The beginning of A&M

For the first 10 years of the Agriculture and Mechanical College’s existence, the principal structures on more than 2,416 acres of land were two buildings, Main Building and the mess hall, and approximately five houses for faculty. Gov. Richard Coke stood on the steps of the Main Building on Oct. 4, 1876 – the first day of classes – and said:

“In time these halls will become classic and the strong men of Texas, the men who will control the destinies of the State and direct her government, and her material development; men from the farm, the shop, the counter, the bench, the senate and the forum, who have been prepared for life’s great struggle here, will, after we have been gathered to our fathers, meet in these halls and with grateful hearts amid the scenes and struggles of their youth, in poetry and song, an in silvery eloquence, chant the praises of their Alma Mater.”

The Main Building, or “Old Main,” was completed in 1875, making it the first building and center of campus. The four floors of Old Main held the library, faculty offices, classrooms, chapel and housing for the students, according to A Centennial History of Texas A&M University, 1876-1976 by Henry Dethloff. Two rooms were reserved as a campus hospital. It also housed all the original records and documents.

The surrounding structures developed around Old Main and faced the makeshift courtyard used as a drill field, now called Academic Plaza. On May 27, 1911, fire destroyed the building, leaving only the bricked exterior. The Academic Building was built in 1914 on the same site. Old Main, as the Academic Building is today, was oriented with the front facing west, toward the train depot. The progression of new buildings revolved around this central site through the 1930s.

Ross era

Up until Gov. Lawrence Sullivan Ross was appointed A&M president in 1891, the college struggled. State lawmakers were resistant to divert a portion of the Permanent University Fund to A&M, all of it going to the University of Texas, according to A Centennial History.

The campus administrators and faculty in the early years were also struggling to gain public support. The faculty and students did all the manual labor in agriculture and engineering, which in turn provided an outlet for students to learn through application. Enrollment decreased by 10 percent as many students disagreed with the curriculum, treating them more like free labor, according to Texas A&M: The First 25 years by Lyman Hardeman. There was a plan championed by the Galveston Daily News about converting the campus to an insane asylum, according to A Centennial History.

Ross, a former military leader and popular governor, steered the campus and was able to procure state funds that had eluded past presidents. Parents were eager to send their sons to A&M to become men under the tutelage of a “soldier, statesman and knightly gentleman,” as inscribed on Ross’ statue in front of the Academic Building.

Ross is still regarded as one of the most notable presidents in A&M history. However, none of the buildings from Ross’ term as president stand today. The last landmark from the Ross era was the president’s house. The house was destroyed in a fire in 1963 while A&M’s other most notable president, James Earl Rudder, and his family were living there.

The funding Ross acquired was mostly applied to campus infrastructure, bringing the modern amenities of the time to campus: Electricity-powered lights, bathhouses, power plant and artesian wells for running water. Other buildings included a dormitory called Ross Hall, a natatorium, gymnasium, infirmary, a bigger mess hall, shops and work spaces for the academic departments.

The 20th Century and Giesecke

Fredrich E. Giesecke graduated from A&M in 1886 at 17 years old, with a degree in mechanical engineering. He was made head of the department of mechanical drawing at age 19, according to A Centennial History. He later earned his architecture degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The architecture program was officially established as a department in 1905, according to the College of Architecture, with Giesecke at its helm. As head of the program he designed many notable buildings on campus that are still used today, such as Nagle Hall, Sbisa and the Academic Building. Up until the 1940s, the architecture faculty was responsible for designing new buildings. Giesecke left in 1912 to head the new architecture department at the University of Texas.

Campus growth in the 20th century occurred in phases, which is evident in its architecture style and layout. As enrollment increased, funding and construction of residence halls could not keep pace, so overflow students were living in tents by 1906 until 1918. There was enough dormitory space for 408 students in 1903.

The first new dorm in the 20th century was Goodwin Hall, built in 1908. A&M President Robert Milner had 243 tents for 486 cadets constructed with wooden floors and three wooden walls, the rest of the material being canvas, according to Keepers of the Spirit by John A. Adams Jr. The tents were along Old Main Drive, where the Interdisciplinary Life Science Building is now, across from Simpson Drill Field.

Before World War I

Between the early 1900s and the United States’ entry into World War I in 1917, campus expanded to include dormitories and buildings dedicated to the use of a particular school or department. Those still standing include Legett Hall, Milner Hall, Bolton Hall and the YMCA Building.

The college and its students developed a stronger sense of identity during the first couple of decades of the 20th century. Athletics gained prominence as more than a form of entertainment. School colors had gone from red and white to maroon and white during the late 1920s. The team name and mascot had gone from being the farmers to the Aggies. The Corps of Cadets even traded in its West Point-style uniforms for one that more resembled the Army's and Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders.

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program was officially created when Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916. A&M College was the place to go for an education and military training before enlisting.

