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Bailey’s Barn

October 22, 2001


Since its opening in 1900 as the new home of the Chemistry Department, the building now known as Bailey Hall has housed some of the University’s most distinguished scientists and educators. For most of its early history on campus, chemistry students fondly referred to it as “Bailey’s Barn,” after their much-beloved professor, Dr. E.H.S. Bailey, who was instrumental in the building’s design and anchored the department for some 50 years.

Beginning in 1956, the School of Education took over Bailey Hall and remained there until 2000, when the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) moved in several programs and its administrative offices. Though never known for its architectural splendor, this third-oldest of KU’s buildings, located near the corner of Jayhawk Boulevard and Sunflower Road, is undoubtedly a campus landmark, and on October 22, 2001, the 101-year-old Bailey Hall received even wider recognition by being entered on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Chemistry Department has a long pedigree at KU, the first classes of which were offered in 1868, only two years after the University’s opening. Initially, the department was confined to “Old” North College, KU’s original structure. In 1872, it moved to the newly completed University Hall (now remembered as Old Fraser Hall).

From the beginning, however, there were many complaints from other faculty and students about malodorous gases emanating from the basement chemistry labs. Chemistry professor G.E. Patrick sympathized, once telling the Board of Regents that “these gases frequently rise into the corridors and rooms above, occasioning great annoyance to those in the other classes, if not actual injury to health.” Once the Regents toured (and smelled) University Hall for themselves in 1883, they agreed to appropriate $12,000 for a new building, KU’s third, for the exclusive use of the chemists.

By the end of that year, Chemistry Hall was far enough along that the department head and sole instructor, Dr. E.H.S. Bailey (who also authored the initial version of the Rock Chalk cheer), could move himself and his 35 chemistry students into their new digs. Inside of five years, though, the building was becoming increasingly cramped. In part, this was due to Bailey’s popularity. Additionally, since 1885 the chemists were forced to share their quarters with the newly created Department of Pharmacy.

It was not until 1896, however, that the state legislature began to hear the University’s repeated and increasingly desperate pleas for funds to erect a new chemistry building, for by then the department’s enrollment has ballooned to over 200 students and the Hall itself was designed to accommodate only 75.

That year, KU Chancellor Francis H. Snow reported that Chemistry Hall’s basement had become so damp that faculty “frequently suffered from malarial attacks on account of their unfavorable location.” It took another three years to iron out all the details, but in the spring of 1899, the legislators finally agreed to release $55,000 for a new Chemistry Hall, somewhat less than the University’s initial request for $80,000.

Bailey himself spearheaded the appropriation and design phases of what was first known as “New” Chemistry Hall. Along with Kansas architect John G. Haskell, formerly the State Architect (1866-1874) before going into private practice, Bailey toured the country examining major college chemistry buildings and laboratories. They intended to build at KU the most modern and practical building west of the Mississippi. Construction began in 1899 on the four-story limestone building that could not be called aesthetically beautiful or architecturally significant.

Yet while Bailey himself admitted at its opening in 1900 that it is “plain and massive in construction” and “very little was expended for adornment,” he added that, on the other hand, “no expense was spared to secure the best practical conditions for chemical and pharmaceutical work, according to modern methods.” Almost from the start, students and faculty alike affectionately referred to the building as “Bailey’s Barn.” (It was formally re-christened the Bailey Chemical Laboratory in 1938, five years after its namesake’s death.)

Bailey, however, contributed much more to the University than his name to a building. During his tenure as head of the Chemistry Department (1883-1918) and his remaining years as part-time professor (1921-1933), Bailey saw chemistry enrollments at KU rise from 35 students and one faculty member in 1883 to 547 students and 21 faculty members by his death in 1933.

Moreover, Bailey himself was an accomplished scientist in his own right, serving as chief chemist of the Kansas State Geological Survey and the Kansas State Board of Health, and leading the effort to draft the state’s Pure Food and Drug Laws, passed in 1907, and establish its first food laboratory in 1906. He also performed research and analyses of the state’s water supplies, mineral resources, and atmospheric conditions.

