The Old University of Chicago

Old University of Chicago circa 1859
Old University of Chicago

In 1856, the Old University of Chicago was established on a ten-acre tract of land at 34th Street and Cottage Grove Avenue donated by Senator Stephen A. Douglas. University trustees named the main building Douglas Hall in his honor. The school was constantly plagued by financial difficulties and was forced to close in 1886.

Lithograph of Old University of Chicago
Artist rendering of Douglas Hall

This lithograph was a gift to the University of Chicago Library from Cecilia Cooper.

photographic copy of drawing of Camp Douglas next to Old University
Old University of Chicago, with Camp Douglas ca. 1861

Drawing (photograph copy) of the Old University of Chicago's campus with Camp Douglas in the background. Camp Douglas, one of the most brutal of all northern Civil War prisons, stood south of Chicago on land donated by the family of Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas. The bodies of an estimated 6,000 prisoners who died in the camp are interned in a trenched grave Oak Woods Cemetery, the largest Confederate gravesite outside of the South. The prison camp was in operation concurrently with the University.

photograph of Stephen A. Douglas' home
Home of Stephen A. Douglas

The 10 acres of land that Stephen A. Douglas donated for a new Baptist University in Chicago was adjacent to his home. The arrangement was equally beneficial as the Baptist received a land grant worth an estimated $1.2 million in today's terms and Douglas was able to increase the value of his estate. Alumni of the Old University reported that "he was a frequent visitor to campus, knew many of the students by name and was often seen with a cluster of them about him on the college steps." (University of Chicago. University record. Volume 6. [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1902], 5).

Douglas Hall, partially demolished
Old University of Chicago, demolished, 1890

When work began to reincorporate the University of Chicago, the founders decided to to move the University to Hyde Park. Many alumni and some trustees wished to buy back the original property, which had been seized by creditors. When Marshall Field offered to sell land at a discount, the decision was made to locate the University further south.

Old University building, demolished
Old University of Chicago, demolished, 1890

When the original building was demolished, stones from the original building were saved by alumni. Later, alums E.A. Buzzell and C.N. Koenitzer gifted stones in their possession to the new University decades later. These stones have been incorporated into the architecture of the existing campus (see "Old University on campus").