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UNCP’s Old Main is celebrated on its 90th anniversary

March 15, 2013

The celebration of a building’s anniversary becomes special when that building embodies the aspirations of a community.

That building is Old Main on UNC Pembroke’s campus, and the community was on hand for a celebration of the building’s 90th anniversary on March 5. The celebration on March 5 in the Native American Resource Center in Old Main was part of UNCP’s ongoing celebration of its 125th anniversary.


Lawrence Locklear

Lawrence Locklear

Old Main is the oldest and by far the grandest building on campus when it was built in 1923 for the all-Indian college.

“It is the heart of campus, a sacred space that has served witness as the institution has grown from the narrowly focused Croatan Normal School to the regionally recognized University of North Carolina at Pembroke,” said Lawrence Locklear, co-chair of the 125th Anniversary Committee, who provided a presentation on the history of the building.

Old Main also came to symbolize the school’s all-Indian origins. In the early 1970s, the building’s value in the eyes of the community increased when it was saved from the wrecking ball by a spirited community campaign dubbed the Save Old Main movement.


Family members of the leaders of the Save Old Main movement were in attendance.

 Charly Lowry

Charly Lowry

The late Janie Maynor Locklear, a leader of the Save Old Main movement, was represented by her husband, Nickie, daughter Elizabeth Joy, and granddaughter, Nikala.

The late Brantley Blue was represented by his daughters, Janet Barker and Patty Heath; grandson, Jonathan Heath; sister-in-law, Dorothy, and nephew, Randall.

The late Danford Dial Sr., who started the petition to save Old Main, was represented by son Danford Dial, Jr., his daughter-in-law, Linda Barton Dial and granddaugther, Amber. Danford’s daughter Maureen Dial provided several artifacts from the Save Old Main movement, including a stop sign, that was in a famous photograph of the group, and a campaign-style straw hat.

The late Adolph Dial was represented by his niece, Dr. Linda Oxendine. A community and business leader, Dial was the founding chair of UNCP’s American Indian Studies program, which Dr. Oxendine chaired for many years after his retirement.

The late Dr. Dalton Brooks was represented by his brother, Dr. David Brooks, who also served on the Old Main Commission, whose role was to aid in the reconstruction of the building.

Another commission member, Earl Hughes Oxendine, was represented by his sister, Magnolia Lowry, and brothers, Joe and Ray. Dr. Joe Oxendine is chancellor emeritus of UNCP.

Magnolia Lowry remembered it as an intense community issue, and she remembered one leader in particular.

“I was working here at the time,” Lowry said. “Janie Maynor Locklear had just one thing on her mind then, to Save Old Main.”

Besides community activism, the Save Old Main movement inspired poetry and song. “I am Old Main” was authored by Save Old Main leader and 1958 graduate, Ruth Revels. A song, “Old Main” by the late Willie Lowery, was performed by Charly Lowry, leader of the local band Dark Water Rising,

On the day Old Main burned in 1973, North Carolina Gov. James Holshouser stood on the steps of the gutted building and declared that it would be rebuilt. He made good on that promise by pushing for the $1.6 million to rebuild and repurpose the building.

Gov. Holshouser, who was North Carolina’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction, had planned to attend the event, but illness kept him at home.


Seated in the Native American Resource Center for the program were three men who also figured prominently in rebuilding the historic structure. Architect Sam Snowdon of the Laurinburg firm Jordan, Snowdon and McVicker said he was very proud of the building and others on campus that his firm designed.

 Old Main architect Sam Snowden, seated on left, greets Old Main general contractor Ronald Nye. Seated is inspector Hiram Jones and Linda Nye

Old Main architect Sam Snowden, seated on left, greets Old Main general contractor Ronald Nye. Seated is inspector Hiram Jones and Linda Nye

“It turned out real good,” Snowdon said. “I am not able to walk very well, but I was determined to come tonight. We designed this building and many others beginning in 1957 when there were only around 300 students here.”

The firm designed the English Jones Health and Physical Education Center, Belk and North Residence Halls, Student Health Services, Oxendine Science and the Mary Livermore Library.

Ronald Nye, who was project manager for the general contractor T. Avery Nye of Fairmont, enjoyed a reunion with Snowdon and the architect’s field inspector Hiram Jones.

“This was a difficult project because the walls were badly weakened by the heat of the fire,” Nye said. “We buttressed them from the outside.

“When we finished in 1979, the state properties controller, sent us a letter saying that of all the projects completed that year, Old Main was the best designed and constructed,” Nye said, as he looked around the interior. “I think we did a pretty good job.”

Nye is a 1968 UNCP graduate and well acquainted with the university’s history and administration before taking on the construction job. He pointed to a door on the west side of the museum in the Native American Resource Center.

“There was a lintel over the door that somebody had written ‘1923’ on with soapstone,” Nye said. “It’s still there. We were very proud of this job.”

When the deteriorating Old Main was marked for demolition by then-Chancellor English Jones, the university was landlocked and the 1,600-seat Performing Arts Center was set to replace the condemned building, which had an 800-seat auditorium.

Before the fire, Chancellor Jones capitulated to the groundswell of community opinion, but lacked money to repair the aging icon. The irony of the tragic fire has not been lost to history, said Lawrence Locklear, co-chair of the 125th Anniversary Committee.

“The arsonist may have saved Old Main,” Locklear said. “Fittingly, like the fabled phoenix, Old Main would rise from the ashes.”

Old Main was rebuilt without the auditorium and repurposed for a museum and classrooms and offices. The state had a hand in acquiring 15.5 acres in 1972 for the growing university. The university got its new auditorium, land for the future and a completely rebuilt Old Main.

Notable Figures in Old Main’s History

  • State Senator L.R. Varser
  • Gov. James E. Holshouser
  • Chancellor English E. Jones

Save Old Main Movement Leaders

  • Lew Barton
  • Brantley Blue
  • Dalton Brook
  • Howard Brooks
  • Adolph Dial
  • Danford Dial, Sr.
  • Carnell Locklear
  • Janie Maynor Locklear
  • Lonnie Revels
  • Ruth Revels
  • (and many more)

Old Main Commission, Inc.

  • John Robert Jones, Chair
  • Bobby Dean Locklear, Vice Chair
  • Janie Maynor Locklear, Exec. Sec.
  • Ruth B. Locklear, Treasurer
  • Sonya Allen
  • Lew Barton
  • Brenda Brooks
  • David Brooks
  • Dexter Brooks
  • Ed Chavis
  • Adolph Dial
  • Herman Dial
  • Danford Dial, Sr.
  • Ralph Hunt
  • English E. Jones
  • Carnell Locklear
  • Glenn Maynor
  • Clifton Oxendine
  • Earl Hughes Oxendine
  • Larry Revels
  • Lonnie Revels
  • W.J. Strickland

Restoration Architects and General Contractor

  • Jordan, Snowdon and McVicker of Laurinburg, Architects
  • Avery Nye of T.A. Nye and Sons, Inc. of Fairmont, General Contractor