Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Steensland Hall

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Institution Name: St. Olaf College
Original/Historic Place Name: Steensland Library
Location on Campus: 1520 St. Olaf Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1900-1902original construction Omeyer & Thori
Designer: Omeyer & Thori
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Beaux-Arts classicism (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: limestone
Walls: brick with cut stone and molded brick trim
Roof: hipped roof with copper sheeting
1942-1976other (center for various student activities including St. Olaf Choir rehearsals, recitals, and student publications)
1976-2002museum (Steensland Art Gallery)
2002-present (2006)classrooms

Steensland Hall (originally Steensland Library) was built as the college's second academic building. It is the third oldest surviving building, following Old Main (1877-78) and the original president's house (1900-01). No building has served as many different purposes at St. Olaf than Steensland Hall, despite its diminutive size. In the early 20th century, it formed an academic triangle with the Main and Hoyme Chapel (constructed 1906, destroyed by fire 1923). This "academic village" provided an intimate environment for learning. The three buildings symbolically expressed the college's intentions of fostering the development of mind, body, and spirit. The construction of this superbly proportioned Greek revival library, with its Palladian porch, Ionic columns, central dome, and guardian owls was an expression of St. Olaf's liberal arts ideals. The faculty also expressed the institution's spiritual aims in voting to inscribe the words of 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to the left of the door: "Prove all things. Hold fast that which is good."

The green space bounded by these buildings was also the most frequent place for outside community gatherings, including alumni reunions, in the early 20th century. Although the campus has expanded enormously since then, something of its early intimacy can still be felt in the vicinity of Old Main and Steensland, which are physically adjacent, and which largely present the same external physical appearance. Whether this intimacy will still be felt in the future, after a large, modern science facility is constructed to their south, along a brow of the same promontory of Manitou Heights, is unclear; however, plans do call for eliminating the current parking space that covers the old green and restoring it as a "mall."

Steensland Library was the first building at St. Olaf named for an individual. Halle Steensland (1832-1910) was a Norwegian-American businessman and the regional consul for the Swedish regime to which Norway was constitutionally united until 1905. Steensland offered a considerable sum of money to the United Norwegian Lutheran Church's seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota to build a library. When the seminary declined to accept such a restricted donation, Steensland approached St. Olaf President John N. Kildahl (1857-1920), who was happy to accept it for the stated purpose. The existing library room in the Main had long been inadequate.


Bloomberg, Britta. Steensland Library--St. Olaf College. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/ National Park Service, 1976.

DeKrey, Gary, Jeff Sauve, et. al. "Steensland Hall: 100 Years of Distinguished Service." Online (2006).

Shaw, Joseph M. Dear Old Hill: The Story of Manitou Heights, The Campus of St. Olaf College. Northfield, MN: St. Olaf College, 1992.


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Last update: November 2006