Wilson Hall, then and now

As campus continues to expand, TLR remembers another time when Southeastern was booming just as much. The G.I. Bill had allowed World War II Veterans to receive a quality college education and in the summer of 1960, bids for building three new buildings began. Among the three proposed was Wilson Hall. Now a demolished building, Wilson Hall was once a purposeful asset to Southeastern and Tangipahoa Parish.

Walk down N. Oak Street and you’ll notice a lot of construction going on around campus. The War Memorial Student Union Park is the forefront of what will soon be the beating heart of Southeastern. The new addition to the Student Union is projected to be complete in 2014, with a sleek, modern design and new food options, but other developments are happening around campus as well.

There are new light fixtures being added all over campus, trees are being planted by the Physical Plant and Friendship Circle was just repaved and painted this summer. Another time campus was expanding this much was during the summer of 1960. President Gladney Jack Tinsley added the Agriculture Department in the 1950s and President Luther Dyson oversaw the building of its official home, Wilson Hall a decade later.

Now, however, amidst the excitement of growth is the destruction of a piece of Southeastern history. Wilson Hall has been overlooked for years and this summer it was demolished to make room for Southeastern’s fast-moving population. Constantly towered over by the Union and living in the shadows of Fayard Hall, the forgotten building was torn down along with many memories of a simpler time.

Facility Planning Director Kenneth Howe says Wilson Hall’s composition plan was not practical and renovating it would be a costly venture.

“Between the major maintenance issues with the roof, the antiquity of the building and the equipment in it, it’s just [with] the size of the building,” Howe said. “It would cost so much to renovate it for the size of the building. It’s just not practical.”

Inside the 52 year old building was pasturing equipment used in dairy science classes. Retired history professor, and Southeastern’s 940th student, C. Howard Nicholls fondly remembers how the Louisiana dairy industry and Southeastern’s agriculture department were finely intertwined. The department’s work also provided campus with milk and ice cream for campus dining.

“The dairy industry was a big thing in this parish in the 40s and 50s,” Nicholls said. “So the dairy science program was very meaningful because it was helping young men and young women, whose families’ had dairy farms learn a lot about the business.”

Reasons for building Wilson Hall came from demand for space. Formerly known as Southeastern Louisiana College, the school received an influx of male students after World War II initiated the G.I. Bill. Military barracks were placed near where Fayard Hall is now and in other various places, so there was more housing and classroom buildings. Then, D. Vickers Hall was built moving the original creamery out. Nicholls said of campus at the time, “I lived in Barracks II. That part of campus wasn’t developed, except for the creamery. That’s where the cows were. So it was really in the country.” Students knew that area of campus as the “country club.” Wardline Road divided Hammond between the sixth and seventh wards and in this area is where cows and livestock were raised.

Nicholls is also a published author of two books rich with Tangipahoa, Hammond and Southeastern history, “Tangipahoa Crossings: Excursions Into Tangipahoa History” and “Citizens Square: Recollections of Historic Hammond.”

“From D.Vickers hall back to what’s now University Drive was like pasture land, and I can remember seeing cows grazing back there,” said Nicholls.

Wilson Hall was used for class lectures, laboratory assignments and club gatherings. The Division of Applied Sciences, headed by Dean E.E. Puls, gave students the option to receive a Bachelor’s degree in animal agriculture, food science or plant agriculture. Classes ranged from dairy manufacturing, general horticulture, animal nutrition and dairy manufacturing problems. Department head Dr. Addison Owings taught with a faculty of five other professors.

Student organizations in the Agriculture department included the Student Farm Bureau, Delta Tau Alpha, Southeastern Rodeo Association and SLU Plant Science Club. By the late 1980s the department fell apart and so did the local dairy industry.

“By the time Wilson Hall was built, at the time it was the cutting edge of technology for dairy science, but the dairy industry began to collapse [later on],” Nicholls said.

According to Nicholls, President Tinsley was an avid agriculture connoisseur. He established the department’s green house on N. General Pershing Street, where the current President’s House is, and spent lots of time inside gardening. Tinsley also spent time with another agriculture professor at Louisiana State University growing a hybrid Dr. Tinsley camellia. A light, fluffy pink camellia with a yellow center was the result.

Up until recently, Wilson Hall has been the home to the former math lab and the Turtle Cove offices. Since the demolition Turtle Cove’s new offices are located in suite 326 of the Biology building.

“Its been enormous change,” Nicholls said of the ever expanding campus.

Since the days of President Tinsley, Dyson and President Clea E. Parker, Southeastern has moved onto the millennium, which calls for more room. The empty space where Wilson Hall once stood has no use as of now but where a piece of Southeastern history once stood now allows a clearer view of the university’s future.