Old Main in 1906. Construction began in 1887 and was completed in 1889.

“Tucson: A Drama in Time,” by John P. Warnock, professor emeritus of English at the University of Arizona, will soon be published, but it has its beginnings as a volume of the Journal of the Southwest.

We are publishing excerpts on the fourth Monday of the month.

The University of Arizona began classes Oct. 5, 1891. The Arizona Daily Star helped students find accommodations by sending out a plea for rooms and board. This tidbit is not in our excerpt, but you can find that and other PDFs with this article online at tucson.com/dramaintime

From Tucson: A Place-Making, Volume 58, Number 3, Autumn 2016, concerning the beginnings of the University of Arizona:


The University of Arizona is founded as a Morrill Act (1862) land-grant university. Six years later, it opens for classes. To promote the university for Tucson, Jacob Mansfeld had held an initial meeting in his stationer’s store. Pima County’s representative to the territorial legislature in Prescott, C.C. Stephens, had wanted to acquire the capital for Tucson. But by the time Tucson’s representatives were able to get to the legislative session in Prescott, Prescott and Yavapai County had nabbed that. Maricopa County had bagged the insane asylum and Normal School. Tucson lawyer Selim Franklin had then made a deft speech to the legislature on how the “Thieving Thirteenth” legislature might redeem itself by creating a university in Tucson. The bill to do so passes, on the condition that 40 acres be acquired for the purpose. Back in Tucson, and just in time to meet the deadline set by the legislature, Selim Franklin, Charles Strauss (then superintendent of public instruction for the territory), and Jacob Mansfeld convince three businessmen — E.C. Gifford, Ben C. Parker, and William S. Read — to donate the necessary land, which at the time lies in the empty desert some miles east of the town.


Construction of the UA’s “Old Main,” then known as “the University Building,” is begun, to be completed in 1889, by architect C. H. Creighton. The stone is local, but the lumber has to be shipped from San Diego. The money runs out before the roof is on, but the regents manage to get federal grants under the Hatch and Morrill Acts to complete the job. In 1972, the building then known as Old Main will be the first of the UA’s buildings to be put on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2014, it is completely renovated to become the offices of the new president of the university, Ann Weaver Hart.


UA’s first paid faculty member is Frank A. Gulley, a graduate of Michigan State Agricultural College. The first actual president of UA, Theodore Comstock, a mining engineer, takes office in 1894 and serves for only a year, being replaced by Howard Billman, who serves for two years.


UA classes begin with 32 students in two colleges, Agriculture and Mines. Most of the students are “preparatory.” Besides Frank Gulley, the faculty are Dr. Theodore Comstock, dean of mines; C. B. Collingwood, an agricultural chemist; J. W. Toumey, botany and entomology; and V. E. Stollbrand, professor of mathematics and irrigation. The cohort is joined later by H. J. Hall, instructor in English. The first head of the Agricultural Experiment Station is Robert Forbes. UA’s “library” is in the office of Professor Gulley in Old Main.

Contact Johanna Eubank at jeubank@tucson.com