But perhaps his most important and lasting legacy is how he instructed and prepared future generations of leading scientists, precocious youths who called themselves “Bailey’s boys.” Among the most prominent of these KU chemistry graduates were Elmer V. McCollum (1894) who won worldwide acclaim for discovering Vitamins A, B and D, and later became known as the “Father of Nutrition”; Edward C. Franklin (1888, ’90), who became president of the American Chemical Society; and Edwin C. Slosson (1890, ’92), founder of the Science Service Center in Washington, DC, which distributed scientific information to a popular audience. Bailey was also responsible for bringing Robert Duncan to KU in 1906 as professor of industrial chemistry, the man who later founded (in 1913) one of the world’s leading research institutions, the Mellon Institute of Industrial Research in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Indeed, as KU historian Robert Taft, himself a chemist by training and a member of the KU chemistry faculty, put it in 1955, “The efforts of Duncan were among the most important contributing factors in the tremendous development of chemical industry in the past fifty years.”

If, however, one had to point to the most lastingly significant achievement to come out of “Bailey’s Barn,” it would have to be the 1905 discovery of helium in natural gas by KU chemistry professors Hamilton P. Cady (1903) and David F. McFarland (1900, ’01). Previously, helium was thought only to exist in the Sun and in the minutest quantities on Earth. But, in time, the effects of isolating and extracting abundant quantities of helium from natural gas would be instrumental in some of the most advanced modern technologies, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, nuclear reactors and low-temperature research. It would also place KU and the Bailey Hall chemists in the vanguard of American science, and prompted the American Chemical Society to designate Bailey Hall a National Chemical Landmark on April 15, 2000.

Despite Bailey Hall’s long-standing importance as a center of scientific research and discovery, in 1954 the University moved the Chemistry Department and the School of Pharmacy into the newly constructed Malott Hall. Bailey became home to the School of Education, which officially took over the building on January 26, 1956. But before welcoming its new inhabitants, Bailey underwent approximately $650,000 worth of renovations (12 times its original cost), including the removal of its 32 signature chimneys, the addition of a glassed entryway, and the installation of the University’s first air-conditioning system for a classroom building.

In 2000, Bailey Hall became the third University building to celebrate its centennial anniversary on campus (close behind Spooner Hall in 1994 and Stauffer-Flint Hall in 1999), just as the School of Education relocated after 44 years into the newly built Joseph R. Pearson Hall. But Bailey was still as sturdy and dependable a structure at the dawn of the twenty-first century as it was at the very end of the nineteenth, so in the fall of 2000, the Department of Communications Studies and a number of CLAS offices and programs moved in, including American and Environmental Studies and Western Civilization.

John H. McCool
Department of History
University of Kansas

Source Notes

[Source Notes: Extensive materials can be found in the Bailey Hall Building File and the E.H.S. Bailey Personal File, located in University Archives, Spencer Research Library. Of particular interest are the following: “Bailey Hall: 100 Years”; “A Pioneer of the University: History from University Archives”; “Bailey Hall: ‘Home’ for 25 Years,” School of Education Newsletter (Winter 1981); University Daily Kansan, April 14, 2000, p. 3A, and November 14, 2001; “National Register of Historic Places Registration Form”; Lawrence Journal-World, April 9, 1995, pp. 1D-2D and July 15, 2001, pp. 1B,3B; “Nomination for National Historic Chemical Landmark,” by Grover Everett (September 2, 1998); Kansas City Star, April 15, 2000, p. 3B; “The Discovery of Helium in Natural Gas,” American Chemical Society (2000), pp. 1-5. Also helpful are Robert Taft, The Years on Mount Oread, (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1955), pp. 22-23, 25, 28, 70-73, 200; and Clifford Griffin, The University of Kansas: A History, (Lawrence, Kan.: University of Kansas Press, 1974), pp. 193-194, 575.]