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II. The Decision to Move to a New Campus

Denny Hill 1889"That a law be enacted by the Legislature empowering the board of university regents, with the concurrence of the governor and secretary of state, to dispose of the present site of the university, if deemed advisable, provided that arrangements to that end can be effected with all parties now in interest. In the opinion of the regents ampler grounds are essential to the prosperity and well-being of the university, and grounds more remote from the center of a rapidly growing and expanding city. The experience of educational institutions unites upon the idea that such institutions flourish best removed to a distance from the excitements and temptations incident to city life and its environments."

-- University of Washington Board of Regents, Annual Report, 1890

View From Denny Hill, June 6, 1889, The University is the white building with a cupola (top right) (UW 4140).

The Need for a New Campus

LetterIn the three decades from the University's founding in 1861, Seattle had grown from a little village of 250 to a city of over 50,000 in 1891. The city had surrounded the ten-acre campus (the photograph is dated June 6, 1889). Existing buildings were overcrowded and poorly maintained. There was a need to relocate the campus to a site that would allow for expansion and, in the opinion of the Regents, to remove it "to a distance from the excitements and temptations incident to city life and its environments."

The Joint Special University Committee of the Washington State House and Senate concluded in its 1890 report that ". . . a plat of ten acres is not of sufficient quantity for the purposes of a University which the prospective future of this great State of Washington will require." Attorney John Arthur testified before the Committee that the campus was ". . . hemmed in on all sides by buildings and population, and the saloon area of Seattle is rapidly approaching it . . . it's existence in its present condition 'tends manifestly to public inconvenience'".

President Gatch's January 21, 1891 letter to Edmond Meany. Manuscripts and University Archives Division, Meany Papers


Early in 1891 a joint university committee was appointed by the Legislature to select a new site for the University. The committee was chaired by Edmond S. Meany. In a January 21st letter to Meany, President Gatch wrote, "I wish we could get the school section on Union Bay . . . We should have new buildings. I have refused to admit young ladies into the old boarding house. It is uncomfortable and unsafe. The main building is too small for our work. The State should give us new buildings or close the University." In February Meany was able to get free railroad passes to bring members of the Legislature to Seattle to look at the Union Bay site.

On March 7, 1891, the Legislature passed "An Act providing for the establishment, location, maintenance and support of the University of Washington." The act created a board of university land and building commissioners. The board was authorized to obtain quit-claim deeds from the donors of the original campus and their heirs, to sell the original campus to the highest bidder, and to locate the new campus on the Union Bay site. Once the site was secured, the board was to proceed with construction of buildings. A quit-claim deed was obtained in June 1891. Seattle architect William Boone was hired to plan the new campus. Several buildings were recommended by the architect, notices were published inviting bids for the first building, and work began on clearing the site. However, the new campus plan was considered extravagant by many including Meany, and work was suspended.

Thomas Milton GatchThomas Milton Gatch served as President of the University of Washington for eight years, from 1887 to 1895. He was the first president to have a Ph.D. He had been elected president of Willamette University at the age of twenty-seven and the Washington regents had unsuccessfully tried to recruit him as president in 1862. The students at Washington called him "Papa Gatch". During his presidency the number of students grew and curricular changes were made. He encouraged student activities outside the classroom, but also cautioned, "Do not allow trifling obstacles and the allurements of youthful pleasures and sports to turn you aside from your purpose to secure an education now."

Thomas Milton Gatch (UW 10579)

Edmond S. MeanyEdmond Meany, valedictorian of the class of 1885, was elected to the State Legislature in 1891. Although only 29 at the time of his election, he played a major role in drafting and passing legislation relating to the location of and support for the University. He was chair of the Joint University Committee responsible for the selection of the new site for the campus. He served as Secretary of the Board of Regents, as Registrar, and from 1897 to his death in 1935, as a professor of history. He was an author of numerous publications on Pacific Northwest history and a founder of the Mountaineers, serving as its president for 28 years. In 1894 he organized the first Campus Day and was known at the University as "Keeper of Traditions". He was also described as the "Ideal Alumnus" and, later in life, as the University's "Grand Old Man". Meany Hall on campus and the Meany Tower Hotel in the University District are named in his honor.

Edmond S. Meany

"To secure the enactment of that law (1893 appropriation, new site) we brought the whole legislature out here to the proposed site and I remember that they lifted me up on a stump, demanding a speech. I was not much of a prophet for my vision into the future from the midst of that primeval forest has been exceeded in less than a score of years."

-- Edmond S. Meany, Washington Alumnus, November 2, 1909


In 1893 a new attempt was made to develop the Union Bay site for the University. On March 14, 1893, an act "providing for the location, construction and maintenance of the University of Washington, and making an appropriation therefor, and declaring an emergency" was approved. The University Land and Building Commission was abolished with responsibility for the development of the campus invested in the Regents. The purchase of the site was authorized (under the 1891 legislation, interest was to be paid for use of the land to the Common School Fund). Plans and designs were to be procured through an architectural competition. The Regents were authorized to sell the old campus at public auction and lease unsold portions. Half of 200,000 acres of lands granted to the State by the 1889 statehood enabling act were assigned to the support of the University. Edmond Meany again played a major role in drafting and passing the legislation. Daniel Bagley declared that, "They call me 'father of the university.' No, I am not the 'father' any longer, but the 'grandfather,' and this young fellow is the 'father'."

"Our New University"

"We are glad to note the fact that the Regents are pushing the matter of the new buildings with all possible speed. The present quarters, while perhaps fulfilling the conditions required in old territorial days, are not as such to reflect great credit on the growing commonwealth of Washington at the present time."

--Pacific Wave, January 1894