The Luther College historic central campus has officially been added to the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). The historic district of campus includes the college’s original 32 acres of land, 24 buildings and nine ‘objects’ or outdoor sculptures. While the designation does not directly impose preservation restrictions or provide money, it does serve as a vehicle for identification and education.
“We are proud that Luther College is being recognized for its rich history,” said President Jenifer K. Ward. “From the walls we study and teach within, to the beautiful land that was founded where river, woodland, and prairie meet, history shapes us. As our mission statement says, a Luther education ‘develops whole persons.’ This designation creates new student, faculty and staff opportunities for understanding the interplay between architecture, landscape and history.”
The campus’s contributing buildings include the 1867 Campus House (Brandt Parsonage) through the 1969 Preus Library. The 3 ½ year process was co-led by Luther College and the Decorah Historic Preservation Commission (DHPC), a city government agency. It all started in 2017 with the DHPC’s ongoing project to catalog and celebrate the work of local architect/engineer Charles Altfillisch.
“Our work on Altfillisch led us to Luther College, where Altfillisch has the remarkable record of having designed every major Luther building between the 1926 Preus Gymnasium and the mid-1960s Tower dorms,” said Mark Z. Muggli, DHPC chair. “The project initially focused on the under-appreciated 1952 Main III, but as we looked more broadly, we wanted to acknowledge Luther’s large collection of midcentury modern buildings and its distinctive landscape.”
Muggli noted the crucial support from Ryan Engelman, a former Luther College staff member with historic preservation credentials; Eric Runestad, former vice president for finance and administration; President Paula Carlson; and Hayley Jackson, college archivist and DHPC member.
“This nomination focused almost exclusively on a single archive,” said Jackson. “Our archive workspaces were hopping all through the summer of 2018, when 20 researchers, drawn from the DHPC and the Decorah and Luther communities, concentrated on the histories of individual buildings.”
A National Register designation requires local certification, evaluation and endorsements at the State Historic Preservation Office, and final designation by the federal Department of the Interior. Although many colleges have individually designated NRHP buildings, there are only three existing Iowa colleges with an extensive historic district and only a large handful of such districts in the upper Midwest.
The nomination was prepared by Jan Olive Full, an Iowa City consultant who has worked on several successful NRHP Decorah projects, including the Decorah Commercial Historic District.
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