Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Presser Hall

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Institution Name: Ohio Northern University
Original/Historic Place Name: Presser Hall
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1926-1929original construction Bonsack & Pearce Unger, William
Designer: Bonsack & Pierce; William Unger
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: concrete
Walls: brick, molded concrete
Roof: plastic membrane, flat
ca. 1929-1953auditorium (recital hall)
ca. 1929-1953classrooms
ca. 1929-1953academic department building (music; recital hall, classrooms, practice rooms)
1985-present (2006)academic department building (music)

Presser Hall was named in honor of Theodore Presser, the university's first music instructor. After a career in education, Presser entered the field of music publishing where he enjoyed great success. He established the Presser Foundation to distribute his considerable fortune, and part of the foundation's funds were used to construct music education facilities on various college campuses, including Ohio Northern.

In October 1926, the university secured a $100,000 construction grant secured from the Presser Foundation. By February 1928, the work of clearing the building site began. This involved the demolition of Estill Boarding House and the Lottie White residence. Later Sen. Frank Willis's house was removed. The actual construction started in August 1928, and the project was completed the following spring. A formal dedication ceremony was held on May 26, 1929.

Mr. Clarence L. Knowlton was the builder, John M. Morgan Co. The building's eight impressive stained glass windows were fabricated by the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company of Columbus, Ohio.

During WWII the number of students at Northern plunged, dropping below 200 at one point. As one of a number of cost-saving measures, Presser Hall was closed; but the post-war enrollment crush provided funds to repair and reopen Presser Hall in 1947. To cope with the large number of students, several temporary housing facilities were created on campus. One, the "Vetsburg" trailer park, consisted of 22 trailers on Presser's south lawn.

In 1953, much of Presser was remodeled to serve as the home of Heterick Memorial Library. During the summer of 1953, the sloping floor and orchestra pit in Presser's auditorium were filled with soil over which a level concrete floor was poured. The stage was removed, and a steel-framed, three-floor book stack was erected in its place. The auditorium was used as a reading room while the stack area housed the library's collections. The former practice rooms behind the first-floor stacks were removed. That space was converted into offices and an area for processing incoming materials. Moving the approximately 30,000-volume collection started on August 17, 1953, and the new facility was ready for use that fall quarter. The following year, the Schoonover Language Laboratory was also installed.

This awkward situation existed until 1968, when the library was transferred to its present location. In 1972, a partial remodeling was undertaken and the language lab was moved to Dukes.

The next renovation, in 1985, finally turned Presser to its original function as a music facility. The recital hall, formerly the library's main reading room, still had a flat floor, an arrangement quite unsuitable for performances. The original stage and office area behind the stage had been converted to book stacks and then back to offices, with the stage omitted. Even part of the third floor had been given over to other uses. The speech and theater department had a small experimental theater there, the aptly named "Black Box."

All of these earlier alterations were swept away beginning in June 1985. In the recital hall, the flat floor was pulled out and the earth fill, added in 1953, removed. The stage was restored, new offices and individual practice rooms were built, and a large practice room was added to the rear of the building. Special care was taken to ensure that it blended with the original building, and it was constructed to accommodate two additional floors in the future. For decoration, the historical stained-glass windows from Lehr auditorium were removed and placed in the practice room. Despite the magnitude of the project, work was completed in under a year, and the renovated Presser Hall was dedicated on May 23, 1986. In February 1992, the recital hall was named in honor of Dorothy and Lowell Snyder in recognition of their long-standing support of Northern's music program.


Belch, Eugene. "Tempered by Crises." 1971. Online (2006). Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH.

Hubbart, Henry Clyde. Ohio Wesleyan's First Hundred Years. Delaware, OH: Ohio Wesleyan University, 1943.

Kennedy, Sara Lehr. H. S. Lehr and His School. Ada, OH: Ohio Northern University Press, 1983.
Online (2006).

Lehr, Henry Solomon. History of the ONU. Ada, OH: Ohio Northern University Press, 1994.
Online (2006).

Logsdon, Paul. An ONU Photo Album. 1997. Ohio Northern University, Ada, OH. Online (2006).

Osborne, Newell Yost. A Select School, the History of Mount Union College and an Account of a Unique Educational Experiment, Scio College. Alliance, OH: Mount Union College, 1967.

Yoder, Chris. "Theodore Presser, Educator, Publisher, Philanthropist: Selected Contributions to the Music Teaching Profession in America." D. E. M. E. thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1978.


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Last update: November 2006