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The Administration Building is an irregular, T-shaped structure with a southern exposure. The stem of the T faces north. Outside walls are made of rough-faced native stone laid in uniform horizontal courses, which alternate vertically between wide and narrow. The stone lengths are random. The first floor is raised and marked around the perimeter by a smooth stone belt line.
For its construction, "Architectural barnstormers" William T. Proudfoot and George W. Bird modified the plans of the Varney Brothers, a Newton, Kansas firm, and designed a building in the "Richardsonian Romanesque" style. Construction began in early 1888, and the basement was completed by the end of summer. The empty basement stood nearly abandoned on the prairie through 1889, and Bethel's board of directors scaled back the building plans, eliminating a spire and fourth story. Financial difficulties brought a cessation to construction. Detractors, making fun of the unfinished building, spoke of the Denkmal echt Mennonitischer Dummheit (monument to Mennonite stupidity). Building operations were resumed in 1890, and by December, 1890, the walls were completed to the window sills of the second story. Contracts for the carpentry and the tin work were secured in January, 1892, and the masonry work was completed in May, 1892. Although the interior was far from completed, the building was dedicated on September 20, 1893, so that classes could begin. Enrollment at the time was 60 students. The building was completed soon afterwards at a total cost of $37,000. The school continued as an academy and Bible school until 1912, when the first Bachelor of Arts degrees were granted.
The building has housed the president, students, and college library. Classrooms and offices have remained the primary uses of the building, and the chapel with stained glass windows and pipe organ provides a focus for religious life on campus. The building is the major symbol of Bethel College. It is also a significant landmark in the history of Mennonite higher education, for Bethel College is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Architectural drawings collection of the Bethel College Administration Building. Archives of the Mennonite Library, Bethel College, North Newton, KS.
Kansas Country Living (July 1987).
Pankratz, Richard. Bethel College [KS] Administration Building. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1971.
Zerger, Brent J. "Bethel College Administration Building: Proudfoot and Bird's Expression in Richardsonian Romanesque." Mennonite Life (September 1987).