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The Old College Compendium Building Old College, 1801-1805

From the Augusta Chronicle for October 17, 1801:

In spite of the optimistic tone in 1801, completing the Collegiate Building project would take several years, which is not surprising given the difficulties encountered in assembling building supplies for a sophisticated building on the frontier.

From the Minutes of the University of Georgia Board of Trustees it is clear that brick and wood could be supplied in the Athens area, but ironwork (such as the handmade nails from Old College shown at the left) would have to be brought from Augusta. A greater problem was obtaining the bulky lime needed to make mortar for the brickwork. Limestone could be found in what is today Northwest Georgia, but in 1801 the land was part of the Cherokee nation.

A photostat in University Archives from the U.S. National Archives shows that the University made arrangements to bring lime through the Cherokee lands.

"Cherokee Indian - Know whom it may concern; That the Bearer here of have permission to pass through all or part or parts of the cherokee nation as they may deeme necessary for the purpose of producing Lime or Lime stone there from to complete the academy now Building at Athens in the County of Jackson and state of Georgia. They acting conformably to the intercourse Law. Given in witness from my hand, 18th Apl., 1802, Arch. Lee Lt. U.S. (?)"

Entries in the Minutes, however, indicate that the lime used came from Augusta. It seems likely that the Cherokee importation plan was dropped due to the lack of good wagon roadways for hauling the heavy materials. While Old College was still under construction, President Meigs began lobbying for a second brick building, noting in the Minutes for November 11, 1803, "...there is a fair prospect of a waggon Road through the Western Country to South West Point, which will enable you to procure lime at a moderate expense in comparison with that which has been already incurred for that necessary article."

Some writers have suggested that the 1802 agreement was needed so that lime being brought from Augusta could pass through Cherokee territory, but that would have required a very unlikely route.

While bricks could be made in the vicinity of Athens, even they presented a challenge and added expense, as shown in the June 6, 1803, Minutes.

"Capt. John Billups having laid before the Members an agreement between him and the committee for building #c., relative to the making of three hundred thousand Bricks, the members on viewing them, were of opinion that the agreement has been, on the part of Capt. Billups, faithfully executed as to the quality of the Brick, but the quantity they have not ascertained. The Members present thought it expedient to request Capt. John Billups to make and deliver at Athens as many Brick as may be necessary to complete the collegiate building there; and that in their opinion he should be allowed at the rate of seven and an half dollars a thousand. The President is requested to communicate this opinion to the committee for Buildings, and to urge their immediate attention to the subject. It is though proper to state that the reason why we approve of the price of seven and an half dollars, is the evident impossibility of procuring good clay for Brick at a less than about two miles from Athens."

The tavern of Captain Billups, east of Athens on Route 78 in the vicinity of Big Shoal Creek, was the meeting place of the original party that purchased the campus lands. According to an entry in the book, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, Cemeteries, Richard Cox, who is buried near the intersection of Old Lexington and Whit Davis Roads, not far from the Billups tavern location, superintended the brick-making for Billups.

The Minutes go on to advise payment of $1306.10 to David Gaddy for laying 324,900 and "for rubbing four hundred and thirteen square feet of brick for arches &c." They advise that Capt. Jett Thomas be paid $1200 on his contract and be encouraged to complete the building, "the members present not conceiving the work however to be half finished."

In a December 25, 1802, letter to his friend and former Yale colleague, Jedidiah Morse, President Meigs outlined the building plans and the progress to date:

"I have been labouring here to bring into operation the great happiness of Collegiate Instruction, our funds tho' large are not yet sufficiently productive to enable us to do much. However by the aid of the legislative loan of $5000 made last month, with a donation of $1000 from the heir of Gen Gunn, and our own accts. of about $6000, we are in cash now about $12000. which will enable us I trust to finish in the course of the next Summer our first Collegiate Building of 120 by 456 feet & 3 Stories high - furnishing 26 large, high & commodious Rooms or rather of apartments each containing besides the principal room, two bedrooms & two Closets. This building is already completed to the water table & the Carpenters work for the whole is ready."

By November 9, 1803, the question of interior finish was taken up with the resolution that wall partitions be plastered and the "cielings" be finished with plank. Two days later, President Meigs reported to the Trustees with satisfaction,

"When I left Athens, which was on the sixth day of this Month, the outside walls of the collegiate Building in that place were finished; and the Masons were employed in carrying up the partition walls, which I believe, will be finished within ten days. The Carpenter began to raise the frame of the Room on Monday last- he has finished the window sashes, the Doors, and the shingles for the Roof- he has his plank ready and well seasoned for flooring, and every other article requisite to the complete execution of his contract."

Continuing on November 18, 1803, the Trustees authorized the contracting of "...Nails, Glass, Locks, Hinges, and such other articles as may be necessary for the finishing of the Collegiate Building..."

By the next spring, the project was so far along that the President was "empowered and authorized to procure one or more Electric conductors for the Collegiate building." Even with Benjamin Franklin's "electric conductors" or lightning rods in place, the Trustees wanted to further protect their investment and in the minutes of May 31, 1804, one reads:

"The Board conceiving it to be of primary importance to have the collegiate buildings at Athens insured as soon as possible, Resolved, That the President do cause an exact plan and description of the Collegiate and circumjacent buildings to be made out as soon as possible, and that when the same is accurately done, that he be authorized and required to write on to the Phoenix Insurance Company in the City of London and have the insurance effected."

The Minutes don't reveal if the policy was issued. Mr John Wells of the Department of Manuscripts and University Archives at Cambridge University in England kindly made a quick examination of the archived records of the Phoenix Insurance Company which are deposited there. He did not find any indication of the policy and, sadly, no "exact plan and description," although he indicates that more thorough research might reveal something in the poorly-indexed records.

Insured or not, the May 30, 1805, Minutes document acceptance of the western half of the building:

"the western half of the college was finished, and thereupon the Board, having examined the same, agree to the Report, and accepted of the said One half of the Building, subject nevertheless to an alternation being made in the stair cases, which Capt. Thomas has stipulated to do."

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