Since 1930 Pioneer Hall has stood as one of the most beautiful landmarks in Salina, Kansas, and has served generations of students at Kansas Wesleyan University. Located at the southern end of Santa Fe Avenue, it is recognized in the community as the boundary of downtown Salina. Practical as well as picturesque, Pioneer Hall is critical to academics, administration, and student life at the university. It is also the religious center of campus as it houses Sams Chapel in the second and third stories.
Pioneer Hall, or The Hall of Pioneers
as it was originally called, has served for many years as the centerpiece of
Kansas Wesleyan University as well as southern boundary of Santa Fe Avenue and
downtown Salina, Kansas. The red brick and off white concrete façade is
highlighted by the abundance of surrounding trees and the rock fountain in the
foreground. Standing at the top of a tall staircase, Pioneer Hall’s most
notable features are the two crowned pillars that stand out as the highest
points of the building, signifying its strength in the KWU community as well as
its main entrance.
for Pioneer Hall were laid in 1919 by Kansas Wesleyan President L.B. Bowers and
the Victory Memorial Campaign with the idea of post-World War I expansion of the school in mind. The Victory Memorial Campaign was set to raise
money for a new administration building and teamed up with the Methodist
Episcopal Church and their Centenary Movement which was centered on raising
funds for education. The original goal for the project was to reach 600,000
dollars but with the extreme generosity of the donors they were able to reach
over $1,000,000 for the project.
The erection of the building saw several delays including the removal of the
old building and several financial setbacks that occurred during the 1920s. Relocated in 1921, the old administration building was moved southwest at 40 feet per day
for 550 feet and rededicated as Lockwood Hall.
Pioneer Hall was finally completed in 1930 and was dedicated on September 14,
the forty-fifth anniversary of the University. Bishop Waldorf of Kansas City said
on that day, “Because I believe Kansas Wesleyan is a place where the faculty
make contact with God and where students form contacts with truth I dedicate it
to this purpose, ‘to the search for truth and the advancement of learning, to
the pursuit of wisdom and the promotion of righteousness, to the glory of God
and the service of man.’”
dedication in 1930 the building was officially named “Hall of the Pioneers.” Jack
Warner VanDerhoof said:
“This was a
most fitting name. For those who have sensitivity for the great stream of
tradition, Hall of the Pioneers, as long as it stands at the south end of Santa
Fe Avenue, shall symbolize all people of years past who gave of themselves and
their resources in order that a splendid and courageous educational effort be
undertaken and sustained in the shape of Kansas Wesleyan University.”
Today the building is commonly referred to as “Pioneer
Hall”, but the meaning and tradition still hold true.
In 1959 Kansas Wesleyan finished an $85,000 renovation project which added a student center to the ground floor. The new student center included lounge areas, meeting rooms, a game area, a TV, and snack bar, as well as adding a southern entrance to Pioneer Hall. Currently this addition is used by the music department and the student center is located in a new building.
Pioneer Hall is the main feature of Kansas Wesleyan as well as a multi-purpose
administration and education building. The bottom two floors hold all of the
administration services that keep the school running like the business office
and student services. It also holds the offices of school administrators
including President Matt Thompson. Upstairs on the third and fourth floors are
the offices of the humanities departments, psychology and sociology, and the
education program, as well as the classrooms and computer lab that are used by
students taking classes in these departments.
Also housed in Pioneer Hall on the
second and third floors is Sams Chapel. Sams Chapel is a two story section of
the building lined with stained glass windows that extends south, directly behind the pillars that mark the
entrance. Completed in 1926 before the rest of Pioneer Hall, the chapel was named after the parents of the generous donor Mr. Earl C. Sams. Sams said on
the day of the dedication of the chapel, “All life may be interpreted as a
stewardship, particularly in the business world. In the use of the means we may
accumulate God must be reckoned with not only as the source of wealth but the
only guide by which we can hope to make use of that wealth.”
While it was designed as a refined place of worship, Sams Chapel currently has
many uses. It is used as a concert hall for the school, a venue for university
wide announcements and ceremonies, and an auditorium for guest speakers, among
Inside Sams Chapel is the most
important and meaningful piece of art on campus. Painted by artist Robert
Grafton, financed by patron Laura Chubb, and completed in 1933, “the Coming of the
Pioneers” continues the important theme of the entire hall; a tribute to those
pioneers who made this all possible.
The mural, painted above the chapel stage, depicts families of pioneers in
covered wagons coming to the forefront, while the Native Americans of Kansas
sit in the periphery. While it is a tribute to the Pioneers, it depicts a sad
reality for the Native Americans.
Pioneer Hall means as much today as
it did in the 1930s and throughout its history. It is a symbol of the tradition
and history of Kansas Wesleyan and Salina as a whole. The pleasing aesthetic of
the view from Santa Fe represents the entire campus and perfectly welcomes
students and their families to campus. Pioneer Hall remains one of the most
symbolic and useful buildings in Salina.
John Cornett, Fifty Years of Kansas
Wesleyan University: 1886-1936 (Salina: Padgett’s Printing House, 1936, 46.
Jennifer Toelle, Kansas Wesleyan
University: The Campus History Series (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing,
Cornett, Fifty Years of Kansas Wesleyan
University: 1886-1936 (Salina Kansas: Padgett’s Printing House, 1936,
Jack Vanderhoof, The Time Now Past:
1886-1961 (Salina: Arrow Printing Company, 1962), 33.
 KWU Student Center to be Completed Soon Salina Journal, October 23, 1959. https://ezproxy1.salpublib.org:2332/us/kansas/salina/salina-journal/1959/10-23?tag=pioneer+hall&rtserp=tags/pioneer-hall?psi=41&pci=7&pc=25621&ndt=by&py=1950&pey=1959&ndt=ex&py=1959&search=y
John Cornett, Fifty Years of Kansas
Wesleyan University: 1886-1936 (Salina: Padgett’s Printing House, 1936),