Little Bits of History

April 23

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 23, 2017

1879: A fire starts at the University of Notre Dame. The Catholic research university was established on November 26, 1842 near South Bend, Indiana. Father Edward Sorin, CSC (Congregation of the Holy Cross) was the founder and first president of the then all-male institution. It was built on land donated by the Bishop of Vincennes, Indiana. Sorin arrived at the site with eight Holy Cross brothers from France and Ireland on November 26 and opened school in Father Stephen Badin’s log chapel. They began building with the Old College building, the first church, and the first main building. They began with just two students as a primary and secondary school, but by 1844 were given a charter by the Indiana General Assembly granting them full college status.

The first main building, or administrative center, came under construction on August 28, 1843 shortly after architect Mr. Marsile arrived on the scene. It was completed by fall 1844. It was a 4 ½ story brick building without a dome and built in the French style. The second Main Building replaced the first and was built between 1864 and 1865. It was larger and six stories high with a dome on top. Mr. Thomas of Chicago was the architect and it was built by brothers of the Congregation of the Holy Cross. Classes were held on the third floor and the upper two floors were dormitories.

On this day, at about 11 AM, smoke and flames could be seen rising from the roof. Men had been working on repairs on the roof until an hour earlier. Students and faculty began a bucket brigade and attempted to put the fire out. Steam engines sprayed water onto the roof, but the fire continued to spread and before the all-volunteer South Bend fire department could arrive, the building was engulfed. Attempts to put out the fire were abandoned and instead, they began to try and save valuables from the lower floors, tossing items out of windows to people below – many of which crashed to the ground and broke anyway. In three hours, the building was entirely consumed. The fire spread to other nearby buildings as well. The $200,000 loss was covered by only $45,000 insurance.

Father Sorin and university president Rev. William Corby immediately began plans to rebuild. The new design was by Willoughby J Edbrooke who had plans ready by May 10th. Groundbreaking for the new Main Building was held on May 17. Funded by donations and bringing in skilled stonemasons from far and wide. Workers and volunteers moved quickly and the building grew almost overnight. The building was completed before the fall semester of 1879. The not yet Golden Dome was finished in September of 1882. It was gilded in 1886 and topped with a 19 foot statue of “Our Mother”. The Golden Dome is the most recognized landmark of the University and stands brightly at 187 feet high.

An atheist is a man who watches a Notre Dame – Southern Methodist University game and doesn’t care who wins. – Dwight D. Eisenhower

You don’t go to Notre Dame to learn something; you go to Notre Dame to be somebody. – Lou Holtz

You have to be equal at both – great at football and great at dedicating yourself to the academics at Notre Dame. It’s hard. There are no rooty-toot classes for athletes in South Bend. – Justin Tuck

In 1953 there were two ways for an Irish Catholic boy to impress his parents: become a priest or attend Notre Dame. – Phil Donahue