First historic marker unveiled, honors Cyrus Northrop

by Amy Olson

University faculty, staff and students got a taste of history Friday morning as the University’s founding father John Sargent Pillsbury rode up the sidewalk of Northrop Mall in a horse-drawn carriage.
Pillsbury, played by local actor and University Relations employeeJ. B. Eckert, appeared in conjunction with the unveiling of the first five monuments on the new heritage trail.
The markers, which include color photographs and text, were created as part of the “Take Pride in U” initiative, which includes the Beautiful U campus cleanup day. The first five are located on both the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses and cost about $2,000 each to design and install.
Pillsbury was joined by University President Mark Yudof, his descendents George and Sally Pillsbury, and other University officials to unveil the monument outside Northrop Auditorium.
Yudof said the monuments will document the University’s history, recognizing its development and the people who contributed to it.
Pillsbury, whose son was the founder of the Minneapolis flour milling company, became interested in the University in the 1850s because he lent school officials funds to buy building supplies from his hardware store.
As a state senator in 1868, Pillsbury helped write the legislation to reorganize the University, making it eligible for funding under the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. Prior to being elected to the Legislature, Pillsbury served as a University regent. He was governor from 1876 to 1882.
Eckert, dressed as Pillsbury in period costume with a black overcoat, bow tie and hat, said the University’s tremendous growth was a sign of the state’s dedication to education throughout its history.
“Our campus is a place of greatness — great people, great architecture and great achievement,” said Phil McDonald, a Facilities Management administrator. He added that the markers will help tell the University’s story.
The Northrop marker honors Cyrus Northrop, the University’s second president. He increased the number of buildings on the Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses from two to 23 buildings on each campus during his administration. The auditorium bearing his name was built in 1928 with entirely private funding and seated the University’s entire population of 4,800 students.
The other monuments include the marker on the lawn in front of Coffey Hall on the St. Paul campus, the Social Sciences Building marker on the West Bank and the Knoll and Sports Complex markers.
The trail, which will eventually include about 30 monuments in all, was first suggested four years ago by Peg Wolff, a University Relations employee. When Facilities Management asked University employees for ideas for Beautiful U Day projects, Wolf and University associate marketing director Tom de Ranitz proposed the markers.
The project got the green light four months ago. Since then, Wolff and fellow University Relations employee Ginny Hanson compiled the information and photos for the markers, which were designed by a local firm and constructed on a vinyl material made to withstand exposure to the extreme climate.
De Ranitz said while the first five markers were selected as “no-brainers” to honor some of the University’s most visible contributors, the remaining markers will be designed with more community input.
Yudof said he will establish a commission of students, alumni, faculty members and staff to solicit ideas for the next 25 markers, which Facilities Management will add over the next three years as the University approaches its sesquicentennial, or 150-year anniversary, in 2001.