Art Around Columbia: The Columns


The Columns

Isabel Gompper

If you grew up in Columbia, Missouri you must know and be able to recognize the iconic row of six columns that lie in the center of the University, resting in a massive field that makes up the quad of the campus.
The gigantic columns are 43 feet tall and, with their graceful architecture and overwhelming structure,  are quite the memorable feature of the campus. But these columns have a deeper meaning to the city of Columbia and its residents.
The columns were originally the very impressive entrance and support to the Academic Hall of the University, which was the first building to ever be erected on the Mizzou campus.Constructed between 1840 and 1843, the Academic Hall was designed by A. Stephen Hills, who also happens to be the designer of the Missouri state capitol building, .
Construction materials for the hall itself came from Columbia and the surrounding landscape. The brick for the building was made and fired on campus, while the limestone for the row of columns came from nearby Hinkson Creek.
This wonderful building came crashing down on January 9, 1892, when a fire burned through the entire building, leaving almost nothing behind. What remained were the six limestone columns. A quick search online will allow readers to see photos of the fire and its aftermath.
Many people questioned if these columns should remain standing due to safety worries. In particular, they were concerned  the columns were unstable and might collapse. Additionally some felt the columns were a blight on the landscape, merely reflecting the remains of destroyed building. In 1893, the Board of Curators voted to remove the columns, but surprisingly this decision met with public outcry indicating the depth of feelings that had developed for conserving these aesthetically pleasing columns. Amazingly, after only one year since the fire, these columns had become a Columbia landmark. A second inspection found them to be safe and for the following century, periodic inspections have occurred, and the columns have been stabilized and remain standing.
Today, a visit to the University of Missouri’s Columbia campus reveals students, children, and alumni visiting the columns, and Mizzou uses this image in glossy brochures to attract future students. To commemorate the symbolic importance of these columns, the City of Columbia has erected its own set of columns on the other side of downtown. Visitors can see one set of columns from the other.