Restoring Main Hall

Old Main's Restoration

In the spring of 1976, a physical plant employee found a deteriorating and bulging pillar in the basement of the original part of Main Hall.1 It was the first serious sign of decay in the 92-year-old building – and a wake-up call for Cottey officials. Additional support was built around the damaged pillar, and the Cottey Board of Trustees asked architects and engineers to assess Main as a whole. The consultants reported that the building could continue to be used in the short term, but if they wished to preserve it, restoration would need to begin as soon as possible.

In 1977, the Board hired the firm of Horner, Blessing and Associates to perform a feasibility study on renovating or replacing Main Hall.2 The firm recommended restoring Old Main for $2.7 million, which would cost about 25% less than a new building of comparable size. The renovation project was approved at the 1979 convention of the International Chapter of the P.E.O.3 The Board then turned to the matter of money.

In 1979, P.E.O. proposed raising the Cottey assessment (the amount of money P.E.O.s give to the college each year) to $6.2 The Cottey assessment had not been changed since 1968. The increase was necessitated by inflation and the growing needs of the college – including the preservation of Main Hall. At last it was decided that the Cottey assessment would pay for $1 million of the project, while the other $1.7 million would be taken out of the Cottey Building Fund.4

Main Hall closed for renovation, 1980
Main Hall is closed for renovation, 1980.10
PEOs inspect Main Hall construction, 1980
Dr. Milam & International Chapter execs. inspect Main Hall, 1980.9 (Joan Bradshaw, Lilas Brandhorst, Lucille Smith, Evelyn Milam, Lillian Corley, Marjorie Smith.)
Main Hall renovation, 1981
Work on Old Main continues, 1981.3

The renovation of Main Hall involved completely gutting the building and demolishing the corridor between it and Rosemary Hall.5 Only the exterior facade and select interior architectural elements were preserved. Cottey personnel vacated Main Hall in June of 1980, moving their offices to a temporary building on the tennis court behind Rosemary and Neale halls. Groundbreaking for the remodel took place immediately following Commencement on May 18th, 1980.

Main’s interior floorplan was almost completely rearranged. On the second floor, new soundproof and air-conditioned studios and practice rooms were built for the music department. Classrooms and faculty offices were installed in the southern wing of the same floor. (In 1979, the conversion of the one large classroom in the Academic Building into an inorganic chemistry lab had created room shortages.) Administrative offices comprised most of the first floor, as well as the Student Bank and a conference room.6 The basement, including the old dining room, was remodeled to house the Cottey Bookstore (moved over from Hinkhouse), student organization offices, and the Service Center and Mail Room. The original dining room pillars, which had previously been covered, were exposed and preserved.3

Gutted Main Hall, 1981
All three stories of Main Hall are visible after the building is completely gutted, 1981.3
Gutted dining room in Main Hall, 1981
The old Main dining room is remodeled, 1981. These original pillars were preserved.3
Steel beams installed in Main Hall, 1981
Steel beams are installed in Main, 1981.3

Despite the many changes, Main’s entrance hall, parlor, and circular staircases remained essentially the same.5 The front doors’ beveled glass windows were saved, newly etched with the wallpaper pattern of the original building – a gift from the architects.6 Many of Main’s chandeliers were reinstalled in the entrance and parlor, and the original fireplace was preserved as well. Like the rest of Main, the hall and parlor had new carpet, tile, draperies, and wall coverings. Most of the original woodwork and the two circular staircases were repaired. The staircases, originally built in 1906, were reconstructed with fewer stairs, but retained their newel posts.

The finishing touches of the remodel are some of the most notable features. Cottey’s old class bell was put on display in one of the staircase towers.6 The other towers featured stained glass hangings that were found during the restoration and thought to be part of the original building. Externally, broken pieces of the building’s iron grillwork were replaced by the company that installed the original pieces. Similarly, the front porch’s tin ceiling was replaced with one of the same design by the W.F. Norman Sheet Metal Manufacturing Company. The entire renovation was finished by August of 1981, and then it was time to plan the rededication.

Main entrance hall, c. 1938
Main entrance hall before renovation, c. 1938.11
Main Hall entrance after renovation, c. 1982
The entrance hall after renovation, c. 1982.6 The door's windows and the clock were from the original building.
Main Hall parlor, c. 1938
Main Hall parlor before renovation, c. 1938.11
Main Hall parlor after renovation, c. 1982
Main Hall parlor after renovation, c. 1982.6 The chandeliers and fireplace were preserved.


