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“Ghosts” of LSU Historic Site Opens

Released: 03/30/2007

Beginning next week, Louisianans who want to step back in LSU history will get a chance to walk the grounds where the university’s first cadets went to school thanks to a new historic exhibit in Pineville.

The Old LSU Site will be dedicated in ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. April 4th. The two-acre site is located at 2500 Shreveport Highway, directly across from the U.S. Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

Owned and operated by the U.S. Forest Service, the facility allows visitors to stroll trails lined with information kiosks, relating the history of LSU and the chaotic early days of the Old War Skule as it struggled to simply survive and go on to become Louisiana’s flagship university.

Officials from LSU Alexandria worked alongside Forest Service and LSU A&M planners to come up with the design for displays at the site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

“As an LSU alumnus, I was immediately captivated by the nature of this project and was excited to have the opportunity to develop these historical elements,” said designer Jason Soileau, assistant director of the LSU Office of Facility Development. “I tried to use architectural elements that would connect the site to the main campus in Baton Rouge.”

For example, a double kiosk placed near the entrance frames the area with an etched-glass image of the original seminary building. Construction materials for five information kiosks include St. Joe Brick and cast stone, materials similar to those used on the main campus in Baton Rouge. In addition, the kiosk design reflects the architectural styles of main campus buildings, reinforcing physical ties between the location.

The centerpiece of the interpretive exhibit is a low key “ghost wall,” outlining the perimeter of the original structure that was destroyed by fire in the late 1800’s. The wall is made up of a concrete base and decorative steel fencing. In several locations, however, sections of brick wall from the original seminary walls are still visible.

The Louisiana General Assembly established the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in Pineville in 1853 and voted to pay for construction of a classroom building on a hill in an opening of the pinewoods, just north of Alexandria.

The cornerstone for the three-story building that vaguely resembled a European castle, was laid on March 12, 1856 in ceremonies presided over by General G. Mason Graham, who is often called the “Father of LSU.” Because soft brick was used, however, the building had to be torn down and reconstructed before being finally turned over to the Board of Supervisors on November 28, 1859. With 19 students and five faculty members, the first classes were held on January 2, 1860.

In austere surroundings, cadets followed a daily curriculum of military studies mixed with science and the humanities in days filled with recitation and drill. As they entered the seminary building, cadets walked past a carved stone that read: “By the Liberality of the General Government, The Union Esto Perpetua” (let it be perpetual). After Louisiana seceded, the stone was ripped from the building and smashed.

William Tecumseh Sherman, a graduate of West Point, who later earned notoriety as a Union general in the Civil War, was the school’s first superintendent and professor of engineering. Soon after its doors opened, the Seminary was closed because of the war. Most of the students enlisted in the Confederate military, and Sherman headed north.

Although Sherman was later known for his fiery “March to the Sea,” before leaving Pineville, he asked the military commander of the district to protect the Seminary. Despite Sherman’s request, campus buildings were gutted by fire and rebuilt. Classes resumed following the war in 1865.

Within a month of a second fire in 1869, in an effort to save the term, new Superintendent David Boyd, an ex-Confederate colonel and professor of ancient languages, with only four students still enrolled, closed the Pineville seminary and reestablished the school in Baton Rouge, sharing facilities with the State Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind. Although the move was intended to be temporary, the seminary eventually called Baton Rouge home on a permanent basis, changing its name officially to Louisiana State University.

Today, with the exception of a few segments of wall and pieces of stone, not much is left of the old seminary building. A piece of marble carved with four crosses and the words “Louisiana State Seminary” was salvaged from the Pineville site years ago and now serves as a kneeler in the chapel of the St. James Episcopal Church in Alexandria.

Plans call for the site to be open free of charge, year-round during daylight hours.

For more information, contact Dr. Charles Zewe, LSU System Vice President for Communications and External Affairs, 225-578-3941 (czewe@lsu.edu).