Now the central administration building for Marshall University, Old Main dates back to 1838 with the construction of a small, four-room brick building to house Marshall Academy. The original structure was expanded with the addition of new sections in 1856, 1870, and 1896. The 1838 and 1856 portions were demolished in 1898 to allow for the construction of a much larger building that reflected Marshall and Huntington's growth. The final, major addition to Old Main was the distinct, Gothic section built on the western side in 1907. Old Main originally housed various facilities for Marshall including dormitories, classrooms, a library, auditorium, dining hall, and chapel. Today it is home to administrative offices and spaces for certain organizations. Old Main was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The small hill occupied by Old Main was originally known as Maple Grove. The surrounding area was occupied by forests and farmland, and the nearest settlement was the town of Guyandotte, two miles to the east. In the 1820s or 30s local farmers cleared some of the land and built Mount Hebron Church. This modest, one-room log building housed various denominations and also served as a subscription school. In 1837 a group of locals including John Laidley and William Buffington made efforts to establish a proper school at the site. On March 30, 1838 the Virginia General Assembly formally incorporated Marshall Academy. Laidley had the school named in honor of his acquaintance, Chief Justice John Marshall, who had died in 1835.
The Trustees of Marshall Academy purchased a plot of land at Maple Grove from James Holderby for $40. In 1839 they constructed Marshall’s first building, a two-story, four-room brick structure. It housed classrooms and a chapel. In 1846 Virginia cut its funding for the Academy, severely impacting the quality of the school. In 1850 the Trustees gave ownership of Marshall to the Western Virginia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, which operated the Academy until 1858 when Virginia reincorporated it as Marshall College. By this time the school had outgrown its original building, and in 1858 a three-story addition was built on the west side. The first floor served as a chapel, while the second and third floors (incomplete until 1867) housed dormitories and extra classrooms.
Marshall Academy closed at the beginning of the Civil War in 1861. For the next several years school trustee John W. Hite lived in the building; in 1863 his daughter Salina Hite Mason purchased it in a public auction. In 1867 the State of West Virginia bought back the property and reopened it as the State Normal School of Marshall College. The first normal school in the new state, Marshall focused on training teachers. The school building expanded again in 1870 with a new three-story addition built on the west side. The expansion included a bell tower, a stone basement, and a veranda encompassing the entire northern side of the building. The 1870 addition is the oldest surviving portion of Old Main today.
Marshall steadily grew over the next several decades in tandem with the development of Huntington. A separate, three-story building was constructed about seventy-five feet west of the original building in 1896 and housed the principal’s office, a study hall, meeting hall, library, and classrooms. The following year West Virginia appropriated more funding to demolish the 1839 and 1856 portions of the original structure and construct a new building on the same spot. This new addition was attached to the 1870 portion and known variously as Normal Hall, Ladies Hall, and College Hall. It originally served as women’s dormitories and living space for the principal and teachers. In 1899 Marshall constructed an annex which joined together the 1870 and 1896 buildings into one large structure.
The rapid expansion of Marshall in the early 1900s quickly made the new additions of the 1890s insufficient for the school’s needs. In 1907 the final addition to the building was constructed on the west side. The large, Tudor Gothic style building was adorned with a tower and turrets, and contained a new library, auditorium, President’s Offices, laboratories, and rooms for the Biology, Geology, Mathematics, Music, and Art Departments. Since 1907 the configuration of the building has remained largely the same, although the interior has underwent numerous renovations. In 1937 the structure was first referred to as “Old Main” in the Marshall College Catalog.
In the decades following 1907 new buildings were gradually constructed around the growing campus, eliminating the need for classrooms, dormitories, and other student facilities within Old Main itself. Today the building serves as an administrative hub, housing offices for many of Marshall’s organizations. Old Main was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.