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Wylie Hall was the first building built on the new Dunn's Woods campus, in 1884. It was named after both Andrew Wylie and Theophilus A. Wylie, and originally held the library and the chemistry department. Wylie hall currently houses the IU Department of Economics, L.A.M.P., and a UITS STC computer lab.
George W. Bunting of Indianapolis was the architect and Hiram J. Nichols of Bloomington was the general contractor. It was originally a two-story building with a spire and tower, but in 1900 a fire destroyed the upper part of the building, and it was rebuilt as a three-story building without the tower. The rebuilding process was not without its difficulties.
The architects for the rebuild were Louis H. Gibson of Indianapolis and John Nichols of Bloomington. Based on letters in the files of University President Joseph Swain, it appears that Gibson was primarily responsible for the overall design and Nichols created drawings based on that design and supervised construction. Gibson and Nichols had worked together previously on Swain's home on East Third street, and Gibson had written to Swain in that context "I have the utmost confidence in your local architect". But that was to change.
On February 27, 1900 Gibson wrote to Swain's secretary requesting that a wire be sent to Swain requesting Swain stop in Indianapolis as he returned from Chicago to Bloomington. The requested wire would read "Gibson wishes you to return via Indianapolis. He has seen Nichols and wishes to consider construction details with you."
- March 13, 1900 - Gibson wrote that he was "sending general drawings to Mr. Nichols by express today. He can add glass sizes and other dimensions... I will send specifications Monday. When full drawings and specifications are finished kindly have him send them to me to O.K."
- March 26, 1900 - Gibson reported that he had received no plans and would be unable to solicit bids from Indianapolis contractors without them. April 6, 1900 - Gibson indicates that the contract for Wylie Hall has been let and he has never received any plans. The general contractor has sublet all parts of the contract but the mill work.
- April 6, 1900 - Gibson wrote that he had heard via an unnamed fellow architect that the general contractor felt he had no liability for the quality of the work by sub-contractors, that he was only interested in the mill work, and that this contractor's previous work was "not above reproach". The contractor was the Henry Taylor Lumber Company of Lafayette. Gibson indicated that he expected trouble with the contractor.
As things progressed, problems did arise.
- June 8, 1900 Gibson reported to Swain that Louisville Portland cement had been inappropriately substituted for German Portland cement, despite German cement being specified.
- June 13, 1900 a letter signed by Nichols and Gibson was sent to the Taylor Lumber Co. The architects indicated that the brick work on the third floor of Wylie Hall was not consistent with the old brickwork and that it was being laid in an un-workmanlike fashion. The contractor was ordered to stop work, remove the deficient work, rebuild it, and provide a temporary roof to prevent damage to the existing structure.
- July 6, 1900 - Gibson telegramed Swain: 'Will return this afternoon'. Swain wrote a note to John Cravens on the telegram saying "Have Gibson see plans and specifications of Observatory also."
- December 31st, 1900 - Gibson reported to Swain that he had never seen the form that Nichols used for engaging contractors, despite several requests. These requests "develop friction". There was also more discussion about the brickwork problems on Wylie Hall.
- January 4, 1901 - Gibson reported to Swain that he still had not received Nichols' contract form. The University apparently sued a sub-contractor named 'Stilwell' for $1,000. Stilwell offered to settle for $750.
On January 8th, 1901 Gibson wrote to advise Swain not to settle but to hold out for the full amount. Gibson requested another $75 in fees for activities beyond the normal work of an architect, but did not insist. After the completion of Kirkwood Observatory and Wylie Hall Nichols' only significant work with the University was a stint as supervising architect during the construction of the Student Building. Gibson later designed and supervised construction of the Science Building (Lindley Hall).