After laying the cornerstone on May 17, 1870, Old Main came to represent the merging of North-Western College, which had just relocated from Plainfield, and the residents of Naperville. Old Main remains the oldest building on campus and one of the oldest buildings in the surrounding area.
With the community of Naperville and the faculty and students of the College present, Old Main was dedicated on Oct. 4, 1870, just as classes were beginning for the year. Initially, it consisted of the north wing and its bell tower, and a middle section. Over the years, Old Main received numerous renovations, including the addition of a south tower in 1892.
Old Main was once the location for all the classrooms, chapel, library, an auditorium, reception areas and some student housing on the top two floors of the north wing before any other buildings were erected on campus. The construction of this historical building, which cost $32,000 in 1870 under A.A. Smith’s presidency, was made possible through donations from members of the Naperville community.
The bell tower or north tower of Old Main is said to have been literally built around the bells, which have been rung during momentous and significant occasions, such as the German surrender during World War II. The bell system underwent a renovation in 2010 that included a new computer-controlled system in preparation for a performance of the national anthem on Veteran’s Day, Nov. 11.
After a fire on Sept. 5, 1997, in the south tower of Old Main delayed completion of renovations begun in 1995, President Harold R. Wilde reflected: “It’s about surviving as an institution that we can all be proud of—as would the conservative Evangelical Christians who founded this school 137 years ago.”
At 150 years, North Central College and its iconic Old Main (photo, left, fall 2011) still stand tall.