Lincoln Hall Through the Ages

Originally serving as SDSU's library, Lincoln Hall is starting a new chapter for the School of American and Global Studies.

One of South Dakota State University’s most beloved places on campus, Lincoln Hall has both made history and witnessed history at SDSU.

For more than 90 years, the building has served the Jackrabbit community in ever-evolving ways: first as home to the campus library, then to the SDSU music department, and, following its latest renovation, the hall will next host the School of American and Global Studies and the administrative offices for the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences. With construction expected to be finalized in summer of 2023 and a goal of full occupancy by the fall of that year, Lincoln Hall is embarking on the latest chapter of a storied legacy at SDSU.

Built in 1927 as Lincoln Memorial Library at what was then known as State College, the facility’s construction cost $200,000 (or the equivalent of over roughly $3 million in today’s financial worth). Dollars raised for the hall were collected from a cigarette tax fund.

Line drawing and architect drawing of Lincoln Memorial Library
L: Line drawing by Hubert Mathieu // R: Architect drawing

Dedicated on September 10, 1927, Lincoln Hall marked the first land grant college campus in the United States to be named after President Abraham Lincoln. The naming was a nod to Lincoln’s role in the passing of the Morrill Act, which laid the groundwork for the establishment of land grant universities across the country moving forward.

The formal dedication of State College’s new library inspired national attention when President Calvin Coolidge and First Lady Grace Coolidge attended the event in person. (Coolidge remains the only sitting president to visit campus to this day.) With news spreading like wildfire of the presidential guests joining the festivities, the crowd for the dedication drew an estimated 15,000 people.

Lincoln Memorial Library Dedication - old cars lined up within the crowds
Lincoln Memorial Library Dedication - overhead photo of a huge crowd of people
Lincoln Memorial Library Dedication - large crowds waiting for the dedication

While on campus, the president also dedicated what would become the Coolidge Sylvan Theatre, ceremonially laying one of the paving stones alongside his wife.

After the fanfare of its initial dedication, Lincoln Hall held a quiet presence at the university, serving as library for the next 50 years.

In the 1970s, campus leadership took note of the rapidly growing collection overwhelming the space, with books occupying a branch library, two storage sites, and the library itself. The library staff faced a daunting logistical challenge in transporting the volumes to what would become their new home in Hilton M. Briggs Library. While the exact number of books in need of relocation is unknown, over 30,000 volumes alone were removed from the basement of Hansen Hall, where overflow storage was near bursting at the seams.

Two people using a dolly to move boxes of books.
People packing up books into boxes.

Over the course of three weeks in August of 1977, volunteer Jackrabbit students played a key role in shifting the campus library from Lincoln Hall to the Briggs Library. Along with a fleet of shopping carts packed with books and marched from building to building by undergraduates, staff developed an ingenious way to convey books into the waiting Briggs Library: a farming hay elevator was posted outside of Briggs, raising boxes of books up to the top floor and through an open window.

After the move and with Briggs Library up and running, Lincoln Hall was vacated and ready to take on a new role for SDSU. In 1979, it was converted into office and laboratory space for the music department, where the university’s best and brightest musicians filled the building with song for the next 43 years. In those years, the hall has witnessed countless concerts and performances, endless hours of talent reverberating through its practice rooms, and even the occasional social event, like the wedding reception of SDSU President Emerita Peggy Gordon Miller in 2001.

With the renovation well underway, Lincoln Hall is poised to usher in a new chapter.

While the construction process intentionally preserved the historical integrity of the building and maintained its original design and architectural character, the renovation will also introduce several new features. The reimagined space will offer prominent academic suites, modern classrooms, several faculty offices, and common areas for teaching, learning, and community engagement.

The move will help to unite a school that’s been scattered across campus since its inception.

“Our primary challenge since becoming a school has been having faculty members split between Wagner Hall and West Hall,” said Dr. Christi Garst-Santos, Director of the School of American and Global Studies. “With Lincoln Hall, we will all be under one roof, and my favorite part is Lincoln Hall will have students and faculty close together. The open spaces for student study and just hanging out are truly spectacular!”

From cramming for finals to perfecting a performance to simply getting in some signature Jackrabbit socializing, Lincoln Hall holds a decades-long past of irreplaceable memories and milestones. Transforming the space for a modern look that honors the hall’s origins is only the latest step in an ambitious vision to uplift every corner of campus through the Bold & Blue campaign.

While it’s difficult to imagine what Lincoln Hall might look like after another 90 years of serving Jackrabbits, this campus landmark will be instrumental in helping to build what comes next at SDSU.