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Cupola replica offers link to ECU's heritage
(Nov. 2, 1996) — East Carolina University dedicated on Saturday (Nov. 2) its new campus landmark -- the replica of the Old Austin Cupola.
The new cupola is a double-size version of the domed roof structure that once crowned the top of the original Austin Building. Austin was among the first buildings constructed on campus and was the early site of classrooms and administrative offices.
The building was torn down in 1969 after being deemed structurally unsound. A fine arts center, the home of the School of Art, is at the site today.
ECU officials have described the new cupola as a "visual centerpiece representing East Carolina's rich past and bright future.
In the dedication ceremony the university honored the William P. Furr, James H. Maynard and the Weil-Rosenthal families, major donors for the cupola project.
James L. Lanier, the vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement gave welcoming and introduced guests. He was followed Robert A. Ward of Burlington, chairman of the Board of Trustees, and by Chancellor Richard R. Eakin.
James W. Batten, a professor emeritus at the ECU School of Education, recited the history of the original Austin Building and recalled the days when he taught in the building. Batten recently published a book about some of the events in ECU's history.
The Austin Building opened in 1909 and was one of the four original buildings of the East Carolina Teachers Training School. It was named in honor of Herbert E. Austin who taught science and geography on the campus from 1909 to 1929.
During its early years the building housed classrooms, an auditorium, a library, meeting rooms and administrative offices.
Batten said that when the university decided to raze the building 60 years after its construction, members of the faculty contributed a total of $3,800 towards preserving the original cupola. The plans went well until the construction crane tried to lift the cupola from the roof. The cupola collapsed into pieces.
The sight of the cupola replica has produced memories of the old building by faculty and former students.
Richard A. Stephenson, a professor of planning, recalled the time when ECU got its first computer and moved it into the basement of Austin. He said that he and another professor were experimenting one evening with the bulky, desk-size machine by playing a few rounds of tic tac toe. The computer had only 300 kilobytes of memory.
As they worked with the computer, a heavy thunderstorm moved into the area and within a few minutes the basement was covered by water. Stephenson said he went out on campus and found cinderblocks to put under the computer to keep its circuits dry above the one foot of water that accumulated in the basement before the rain stopped.
Keats Sparrow, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a former student at ECU, recalled that old Austin was the most attractive building on the campus in its day. One feature in particular left him with a lasting impression.
"When students changed classes there was a very loud noise," he said. "But it brings back pleasant memories for all of us who occupied that building to remember those noises."
Dr. Sparrow describes the cupola replica as "a wonderful symbol of the early days of our campus." He said "the cupola is the part of old Austin Building that is most remembered and this reproduction of it in the center of our campus just reminds us of our days as students here and for few of us, our days as faculty members here.&quo
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