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Science Buildings at Tarleton

By Frank Chamberlain

The first building specifically constructed to house science classes was the Marston Science Hall. This structure was erected in 1902 and stood on the northeast corner of the present day campus. Previously, the science classes (and all other subjects) were taught in the main College Hall. Like most of the early facilities, they were severely under-equipped. A science laboratory was particularly needed in order to give the students “accurate quantitative experimental work” (Traditions 47).

In 1902, the Texas and Pacific Coal and Thurber Brick companies donated the bricks that eventually composed the first science building. This structure, the first campus building to be made of red brick, was named after Edgar L. Marston who owned the brick plant. Although Marston has been justly lauded for his generosity, another important benefactor has largely been forgotten. Mrs. Pearl Wiley Cage used her wealthy family’s influence in order to convince Mr. Marston to donate his materials to the college. Mrs. Cage would later make a more lasting contribution to the survival of the institution by persuading Marston and several other wealthy business owners to provide the $15,000 to $85,000 needed to gain Tarleton acceptance into the Texas A&M System. (The actual dollar amount varies in several reports.) The financial stability that accompanied this transaction enabled the struggling college to survive (Guthrie 29, 39).

The Marston Science Hall had become antiquated by 1915. The growing numbers of science students rendered these modest facilities inadequate. The completion of the Mollie Crow Administration Building that year provided the college with an opportunity to relocate the science program into this new location. The original Marston Hall was razed and the bricks were used to build the Marston Conservatory for the Fine Arts (Guthrie 34, 59).

Until 1924, the Mollie Crow building housed all of Tarleton’s science facilities as well as the home economics department and numerous administrative offices. This situation became terribly inconvenient during the 1920’s as student enrollment skyrocketed. Although a new science building was sorely needed at this time, the college was unable to acquire sufficient funding for such a large undertaking. Therefore, this situation was briefly remedied by the construction of the small, one story Physics building in 1924. This makeshift addition allowed a portion of the science department to be relocated (Guthrie 58-59).

By 1930, Tarleton was able to afford a new and adequate Science Building. The construction of the first section (North Wing) was completed the following year. Three more units were added whenever overcrowding became a problem and state funding became available. These new sections were added in 1935, 1937, and 1950, giving the structure a horseshoe-like shape. In addition to housing the science departments, this building contained the college library and engineering departments. When a permanent library was built in 1956, the Social Science and Art departments were moved into the newly vacant space. Eventually, the offices of Public Information, J-TAC, and the Grassburr were moved here as well. An auditorium was added to the western side of the building in 1960. This large lecture hall adjoined the Science Building because this was the most convenient location available at that time. Numerous academic departments utilized this room for the next four decades (Guthrie 58-59, 113, Traditions 43).

Despite renovations in 1976, the Science building had become a real liability by 1990. A group of consultants damned the facilities, listing numerous potential safety hazards and inadequacies in equipment. Their report stated that if an accident were to occur in the building, the university would certainly be judged negligent. However, such factors as expense (science facilities are very expensive), limited state funding, and more pressing priorities conspired to keep this science building in use for another decade (Guthrie 283-285).

In 1997, President Dennis McCabe acquired sufficient revenue for a new science building. This financial package combined funding from the state, a grant from the Texas A&M System, Tarleton’s reserves, and an increase in student fees. This New Science Building opened in 2001 and provided science students with highly modern and spacious facilities including a domed planetarium and observatory. It will undoubtedly continue to fulfill students’ scientific needs far into the 21st century (Guthrie 285).

Meanwhile, the old Science Building has been slated to undergo massive renovations and be transformed into the home of the mathematics classrooms. The Mathematics Department and the Department of Engineering and Physics will be moved into this building from its previous location on the west end of the Dick Smith Library. In addition, a plethora of administrative and faculty offices from a variety of academic departments will be relocated into the premises. The space inside the building will be reconfigured to allow more classroom space. Improvements to the structure will include replacement of the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems. It will also require the implementation of additional safety and accessibility modifications. These renovations are scheduled to begin in the summer of 2003 and should be finished by the winter of 2005.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999.

Tarleton Traditions: Centennial Edition 1 (1 October, 1999): 1-48.