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Fine Neighbors: McCormick Theological Seminary and DePaul University

Original drawing of Central Hall
An architectural drawing of Central Hall from the 1860s. (DePaul University/Special Collection and Archives)
As the campus celebrates the grand opening of the Holtschneider Performance Center, it is a fitting time to reflect on this corner of DePaul’s campus in the past. The Holtschneider Performance Center, with its rehearsal spaces and multiple performance halls, is a stunning addition to the School of Music, but many may not know it also is the first building on the corner of Fullerton and Halsted that DePaul built. The other buildings on that corner, as well as other well-known buildings on campus, are what remain of the McCormick Theological Seminary.

Now located in Hyde Park, McCormick Theological Seminary began in Hanover, Indiana, in 1829. In 1859, industrialist Cyrus H. McCormick lured the seminary to Chicago with an endowment for four professorships. After a subsequent donation of 20 acres of land, the seminary opened the first building on its Lincoln Park campus, Central Hall, later renamed Ewing Hall, in 1864. The Holtschneider Performance Center now stands on the land that Central Hall once occupied. The seminary was able to add on to its campus throughout the end of the 19th century due to the patronage of Cyrus McCormick and his wife, Nettie. To honor their contributions, the seminary changed its name to McCormick Theological Seminary in 1886. 

Very little from McCormick’s early years in Lincoln Park remains today. The academic buildings constructed during the 19th century were demolished in the 1960s as part of what would end up being McCormick’s last campus rebuild before its move to Hyde Park. One of the original professor’s houses,now located at 835 Chalmers, and the McCormick rowhouses are the only structures that remain. While under the seminary’s ownership, these buildings were rented out as rooming houses and later used as housing for faculty, staff and married students. The houses are now privately owned and are not affiliated with DePaul. 

The oldest of the McCormick buildings, were not built until the late 1920s. These two buildings, Waterman Gymnasium and the Stone Commons, were originally created as part of a 1928 campus expansion plan. Unfortunately, history intervened – the arrival of the Great Depression waylaid the remainder of the plan. The Waterman Gymnasium eventually became DePaul’s Hayes-Healy Athletic Center, demolished in 2003 to make room for a CTA expansion, while the Stone Commons survives as Cortelyou Commons. The building's depression-era history can still be seen by looking at its cornerstone, dated Oct. 29, 1929 – Black Tuesday. 

In 1950, the seminary rapidly built a new dorm, Alumni Hall, to keep up with a massive influx of students following World War II. When DePaul purchased this building, the name was changed to differentiate the dorm from the university’s own Alumni Hall. Thus, McCormick’s Alumni Hall became DePaul’s Corcoran Hall.

McCormick’s next campus expansion plan became the foundation for the east side of DePaul’s campus. Zenos Hall, better known today as McCabe Hall, came first in 1959. The foundation of DePaul’s School of Music buildings began in 1963 with the erection of the McClure Chapel, currently Concert Hall, and McGaw Memorial Library. McGaw Memorial Library would become DePaul’s McGaw Hall and stood in the space the Holtschneider Performance Center now occupies. The final structure McCormick built was the Stone Academic-Administration Building, which is now DePaul’s School of Music Building.

Over the decades, McCormick Theological Seminary considered moving, but chose each time to stay in Lincoln Park. Ultimately, however, staying put became impractical for the seminary. In 1975, the seminary put its buildings up for sale and moved to its current Hyde Park campus. As noted, the 54 row houses and two freestanding homes became privately owned. The academic buildings took a little longer to sell, with DePaul eventually purchasing the campus in two parts in 1976 and 1977. At the time of the purchase, both DePaul president, the Rev. John R. Cortelyou, C.M., and McCormick president Jack L. Stotts regretted the loss of a “fine neighbor.” At that point, the two institutions had stood side-by-side in Lincoln Park for nearly eighty years. 

It can be hard to imagine that another institution stood in the area for more than 30 years before the Vincentians arrived and purchased land on the corner of Osgood and Webster, an institution that was a cornerstone of the Lincoln Park neighborhood for 111 years. Fortunately, the DePaul campus retains some reminders of McCormick’s century on the north side. 

The information in this article was taken from Elizabeth K. Ware’s "Within the Wrought Iron Fence: The Hidden Heritage of McCormick Theological Seminary​." “Fine Neighbors: A Lincoln Park Legacy,” an adaptation of a 1999 exhibition by Elizabeth K. Ware, is currently on display in the Holtschneider Performance Center.