If you frequent the campus area, you are well aware of the new McFarland Memorial bell tower that has been erected on the south quad. One can hardly ignore the several story tall tower. Unlike the bells at Altgeld, the new University Carillon is automated with an electronic keyboard that can be played on the bottom of the tower. It’s a new, shiny, updated addition to the south quad — modern and a bit minimalist, and not completely unwelcome, as the sound of bells is always pleasant (though flying a kite might prove to be more difficult). On a quiet day you can even hear them from residential Urbana.
However, in the shadows of this massive bell tower, you may have come across a much older and smaller building. It looks very much like a house, and indeed it was built as a model farmhouse.
Though paint may be chipping on the front steps and it has received little maintenance, the house is actually intact and structurally sound, according to a recent inspection. Named after one of the early deans of the College of Agriculture, Mumford House has been standing on the south quad since 1870, only three years after the university was founded. With plans to build a landscaped plaza around the new bell tower, the university is planning to relocate Mumford House to the traffic-laden Windsor Road.
The university’s relocation plans have incited a great deal of protest from the Preservation and Conservation Association (PACA), Landmarks Illinois and many concerned residents and students. The building has received little attention over the past 20 years, and many rightfully fear that by placing it far from campus the historic building will be neglected and subject to vandalism. It is one of the last tangible remnants of the University’s founding. For the first century, Mumford House was used as the residence for agriculture deans, then as faculty offices until it was vacated. To remove Mumford House is not just a simple matter of relocating a building, but it is a clear rejection of the University’s history. Is a landscaped plaza absolutely necessary? Must the Mumford House be cleared for the sake of this plaza? Is there not some better use for such a historic landmark, than to allow it to be forgotten?
If you would like to voice your concern and find out how you can help preserve an important part of Illinois history contact Landmarks Illinois, National Trust for Historic Presevation or PACA.
Photo by PACA.