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Large-scale Renaissance revival buildings are rare in the Quad Cities, and Old Main is an important example of a style popular from the 1840s to the 1920s. Dedicated in 1889, the building was based on a similar structure at Sweden's University of Uppsala, the alma mater of many of the early Augustana family. A large central pediment (triangular shape about the roofline) that appears to be held up by four two-story tall pilasters (rectangular columns attached to the wall) dominates the beautifully planned main entrance. Smaller pediments flank the ends of the symmetrical structure whose walls move from heavily textured stones at ground level to smooth masonry walls at the second- and third-floor levels. Topping Old Main is a dome whose design derives from 16th-century Italian buildings. Note the balustrade or railing along the base, the columns separating tall, narrow windows, and the smaller cupola also held up by columns. Old Main's monumental symmetry visually dominates the central campus area.
Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, Old Main is considered the most notable building erected by Swedish immigrants in the U.S. Its primary construction material is buff colored dolomite limestone from quarries near LeClaire, Iowa, which also produced many of the building blocks for the historic factories of the Rock Island Arsenal. Cost of the building is estimated at $75,000, one-third of which was donated by one of the community's early commercial and industrial giants, Philander Lathrop Cable, whose obituary in the Rock Island Argus compared his relationship to the development of Rock Island with that of John Deere's to the City of Moline. Cable Hall, on the second floor of Old Main, was restored in 1983 to provide a glimpse of what a 19th-century classroom would look like.
The most striking feature of Old Main came to be included in the project as an afterthought. The dome was not part of initial plans as conceived by architects L.G. Hallberg of Chicago and E. S. Hammatt of Davenport, Iowa. Campus legend has it that while the structure is reminiscent of its Swedish roots to the roofline; beyond that, members of the building committee who considered themselves more American than Swedish demanded a dome. While Uppsala's main building boasts a crenellated octagonal tower, a dome was believed to be more reflective of American capitol buildings and country courthouses.
Above the Old Main east-facing door there is a stained glass window recalling the original layout of the structure, which included a chapel in its east wing.
Bergendoff, Conrad, Fritiof M. Fryxell, and C. W. Sorensen. Old Main, Augstana College. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1969.
Brolander, Glen E. An Historical Survey of the Augustana College Campus. Rock Island, IL: Augustana Historical Society, 1985.
Dober, Richard P. Campus Heritage. Ann Arbor, MI: Society for College and University Planning, 2005.
Historical Highlights of Augustana College, A Walking Tour. Pamphlet. Rock Island, IL: City of Rock Island Planning and Redevelopment Division, 2002.