When The University of Mississippi opened its doors in 1848, the campus consisted of six buildings arranged in a semicircle at the crest of a slight rise. There were two dormitories, two faculty houses, a steward’s hall, and the Lyceum, the center of the campus then and now.
Through the years, the University has grown and changed with the addition of many new structures and even branch campuses, but several landmarks on the main campus serve as important reminders of the institution’s long, rich history.
The University’s first building was the Lyceum, constructed from 1846 to ‘48 with a Greek Revival design and bricks thought to have been made from clay at the site.
In the University’s early days, the Lyceum was the sole academic structure, housing a lecture hall, several classrooms, a geological museum, and the library.
The Lyceum was used as a hospital during the Civil War, and one soldier treated there wrote to his wife, “This is a beautiful place, and the Sick Souldiers [sic] have enjoyed themselves very Well.”
The building’s north and south wings were added in 1903, and the Class of 1927 donated the clock above the east portico. The Lyceum bell, which tolls on special occasions, is believed to be the oldest college bell in America. [Bell rings]
Bullet marks on the front columns speak to the violence which swirled around the Lyceum in 1962, when James Meredith enrolled as the University’s first African-American student.
An $11 million renovation completed in 2001 restored many areas of the building and created new rooms for public events. The Lyceum now houses the Office of the Chancellor as well as those of the University’s Provost and Vice Chancellors.
The Y Building
In 1851, the University’s board of trustees planned to build a third dormitory for the growing campus but decided instead to construct what the board called a “large, commodious hall” for student assemblies and commencement exercises.
Completed in 1853 and identified as the Chapel, it soon served as a hospital during the Civil War.
The Y Building, as it became known for housing campus chapters of the YM and YWCAs, has also been home to the Office of International Programs, student religious organizations, and volunteer services.
One of three surviving antebellum structures on campus, the Y Building was renovated in 2000 and now serves as headquarters for the Croft Institute for International Studies.
Built from 1857 to ‘59, Barnard Observatory was the centerpiece of Chancellor F.A.P. Barnard’s ambitious plan to make the University a leading center for science education.
The central portion was to house the world’s largest telescope, but its delivery was prevented by the outbreak of the Civil War. Instead, the telescope went to the Chicago Astronomical Society, which later transferred it to Northwestern University.
Through the years, Barnard has served many purposes. It was a hospital during the Civil War and home to the Department of Physics and Astronomy until 1939, when the east wing became the official residence of the Chancellor. After World War II, the Navy ROTC used sections of the building, and it later became a sorority house.
Barnard Observatory was scheduled for demolition at one point, but then in 1992 was renovated to its former Neo-classical splendor. It is now home to the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
Built in 1889 with a Victorian Romanesque design and turret, Ventress Hall is one of the University’s most distinctive buildings. Constructed as the University library, it was the first major building added to the campus after the Civil War. Over the years, Ventress housed the Law School, the State Geological Survey, and the departments of geology and art. Renovated in 1998, Ventress is now home to the College of Liberal Arts.
Above the stairs, an original Tiffany stained glass window depicts a mustering of the University Greys, a company of Ole Miss students and faculty who fought in the Civil War.
Early in the 20th century, a Confederate veteran climbed the turret stairs to scrawl his name and regiment on the wall. Hundreds of students followed his lead, creating a time capsule within the turret. During the renovation, this area was respectfully left untouched.
In 1930, author William Faulkner purchased “The Bailey Place,” an 1844 farmhouse on four acres of land near the Ole Miss campus, and renamed it Rowan Oak. In 1972, ten years after his death, Faulkner’s daughter, Jill, sold the property to the University to preserve it so visitors could learn about her father and his work.
Though restored in recent years, the house appears little changed since Faulkner’s time.
The Chickering piano played by his wife, Estelle, sits in the parlor, the site of special family occasions, including Faulkner’s funeral.
The library features bookshelves built by Faulkner and paintings by his mother, Maud. Faulkner wrote in this room until the early 1950s when he added an office to the back of the house. Here his typewriter sits on a small table given to him by his mother. On the wall in Faulkner’s hand is the plot outline for “A Fable,” which won the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award in 1954.
The items in Faulkner’s upstairs bedroom speak to his other interests, including horseback riding. His room is flanked by the bedrooms used by Jill and Estelle.
The windows in Estelle’s room provided exceptional light for the painting and bird watching she enjoyed. Since her husband disdained air conditioning, the window unit wasn’t added until the day after his funeral.
William Faulkner accepted the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature asserting that “man will not merely endure, he will prevail.” Certainly his spirit prevails at Rowan Oak.
Civil Rights Monument
In the fall of 1962, amidst violence and turmoil, James Meredith became the first African-American to enroll at the University.
Exactly 44 years after Meredith attended his first class, the Civil Rights Monument was dedicated on October 1, 2006. In tribute to those who sought to open the doors of higher education to all citizens in the South, the words “Courage,” “Opportunity,” “Knowledge,” and “Perseverance” are inscribed at the top of the limestone portal, which sits just west of the Lyceum.
Religious life has always been part of the University experience. Dedicated in 2001, the 200-seat interfaith provides a traditional setting for services, weddings, and other events.
Ole Miss alumni Henry and Rose Paris and Bill and Nancy Yates funded the construction of the chapel, and Frank and Marge Peddle purchased the 36 bell carillon housed in the adjoining tower. The bronze bells ring to mark the quarter hour and play inspirational melodies at the close of each day for The University of Mississippi.