On Friday the Department of History received the alarming news that we might be moving from Merrifield Hall. The Department of History has been in Merrifield Hall since its opening in 1929 -- one year shy of 80 years -- so this move will certainly mark a significant break with the past. While it remains difficult to determine whether this plan will actually come to fruition and whether it will be a positive or a negative thing for the Department of History, it does provide a chance to reflect on the history of Merrifield Hall.
Merrifield Hall was the last campus building constructed before the Great Depression. It was the last building completed in the great building boom at the University in the 1920s which included the Armory, the Stadium, and the Chemistry Building. These buildings shared the red-brick style of earlier campus buildings and made the College Gothic style, detected in Budge Hall (1899) and Woodworth Hall, more prominent.
The name of the building, Merrifield Hall, was transferred from Old Merrifield Hall. This building, constructed in the first years of the University, was the original "Old Main" before being renamed Merrifield Hall by President McVey in 1912 to honor former UND President and Classicist Webster Merrifield. By 1924, Old Merrifield Hall had begun to fall down owing to its poorly constructed foundations (a common occurrence in the soft soils of the Red River Valley). After a few years of lobbying, the legislature approved $225,000 in 1927. This amount, however, was not sufficient to construct the entire building according to the plans drawn up by renowned architect Joseph Bell DeRemer and the estimated price of $350,000 provided by the contractors. They began to build, nevertheless, and the final $161,000 necessary for the building's completion was appropriated by the legislature in 1929. (L. Geiger, University of the Northern Plains. (Grand Forks 1958), 340). The completed building brought together the College Gothic style with the emerging art deco touches which would come to mark DeRemer's later work (e.g. the North Dakota State Capitol (1932) and the United Lutheran Church in Grand Forks).
Geiger credits Vernon Squires, the Professor of English and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts from 1914-1930, as the driving force behind the construction of Merrifield Hall (346). By all accounts Squires was a difficult individual, but he most concur that he was "one of the University's strongest exponents of old-fashioned standards of public decorum and moral integrity and one of its most vigorous guardians of academic standards in the classroom for both faculty and students." (346). In some ways, Merrifield Hall became Squires "memorial on campus" and stood to remind future generations of traditional core values of the institution, alongside his invaluable efforts to narrate and preserve the early history of the University (V. P. Squires, “Early Days at the University,” The Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota 18.1 (1927), 4-15; --, “The University of North Dakota, 1885-1887,” The Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota 18.2 (1928), 105-118; --, “President Sprague’s Administration, 1887-1891,” The Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota 18.3 (1928), 201-230; --, “The First Quadrennium Under President Merrifield,” The Quarterly Journal of the University of North Dakota 18.4 (1928), 313-344;), .