KU's First Building

Old North College

Old North College

The University of Kansas' first building, North College, held its "opening exercises" on September 12, 1866. The structure, sitting approximately where Corbin Hall now stands, was financed by Lawrence city funds - some originally intended for building an orphanage after Quantrill's Raid. The brick and stone building was fifty-feet square and three stories high with ten rooms. A wood stove in each room provided heat, and a cistern provided water.

The building was KU's only structure until 1872, when University Building opened (later renamed Fraser Hall - what is called "Old Fraser Hall" now).

KU abandoned the now "Old" North College. In 1881 the state legislature turned it into an "asylum" (school and home) for "feeble-minded" children until 1889. After renovations, North College reopened in 1890 as the law school until 1893, when the fine arts school took residence. By 1917 with the walls separating and the floors threatening collapse, the state architect condemned it.

As crews partially disassembled the building in 1918, the university repurposed items to other buildings and auctioned off interior woodwork to fund efforts for World War 1. In 1919 a World War 1 Whippet tank razed the remaining structure during a "demonstration of the effectiveness of modern science."

When North College opened, KU's first building held 55 students and four faculty members. Upon the building's demolition, KU's campus held 23 buildings, 3,500 students and 250 faculty members. Today, next to Corbin Hall's parking lot, you can find a small monument to North College.

North College Clock

Some of this clock's story is known, some is family lore, and some is lost. However, its story is all KU - starting at least as early as the 1940s with brothers Joe and Kenneth Relph. Relph family lore suggests the clock once hung in "Old" North College prior to its initial demolition in 1918. The family lore also indicates that Professor Victor Hessler, 1934-1949 chair of the electrical engineering department, bought the disassembled clock at a KU auction.

Never having assembled the clock, Hessler sold the clock in 1948 for $25 to students Joe and Kenneth Relph. The brothers got the clock running and even improved its accuracy by adding an adjustable pendulum extension to account for thermal expansion due to seasonal temperature changes. The brothers' mother then had the clock for many years before it passed back to Kenneth Relph and his spouse, Martha (also a KU alum).

Following Kenneth's death, Martha decided to return the clock to its original home. After connecting with then Director of Student Housing, Dr. Ken Stoner, Martha donated the clock to KU in 1995. It hung in Student Housing until 2018, when the office then donated the clock to the Memorial Union's KU History program for public display in the Kansas Union.


Clock Works

This is a "Morbier" clock, originating from Morbier, France. From the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Morbier-area farmers would home-manufacture clock parts during the winter months. Finishers would then purchase the parts for assembly. The clock has a porcelain face with brass and steel clockworks.

The regular swing of a weighted pendulum keeps accurate time.

Gravity powers the pendulum via a corded weight.

The clock's porcelain face suffered damage that came from the vibrations caused by artillary practice when the Relph family lived near Fort Sill in Lawton, Oklahoma.

Today, the 4th floor of the Kansas Union is home to North College Clock 

North College Clock at the Kansas Union

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