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When it opened in 1926, Old Main was the only structure on campus with the exception of a small utility building. Originally, Old Main contained classrooms, offices, dormitory space, a cafeteria, and a gymnasium in the basement. It housed not only Mercyhurst College, an all-women's college, but also Mercyhurst Seminary, an all-girl's high school. In 1932, O'Neil Tower, Christ the King Chapel, and Queen's Chapel were added as integral parts of the Old Main structure. The Tower included classroom and office space, and the dormitory at the west and north end of the building was named Egan Hall to honor the founder of the college, Mother Borgia Egan. Christ the King Chapel is a cathedral-like structure with wooden beams and golden tones and has drawn the attention and admiration of Mercyhurst students, alumni, and visitors since its construction. While much about Mercyhurst has changed in the last seven decades, the Chapel of Christ the King has been preserved in its original liturgical appearance.
Today, the chapels remain as they were. The Tower serves as the main entrance to Old Main on its first floor and has offices on the other floors. Old Main is primarily a complex for the many college administrative offices, including the president's office, although it still has a handful of classrooms. Egan Hall had been partially converted for use as office space and in 2002 was converted back to full use as a dormitory for freshmen. The cafeteria continues in service in Egan Hall and extends into the Dining Hall, which was added in increments between 1957 and 1987. Also extending from Old Main is Sullivan Hall, primarily a faculty office complex.
When it opened, Old Main was the first building in Erie, PA constructed from the ground up as a college building. It was built on the Annie Lyon Farm, which the Sisters bought in 1922 for $51,000. The original property was located just south of what was then the city, and the original farmhouse is still part of the campus grounds. The structure was built for $500,000.
When Mercyhurst College opened Old Main in September of 1926, it welcomed nineteen freshmen and four sophomores. This was not without a photo finish, however. On August 4, 1926, a construction strike left the interior of Old Main just short of completion. With only a few weeks until classes were scheduled to begin, the Sisters went to work and finished the first two floors of the interior of the building themselves. The third floor was finished a few years later. The original structure was also the home of Mercyhurst Seminary, now Mercyhurst Prep School, which moved to land south of the college on Grandview Boulevard in 1963.
Ferdinand Durang, a prominent Philadelphia architect known for his work on educational buildings, designed Old Main as well as the attached O'Neil Tower, Christ the King Chapel, and Queen's Chapel. The style is Collegiate Gothic. The design emphasis of Old Main is on the vertical, with the dormer windows pushing up into the roof line. The wing to the right, or west, is narrow and displays a Gothic arch. All this is anchored by the Norman tower (O'Neil Tower) at the left, or east. Viewing from left to right, the building is massive and squat on the left and thin and vertical on the right. It is one of the very few of its kind.
The building is also the home of the State Dining Room, where dignitaries, Cardinals, Bishops, and other religious leaders as well as educators, screen stars, statesmen, and musicians have dined with the presidents of the college throughout Mercyhurst history.