Remnants of an old college

Published 10:10 am Saturday, May 8, 2010

There are still four significant reminders of Albert Lea College serving as nostalgic legacies of a local women’s school that was a part of city life from 1884 to 1916.

The most obvious part of this former college and its campus area is a three-story building once known as Cargill Science Hall. This building was constructed in 1909 with funds donated by famous grain merchant W.W. Cargill, a former Albert Lea resident. This building at 913 Abbott St. and at the corner of Summer Avenue was later used as a temporary hospital during a 1918 flu epidemic, then became the Abbott Grade School from 1921 to 1966. This structure is now the Abbott Apartments.

A nearby tan brick building at the corner of Abbott Street and Winter Avenue was originally used as the central heating plant for what was known as the Albert Lea College for Women. This structure cost $10,000, was dedicated on Sept. 29, 1908, and built with funds donated by James J. Hill, the famous railroad builder. In later years this building was used by the Henrichs family for a laundry building. An apartment and storage area are now located in this century-old structure.

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Across the street named for the Rev. Russell B. Abbott, founder and first president of Albert Lea College, is a historical marker. It’s located close to the present Lakeview Elementary School and the former college’s campus and main building.

However, a remnant of this college’s main building can still be seen in another part of the city.

In 1924, when the main building of the college was demolished, the limestone blocks and bricks were salvaged and used to construct a new building at 310 W. Seventh St.

This new structure on the city’s south side was originally intended to be a factory for manufacturing culverts. It was owned by the C.D. Edwards Mfg. Co. This venture didn’t quite work out, and in the 1930s the large building was used by the state as the highway equipment shop for District 13.

Freeborn County took over this building in the mid-1940s and continued to use it as the main shop for highway equipment. In 1966, the county built a new shop structure on North Bridge Avenue (County Road 22) and the south side location was used as a warehouse until about 1974. Then, according to city directory listings, the West Seventh Street building was the site of the Old Country Shop and used mainly to store agricultural equipment by an implement firm.

When Bob’s Lanes was destroyed by fire in 1977, this was one of the locations considered for use as a new bowling alley. This proposition didn’t work out and in December 1980 the building was demolished, except for one portion.

Today, the fourth reminder or remnant of the former women’s college can still be seen at the West Seventh Street location. The building’s solid foundation, which looks like a retaining wall, is next to the street. A large portion of the concrete floor is also visible. According to the late Bidney Bergie, this foundation was built with some of the limestone blocks that were once part of a college building in another part of the city a century ago.