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The campus site is part of the Loess Hills of this mid-west region. The original site was virgin prairie covered with briars, hence the name "Briar Cliff." A flat area was created to establish the original buildings while conserving the hilltop configuration. The view from the campus provides a panorama of Sioux City and has an elevation equal to other sites and hills in the region. This site was originally on the edge of the city, and still seems so, when the Diocese of Sioux City deeded the land to the Sisters of Saint Francis of Dubuque to build a college for women.
Originally, dirt roads and wooden steps provided access to the top of the "cliff"; today winding roads and terraced steps provide the pathway to the top. The placement of campus on an elevated site allows the atmosphere to remain private while preserving its border with the natural prairie preserve. The positioning of buildings and fields has conformed to the campus' irregular configuration, giving it a very similar feel to Italian hilltop structures. This site has challenged many architects as they planned new structures over the years. The use of the land today admits an intimate campus space and demonstrates, through past wisdom, the need to build with the site rather than ignore its integrity.
The beauty of the campus represents one of the aspects of Franciscan tradition, which invites reverence and care for nature and one another.
Architectural and landscape master plan collection. Archives, Bishop Mueller Library, Briar Cliff University, Sioux City, IA.