World War I (1917) through the 1930s

Campus expanded from 1920 to 1940 at the rate of two buildings a year on average. During the war, the campus served as a training camp for soldiers in the U.S. Army. The Great Depression, which lasted through the 1930s, did not stop campus development. If anything, the Depression prompted the creation of project or co-op houses for students to pool their personal resources and save money. Some of the campus buildings still in use today are the Pavilion, Bizzell Hall, and Psychology Building and the Military Science Building (aka Trigon). Kyle Field's first deck was built in 1927 and 1929.

In 1927, Giesecke returned to A&M to take over as campus architect and head of the architecture department. In 1929, he shifted his administrative duties to director of the Engineering Experiment Station, according to The First Fifty Years of Architectural Education by Ernest Langford. Giesecke continued as campus architect until the late 1930s. Langford, class of 1913, was a professor when he took over as head of the department after Giesecke.

Samuel Charles Phelps Vosper followed Giesecke from the University of Texas to be a “chief designer for the College Architect’s Office,” according to the Texas State Historical Association. Vosper’s work is evident in several buildings’ ornamentation and details that depict the basis on which A&M was founded — a land-grant college to focus on agricultural and mechanical studies.

The Animal Industries Building has stone casts of cattle skulls and cornucopias, and cattle brands can be deciphered in the cast metal entryway. Vosper was enthusiastic about Texas history, Mexican-American art and Spanish architecture, which is evident in many campus buildings of the late 1920s to early 1930s. The Chemistry Building’s (1929) interior color schemes and tile patterns depicts this influence.

1939 & 1940s

Vosper left A&M in 1933, and Giesecke retired before World War II. It was the end of an era for campus architecture and focus shifted to efficiency and the war efforts. The next phase in the campus master plan was dormitories. A&M again trained the U.S. military in vocational skills and commissioned more officers than any other college or service academy.

In 1939, 12 dormitories and a dining hall were built for the Corps of Cadets. The layout forms symmetrical quadrangles, thus the location of the corps dorms is commonly referred to as the Quad. Alfred C. Finn, a Houston commercial architect, designed them. Duncan Dining Hall, also built in 1939, anchors the south end of the Quadrangles. It is named after William Adam Duncan.


After WWII, enrollment changed as well as building materials and architecture. Veterans returning to school and graduate students were offered exemption from military training, cultivating a non-corps student population.

Architects were typically former students or Bryan residents. Fossilized limestone, brick and cement were the exterior building materials of choice. Some early buildings from Ross’ time, such as Ross and Foster Halls, were demolished.

During Gen. James Earl Rudder’s term as 16th president of A&M were allowed to apply for enrollment and the college changed its name. The Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas became Texas A&M University.

With an immediate influx of students, more buildings became a necessity. Student enrollment doubled from 1960 to 1969, according to Keepers of the Spirit. Certain principles of campus design were discarded because of the rapid expansion.

The Civil Engineering Building and Halbouty were built in the 1930s, but the College of Engineering district or corner of campus did not begin to take shape until the 1960s.

1970s – 1980s

Change from the 1960s was enforced in the 1970s. Admission for women in 1963 was limited to wives and daughters of current students, faculty and staff. Admission was completely opened in 1971, doubling enrollment from 10 years before. Campus housing was made available to women in 1972.

There was an aggressive development of west campus in 1982, with at least four major buildings in two years: Rosenthal Meat Science and Technology Center, Wisenbaker Engineering Research Center, Reynolds Medical Sciences Building and Horticulture & Forest Science Building.

Research Park on west campus was established that year as well. The 400-acre “park” currently consists of 11 buildings for use by organizations, companies and the university. Organizations and companies are able to collaborate with academic departments and benefit from the proximity of the university. Research developed on the A&M campus is being applied all over the world.


West Campus development continued through the 1990s. Sights were set on new and bigger athletic facilities. Reed Arena, and the Student Recreation Center and Natatorium were constructed and Kyle Field underwent an expansion and renovation. Artificial turf, installed in the early 1970s, was replaced with natural grass in 1996. The Zone on the north end was built up to include club seating and a sports museum.

George H.W. Bush’s presidential library and museum opened in 1997. The three building complex — the library, conference center and academic building for the Bush School of Government and Public Service — was constructed in Research Park.

The same year the presidential library was dedicated, A&M President Ray Bowen launched Vision 2020, a plan to make A&M one of the top 10 public universities by 2020. Part of the plan involved new academic facilities that addressed an aesthetics issue since the 1960s.

Enrollment was up to approximately 45,000, compared to the 7,500 four decades earlier. The campus master plan, a comprehensive study and long-term goals to plan the campus growth, focused on building architecture, orientation, landscape architecture and parking on both the main and west campuses.

The 21st Century

According to the Campus Master Plan published in 2004, sustainability was a key point in architectural principles in future buildings and renovations. A&M president Bowen Loftin announced the results of a halfway point study of Vision 2020 at the September 2011 Academic Convocation. A&M had moved up three spots in the U.S. News & World Report rankings of public universities.

In May 2013, A&M system and university officials announced its plans and design for a $405 million-renovation of Kyle Field, making it the largest football stadium in the Southeaster Conference by 2015. G. Rollie White Coliseum was demolished in August, coinciding with the opening of the university's largest residence hall, Hullabaloo.

-- Compiled by Claire Heathman

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