Backstory and Context
When expecting a spike in the number of students in the 1830s, President Landon Cabell Garland ordered the creation of four more dormitories that would accommodate the predicted increase in students at the University of Alabama. Architect William Nichols was chosen to design and oversee the four buildings construction, which included: Washington and Jefferson Halls in 1831, Franklin Hall in 1832, and finally Madison Hall, which was finally completed in 1859. An Englishman, educated in Bath, Nichols was also tasked with designing the entire campus in 1828. Nichols wanted to design UA in the “Classic Revival style inspired by ancient Greek and Roman architecture.”
Madison Hall, honoring the former president James Madison with its name, would be the last of the four last buildings to be constructed as part of Nichols expansion plan. Though Nichols died in 1854, President Garland and the UA faculty Committee came up with a design that would be similar in appearance to Franklin Hall (which it would face) and based up Nichols initial designs, appropriating $10,000 for its construction. The building itself would fundamentally meet the need for the increasing numbers of students predicted to enrol at the university, as well as meeting the new demands of the developing student. In this sense, Madison Hall was designed to accommodate public rooms and workspaces, containing “meeting halls for the Erosophic and Philomathic literary societies and rooms for their extensive libraries,” as well as dormitory space. The four halls met the expanding needs of the University, and Madison Hall saw the addition of mess halls for cadets when it was enlarged in 1860.
However, when the campus was burned to the ground on April 4 1865, Madison Hall, along with the other four dormitories and much of the campus, was reduced to rubble. For a decade, there was much debate about what should be done to the rubble scattered across campus, of which Madison Hall featured. In 1875, the Tuskaloosa Blade exclaimed, “does it not seem eminently fit and proper that they should remain as they are!” The Blade further argued for them to stand “mute” but equally “telling,” as “monuments of a nations folly.” While there was indeed much debate about what to do with the ruins of these buildings, it was decided they would be cleared almost another decade later in an attempt to rebuild the campus. The restoration movement came from the U.S. Congress who granted public land to the University, on the agreement that the revue made from land sale was used to rebuild the campus. Such an act enabled the university to build “Garland, Tuomey, and Bernard Hall, as well as improvements.” Under such improvements was the campus beautification project. This project collected what was left of the old buildings and put them into “mounds of beauty” across what is now the UA quad. In 1886, The Alabama University Monthly reported that these new mounds would “tell the more eloquent tale of the new era of peace and prosperity.”
Although the mounds, of which there was believed to have been 5, were cherished because of their ties to the early years of the campus, they would be destroyed “in the plans for improving the campus” in spring of 1910. On May 13 1910, the Crimson White reported that the law department saved one mound at the site of Franklin Hall from destruction, despite constant heckles of historic “vandalism” with the others removal. It was not until 1975 that the foundations of Madison Hall were officially excavated. Although there is no official documentation stating that Madison Hall was part of any mound, the Alabama University Monthly reported, “the ruins of Franklin, Washington, Jeferson, and Madison Hall […] will soon be converted into mounds and covered with the choicest flowers.” When the building was finally excavated in 1975, of which the exact date is not specified, the charred remains of Shakespeare’s much ado about nothing, a text on Plane geometry, and a book of the Geography of Africa, were all found.
Upon the completion of Madison Hall’s excavation, the foundation of the far bottom left corner of the building, which remains largely intact, was left visible. A marker was also placed in front of the brick foundation stating what the site is and the year it was excavated. For the obvious safety reasons, a set of black posts and chains were added to surround the bricks at an unspecified later date. Although the sit bares little importance to the campus today, to those at the close of the century, who had connections to and memories of the old campus, the remains of buildings, featured in “things of beauty” such as mounds, were essentially to the memory and acceptance of a destroyed campus.