THIS AERIAL view of the campus is from 2000. More views of the campus, dating to 1940, are available here.

Snapshots of St. Thomas: Aerial photos of the St. Paul campus over the last 60 years

By Andy Pieper ’03

Old photographs offer glimpses of the past; they are split seconds frozen in time in which the world of yesterday is recorded for the observer of today.  They offer a view into history so you can see what the world looked like through the eyes of another time.

Snapshots of the University of St. Thomas are no exception.  Photographs can give an impression of what the campus was like before, during and after its change from an all-men’s college, seminary and military academy, to a coeducational, urban, comprehensive university. 

It was the changing landscape of St. Thomas that Dr. David Kelley, a member of the Geography Department, set out to explore with students in his Remote Sensing course this spring when he set up the "Changing Face of St. Thomas" project. 

The project allowed students to compare and contrast photos of the St. Thomas campus shot from the air during a 60-year time span.

In remote sensing, students study aerial photographs and digital imagery, and learn how those techniques can be applied to land-use analysis and environmental studies.  It is "the science and art of obtaining information about phenomena without being in contact with it," Kelley said.

The techniques used in remote sensing are the same used in medicine, space exploration and examination of changing cultural and natural landscapes.  "Just as a doctor would take periodic X-rays to monitor the health of a person, remote sensing provides information on the health of our environment, especially those components that are very hard to monitor, such as the global atmosphere, deep oceans, polar icecaps and remote jungles," Kelley said.

In class, students explore the use of aerial photography and satellite imagery, and apply those tools to land use and management.  Students also discuss how the maintenance and degradation of environmental resources affects political, social and economic decisions. 

The "Changing Face of St. Thomas" project had additional advantages.  "I wanted to show students the output from one of the hands-on projects that I had them do in the course," Kelley said.  "I also thought that it would be of interest to a wider audience at UST and as a showcase for some of the work that UST students were doing in the Remote Sensing course."

Kelley originally retrieved the photos from the John R. Borchert Map Library at the University of Minnesota.  They were somewhat easy to obtain, he said, but he did have to spend between two and three hours poring over indices and cartons of photos.

"I had each student pick an air photo [of the St. Thomas campus] from a different year between 1940 and 1990 to spatially correct the photos using techniques we discussed in lecture," Kelley said.  Spatial correction refers to a method of removing errors in original photographs that occurred at the moment they were taken.  The photos were then scanned into a computer and processed by individual students working with software in the geography department’s computer lab.

Kelley placed the results of the students’ work — nine images in all — onto a Web site, so the students could compare them and discuss the differences.

"It took me only 15 minutes to develop the site, a very quick undertaking so that I could simply show the results to my class," Kelley said.

"This is a rough site," he admitted, but "I hope to polish its look, add some layers that identify buildings and highlight changes on campus over the years, and add the ability to bring up larger, higher-resolution images when selected."

But even without a polishing, the Web site offers viewers a chance to witness the passage of time on the St. Thomas campus.

Looking at the photograph from 1945, there are some familiar buildings that can easily be picked out.  Ireland Hall, the oldest residence hall on campus (and the only one in 1945), can be seen in its stately I shape in the upper-right-hand corner.  Distinguishable just below Ireland Hall is the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, which was built in 1917.  Aquinas Hall, constructed in 1931, appears above Summit Avenue, as well as O’Shaughnessy Hall, which was built in 1939.

There are some notable buildings missing in the 1945 photograph, however.  Aquinas Hall’s twin, Albertus Magnus Hall (now the John R. Roach Center for the Liberal Arts) was not built until 1946, and neither was O’Shaughnessy Stadium.  What students now call South Campus existed, but it was owned solely by the St. Paul Seminary.

Skipping ahead nearly 30 years, one can see many changes between the 1945 and 1974 photographs.  The Armory was adjacent to O’Shaughnessy Hall and can be recognized by its dark appearance and three dots, but would soon be demolished in 1980.  A number of residence halls were added including Dowling Hall (1957), Brady Hall (1967) and the faculty residences (1973).  Murray Hall was built in 1959 as a student center.  In addition, O’Shaughnessy Library, though it did not look as it does today because of renovation, was constructed in 1958 and O’Shaughnessy Educational Center in 1969.

In the decade between the 1974 and 1984 photos, St. Thomas continued to change and grow.  The university expanded across Summit Avenue when it acquired Christ Child Hall in 1976 and McNeely Hall in 1977.  The Armory was razed, and in its stead Coughlan
Field House, the Foley Theater terrace, and Schoenecker Arena were all added in 1982.  Furthermore, as a result of coeducation in 1977, John Paul II Hall was built to accommodate women students in 1978, and St. John Vianney residence hall was constructed in 1983 for undergraduate seminarians.

The 1991 photograph shows even more changes to the campus.  Herrick Hall, with its rotunda, was built and connected to Murray Hall in 1988, which created the Murray-Herrick Campus Center.  In that same year, Cretin, Grace and Loras halls all became an official part of the campus and were remodeled.  The School of Divinity’s administration building and residence hall were constructed a year later in 1989.  In addition to all of that, the O’Shaughnessy Library was expanded in 1991 to create the O’Shaughnessy-Frey Library Center.

In the 2000 photo even more significant additions can be seen.  In 1997, the Frey Science and Engineering Center, which consists of Owens Science Hall and O’Shaughnessy Science Hall, was built. 

Also, although it does not appear in any of the photos, St. Thomas had already started its Minneapolis campus in 1992 and continues to expand it with the addition of a new law school set to open in the fall of 2003.  The university also has campuses located in Owatonna, Minn., and Rome, Italy.

Although the photographs allow us only to look at the past, the future holds even more changes for the St. Thomas campus.  Plans are underway for an expansion of the university’s boundaries and construction is planned for the south side of Summit Avenue between Cretin and Cleveland avenues. The project will add academic buildings as well as residential space for students, faculty and staff.