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History: Magnolias by Wesley Hall

Wesley Hall c.1880s
Wesley Hall soon after it was built in 1880. Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives photo archive in McGaw, Robert A. 1978. The Vanderbilt Campus: A Pictoral History, Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, p. 42.

Located on today’s library lawn, Wesley Hall was important for many people in the early 20th century. To Nashville residents, Wesley Hall was one of the most beautiful buildings on campus, and its cafeteria was a favorite place to eat on Sunday afternoons. To students, it was the closest thing Vanderbilt had to a center of campus life. “No one is a true Vanderbilter who has not during his sojourn there spent a part of his life in Wesley Hall,” a 1932 Tennessean article said. “Many have enjoyed the entertainment of sliding down the coal chute, pulling himself up in the elevator and jumping off before reaching the floor and keeping the banisters polished by sliding down them.”

Wesley Hall fire 19 Feb 1932
Wesley Hall fire 19 February 1932. Magnolia 2-247 can be seen in the center of the photograph directly in front of the building. Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives photo via Wikimedia Commons

When Wesley Hall burned down on Feb. 19, 1932, it was a major blow to Vanderbilt. No one was killed in the fire. However, hundreds of rare books, students’ possessions and academic research were destroyed. At the time, 10 faculty members were living there, and their possessions were also lost. The two magnolia trees besides Wesley also survived. Now they serve as two icons in front of the central library and become ever larger than before, demonstrating the growth and prominence of the university.

Vanderbilt's central library building in 1941
Vanderbilt’s central library building in 1941, the year it was built. The two large magnolia trees near it on Library Lawn can be seen at the left (2-247) and right (2-959) of the photo. Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives photo PA.BLD.LIBR.27

The central library building in 2020
The central library building in 2020 from the same location. The two magnolia trees are much larger. Photo by Steve Baskauf under a CC0 license.

Return to the historical tree tour page for magnolia 2-247.