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The second building on the campus is a legendary one and the one to which the greatest sentimental pride is attached. It is more than a building, it is a viable symbol of the determination of the community to build something from nothing and in the face of all possible odds.
Located in the geographic center of campus, Pershing Hall settles comfortably across the base of a natural coulee. Sturdy and unassuming, it imparts a sense of history along with that of quiet strength and durability.
The idea for the building arose from a set of difficult circumstances
brought on by the depression and the precarious position of the college.
As the idea grew it inspired greater ingenuity, cooperation, leadership,
and dedication than it is possible to imagine or to describe. Ultimately,
it inspired pride in accomplishment.
With the rapid growth of the college and the genuine need for additional classroom space, it was quite natural to think of salvaging building materials from Fort Assinniboine. The materials sold without remuneration to the college still rankled many community leaders. The grip of the depression made the purchase of new materials for a building impossible. Unskilled labor was plentiful as many were without work. Some funds were available through various relief programs. There was no source of money to pay for planning and architects, for hauling of material, or for skilled labor. Putting together all of these factors to construct a building was a tantalizing idea, but far from easy. Work once begun, would of necessity progress haltingly as sources of money would have to be wrung from then unknown sources and then only in small amounts. It was an imaginative plan. It could have been a dismal flop.
Dr. G.H. Vande Bogart, President of the College, and Earl J. Bronson, Secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, brought the plan for construction of a building before the Chamber of Commerce in March of 1933. The plan was to ask the Chamber to financially back "script" (or scrip) money to pay for bricklayers; to aid in lining up trucks and workers to haul brick from Fort Assinniboine; and to assist in getting relief funds for day laborers. On March 28, the Chamber Board authorized the issuance of $1,500 in scrip money. The scrip money was a piece of locally printed paper equivalent to $1.00 and backed for redemption at that amount by the Chamber of Commerce. The scrip was supplied to participating contractors to pay workers. Workmen could take their wages in scrip to local stores and purchase needed items. The scrip bore the date of issuance and the dates of each succeeding week to signify that an exchange had been made each week. Each time the scrip changed hands a three cent stamp was affixed to the back of it. When twenty five stamps had been affixed the scrip was then retired for face value. The scrip was to circulate for no more than 35 weeks, or until such time as it was retired or recalled by the Chamber.
The Chamber borrowed $600 to launch the first issuance of the scrip money on April 8, 1933. By January of 1934, and with most of the building complete, all but $32 worth of scrip had been reclaimed. Eventually every piece of scrip was returned. Records of how much actual cash the scrip generated were not kept and the total value is unknown.
The only money directly appropriated by the state for the building was $1,000 for the purchase of lime and cement. In 1961, the total cost of the building was listed at $33,090.78. That figure included allocations for remodeling of the building in the late 1950s.
F. F. Bossout, local architect and NMC Executive Board member, contributed his services to design the building. He took into account the natural land contours, the available materials along with the planned utilization of the building and skillfully interwove them into a practical, but utilitarian and easily constructed building. The overall dimensions were 100 by 80 feet. Adjoining wings flanked a curved central area 20 feet wide on either side. The curved area was designed to house the chemistry and physics laboratories, and the wings to provide entrances and three floors of classrooms. A curved open stage built into the back (west) of the building enhanced the plan for the outdoor amphitheater at the site.
Work began one Sunday in February of 1933 with the hauling of 200,000 bricks from Fort Assinniboine using donated trucks and volunteer labor. In addition to brick, sandstone portals, slate, timbers, flooring, and plumbing and heating equipment came from the Fort. Gravel for the mortar was donated by the City of Havre from its gravel pits.
Skilled labor was paid by scrip and unskilled labor by relief funds. Some labor was purely voluntary. Men caught up in the spirit of the effort showed up for work on their days off, proudly contributing their time as the only thing they could afford to donate to the cause.
Work progressed in spurts, moving rapidly when money was available and stopping when it ran out. A few days delay would ensue while money was squeezed from some source, then work would resume until that ran out. All possible sources seemed exhausted in September of 1933. A work stoppage seemed inevitable. NMC students rallied to the cause putting on a parade and program followed by a fund drive. Students collected $1,300 to sustain construction for a few more weeks.
In November the money ran out and the building suffered its longest delay. More relief funds became available later in the month and during the Thanksgiving holiday the chemistry and physics laboratories were moved into the unfinished building. In January of 1934 the building was completely occupied. A housewarming was held on June 5, 1934.
The first on campus graduation ceremony was held on the stage at the back of Pershing Hall that spring. Plays, musical events and graduation exercises were held on the stage of the "Greek Theatre" as it was euphemistically called at various times, but wind and weather limited its use. In 1953 the stage area was enclosed to make room for the biology laboratories and preparation areas. The building underwent minor remodeling as classroom use was changed.
The chemistry and biology labs were converted to music rooms in 1969 after the occupation of the Hagener Science Center. The ground floor was converted into art instruction and classrooms with an accompanying gallery. Third floor classrooms were converted into music practice rooms.
The name for the building was suggested shortly after construction began. It was chosen because it imparted a sense of history and tradition and drew attention to the association between the college and Fort Assinniboine.
Lieutenant John J. Pershing had been assigned to short term duty at Fort Assinniboine early in his military career. The lieutenant rose to the rank of General and became well known as the Commander in Chief of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe during World War I. Some concern over the use of Pershing's name was relieved when he wrote indicating his pleasure at having the building named for him.
Engleman ivy was donated by the members of the local Daughters of the American Revolution Chapter to decorate the walls of the building. The ivy, too, carried symbolic reference to institutions of higher learning. Much of the ivy was destroyed in a subsequent remodeling of the building, but some remnants still exist on the north and west rear wall.
Furnishings for the building were either moved from the high school quarters or built from materials salvaged from the Fort. Few were newly purchased. Slate for the top of the chemistry tables was reclaimed from the Fort. It had been freighted up the Missouri River in steamboats in the late 1800s. These tables were moved into the Math Science Building in 1968 to supply two laboratories. Their durability could not be matched by modern products.
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