Building history

This story appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Mines Magazine.

By Debra Melani and Nick Sutcliffe

Much of Mines’ 140-year history is recorded in its architectural landscape, telling a story of exploration, war, economic depression, philanthropic largesse and technological innovation.

Fine architecture has been associated with Colorado School of Mines since its earliest days, from the work of 19th century Colorado designer Robert S. Roeschlaub, creator of the Central City Opera House, to Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, designers of the iconic glass-cube Fifth Avenue Apple Store in New York City. To mark Mines’ 140th anniversary, we use architecture to retrace the institution’s journey from a small, one-building technical school on the American frontier to the globally respected university of applied science and engineering it is today.

The private years
Mines was first conceived in the 1860s when a man with a vision rode into town from Boston. Set on taming the silver-and-gold-crazed Wild West, Bishop George Randall’s dream of bringing education and religion to the frontier included building a small, three-building campus in Golden.

Architecture on a grand scale was part of the reverend’s strategy to communicate the significance of the educational enterprise. Three buildings were constructed, each with a discrete purpose: Jarvis Hall, a preparatory/military school; Matthews Hall, a divinity school; and the School of Mines.

“Bishop Randall was truly a visionary,” says Richard Gardner of Golden-based Gardner History and Preservation. “He thought all three of these schools were important to the future of the territory, especially the School of Mines.”

During construction of the first building, Jarvis Hall, Randall learned that it took more than architectural beauty to withstand Golden’s powerful winds. “The wind lifted the roof off and dropped it back down, crushing the walls,” Gardner says. Undeterred by the setback, Randall soon had hammers swinging again, and on September 3, 1873, three years after Jarvis Hall had opened its doors, all three buildings were operational for the first time. Aged 63, Randall had seen his vision realized, but he had almost no time to enjoy it, dying three weeks later on September 28.

Meanwhile, a political ruckus had broken out, with opinion pieces in the Rocky Mountain News and Colorado Transcript decrying the fact that public funds were being used to support the School of Mines, then owned by the Episcopal Church. The controversy was brought to a close in 1874 when the territorial government acquired the school, creating the Territorial School of Mines, Colorado’s first public institution of higher education.

Operating independently, the three schools continued to share the campus until 1878, when fires burned Jarvis and Matthews halls to the ground—the first by accident, the second by arson. With their campus decimated, Gardner explains, all three schools took refuge in the building now occupied by Golden’s Old Capitol Grill on Washington Avenue. A decision was made to merge Jarvis and Matthews halls and move to Denver, and plans to establish the School of Mines in Golden were put into action.

Read the rest of the story on the Mines Magazine website.