Generous donations in hard times led to the matching gift that made Marsh Hall possible
Marsh Hall has been a defining landmark on Pacific University’s Forest Grove Campus for going on 120 years — exactly as it was planned.
But few people know that the stalwart building also is a symbol of the Pacific community’s love for their school.
The building was the brainchild of the Rev. Thomas McClelland, Pacific’s fourth president.
“When McClelland arrived at Pacific, the campus consisted of only three structures — College Hall, Academy Hall and Ladies Hall,” reads Splendid Audacity: The Story of Pacific University. “What it lacked was a visual anchor in the form of a central, solid building. Marsh Memorial Hall … would provide just such a landmark and put Forest Grove on the architectural map.”
In 1893, McClelland secured a donation of $15,000 from Dr. D.K. Pearsons to start construction, but the groundbreaking was delayed after the stock market crashed, making the remaining fundraising for the building a more daunting task.
In March 1894, Pearsons offered to increase his gift to $50,000 — if the university could raise $100,000 in pledges within a year.
That’s when the Pacific University community really stepped up.
“The faculty, whose own salaries had not been paid in full, pledged $1,200; the alumni promised $7,000; and the trustees held themselves responsible for another $30,000,” reads Splendid Audacity.
By the beginning of 1895, just months from the deadline, Pacific was well short of its goal, though.
In February, the student body got together in a private meeting — unsolicited by faculty or administration — and pledged their own $4,065, “an impressive figure indeed when we consider that total enrollment in the collegiate department at the time was 22,” says Splendid Audacity.
Inspired by the gesture, Pearsons extended his deadline to July 1898, the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding, and the university ultimately raised $111,000. In the meantime, Marsh Hall was completed and dedicated on Sept. 27, 1895.
“Though gutted by a fire in 1975, it was completely restored within two years,” the book says, “and stands today as a fitting tribute both to its namesake and to the spirit that permeated Pacific University during the McClelland decade.”