Council of the Board of Trustees passed a resolution to establish an agricultural experiment station as quickly as the college could accommodate one.  

Early photograph of the Gillis Building
In May of 1888, the College accepted a bid on the construction of the Station and ground was broken in June.  The new Experiment Station would be three stories (counting the basement) and was 70 long by  54 feet wide.  Its front entrance would face west and be graced by an archway fifteen feet wide.  Just north of the entrance, a tower would spiral skyward beyond the roof.  On the building’s north side would be an octagonal projection 18 feet by 18 feet.  It would be located just south of the Main Building. 

Botany Laboratory in the Gillis Building
Construction on the Experiment Station lasted roughly a year and the building was ready for occupancy in time for the fall 1889 semester.  The five basement rooms, designed originally as store and work rooms for the station, would first be home to the department of natural history.  The eight rooms on the main floor consisted of offices, a library, and chemical, botanical, and etymological laboratories of the Station.  The top floor was occupied by the department of chemistry, under the direction of Professor Kastle.  It held a large lecture hall that could accommodate about 75 students, several labs, and a balance room.  The octagonal room, designed with a sky light, was used as the department’s photographic room.  

Floor plan of the Gillis Building
The building was largely gutted by fire on February 23, 1891 with the most significant loss being two years’ worth of experiment and analysis records.  The building was rebuilt to the same floor plan and was completed in 1892. 

Ezra Gillis in the King Building
The Gillis building has housed natural history, chemistry, law, hygiene, public health, an infirmary, and the registrar's office through the years. It was long known as the Chemistry Building and later the Administration Annex. In 1978 it was named to honor Ezra Gillis, the first university registrar, who served from 1910 until his retirement in 1937.

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