On a chilly Thanksgiving Day in 1912, several thousand people gathered on a hill six miles from downtown Dallas. They had traveled by car and chartered train to celebrate the laying of the cornerstone of Dallas Hall, an event The Dallas Morning News described as “a day of jubilation.”
SMU celebrated the centennial of the laying of the Dallas Hall cornerstone Nov. 28, 2012, at a ceremony for the Dallas Hall Society in the Rotunda of Dallas Hall. The Dallas Hall Society recognizes those who contribute to SMU’s future through planned gifts.
In a 30-day countdown that began Homecoming weekend, alumni, students, faculty and staff signed giant Dallas Hall birthday cards and enjoyed birthday cupcakes.
For nearly 100 years, SMU’s elegant first building has served as a symbol of the University, a standard of its classic collegiate Georgian style, home to intellectual discourse for generations of students, and center of SMU’s liberal arts tradition, now Dedman College. Named in honor of the Dallas citizens whose contributions funded the building, Dallas Hall also serves as a symbol of the close relationship the University shares with the city.
Darwin Payne, SMU journalism professor emeritus and noted historian of Dallas, wrote and presented a brief history of Dallas Hall and its place in SMU’s founding at the anniversary celebration, excerpted below:
[A] Southwestern University professor had asked [SMU’s first president, Robert Stewart] Hyer if he truly thought the Methodist church could build a “real” university in Dallas. Hyer had answered: “Yes, but it will just about kill the man who does it. Nevertheless, I am willing to try. I know my limitations—I am not a money raiser. I also know my qualifications. I know how to select a faculty, and a great faculty makes a great school. Therefore, if the money is provided, I believe I can do the job.”
Precious few of the young students who arrived in 1915 for the beginning of classes – numbering 706 by the end of the first academic year – had ever seen such a building with such massive columns, its beautiful dome, and classic proportions. Their letters home and the oral histories they later gave provide unmistakable evidence of its tremendous impact.
It was a grand time, too, for SMU and for Dallas Hall and for the city of Dallas. So much excitement. So much promise. So much to do. And so much accomplished since then in these hundred years in a campus that now has more than a hundred buildings. But Dallas Hall, as we can see, is as beautiful and inspiring as it was then! It stands as a remarkable testament to the wisdom and forward-thinking of President Hyer, trustees, architects, and many others.
Written by Nancy George