It just so happened that the 1981 convention of the International Chapter was to be held in Kansas City. This was a great chance for P.E.O.s to see Cottey’s campus, so Main Hall’s rededication ceremony was scheduled for October 1st and placed on the convention’s list of events.3 More than 1,500 P.E.O.s were expected to attend. Cottey alumnae and other guests were invited as well.

October 1st was a busy day for Cottey and Nevada. More than 2,500 people arrived at the college that morning – among them, 35 buses full of P.E.O.s.7 The pride of Nevadans was self-evident. An article printed the following day in the Kansas City Times stated:

    A man standing on a Nevada street corner held a sign reading “Welcome P.E.O. Sisterhood” and waved as the buses passed. That same message was repeated on small billboards all over town.
    "Is this a big day for us?" a too-busy-to-talk policeman echoed as he motioned for tractor trailers and cars to stop for pedestrians at the intersection in town which is in the center of the campus.
    "All I know is I can't remember the last time I had to direct traffic.

The chartered P.E.O. buses drove down from the Kansas City convention. Missouri P.E.O.s were stationed on each bus to point out interesting places and answer questions about Cottey.3 The buses stopped in front of the residence halls, where Cottey students were waiting to take the visitors on a tour of campus. At noon, box lunches were served under a large striped tent and eaten around the grounds.7

The rededication ceremony began at 2:00 on the front lawn of Main Hall. 7 Speakers included Cottey President Dr. Evelyn Milam, President of P.E.O. International Chapter Lilas Brandhorst, and Cottey Board Chairperson Marguerite Smith. Minister William C. Cox gave a dedicatory prayer, and the Cottey Choir sang. The ribbon was cut by president of the Cottey Alumnae Association, Lenice Greenstreet Snyder, officially reopening Main Hall. In a final gesture of Cottey pride, the entire audience, spread out over the Main lawn and across the street, sang the Alma Mater.

More Photos

Main Hall rededication, 1981
Rededication ceremony, 1981.7
PEOs arrive at Cottey, 1981
The PEO buses arrive on campus. Lunch is served under the tent at center, 1981.7
Main Hall rededication ceremony, 1981
Dr. Milam speaks during the rededication ceremony, 1981.7 (Note the tin ceiling.)
Cutting the ribbon at the rededication, 1981
The cutting of the ribbon, 1981.7 (M.J. Hillman, Irene Snell, Marjorie Smith, Lenice Snyder, Margaret Shoemaker.)
Main Hall parlor after renovation, c. 1982
Main Hall parlor after renovation, c. 1982.6 (With portrait of V.A.C. Stockard.)
A classroom in Main Hall after renovation, c. 1982
One of the new classrooms in Main, c. 1982.6 It could be used as one large classroom or divided into four smaller classrooms.

Works Cited:

  1. Milam, Dr. Evelyn. “The Future of Cottey’s Main Hall.” The P.E.O. Record. May 1979: 11-13.
  2. “Proposed Constitutional Change to Increase Cottey Income.” The P.E.O. Record. June 1979: 16-17.
  3. “Cottey Tour and Rededication... a day to remember.” The P.E.O. Record. Aug. 1981: 2-5.
  4. “Report of Board of Trustees of Cottey College.” The P.E.O. Record. Nov./Dec. 1981: 35-36.
  5. Milam, Dr. Evelyn. “Main Hall – Pride of Cottey.” The P.E.O. Record. June 1980: 6-8.
  6. Maxwell, Kim. “Completed: Main Hall Renovation.” The P.E.O. Record. Jan. 1982: 2-4.
  7. “Diary of a Convention.” The P.E.O. Record. Nov./Dec. 1981: 23-25.
  8. Truitt, Rosalind C. “Cottey College still proving women’s education is not a ‘frill.” Kansas City Times. 2 Oct. 1981. Reprinted in The P.E.O. Record. Nov./Dec. 1981: 27-30.
  9. Smith, Marjorie W. “Only 13 Muscles to Smile!” The P.E.O. Record. Nov./Dec. 1980: 1.
  10. Maxwell, Kim. “Cottey’s Symbol for the Future.” The P.E.O. Record. Oct. 1980:6-7.
  11. Stockard, Dr. Orpha. "Cottey College Interiors." The P.E.O. Record. Apr. 1938: 5-7.
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