10 Facts You Didn’t Know About McKendree


You probably already know that McKendree is the oldest college in Illinois, but we’ll bet there are a few things you didn’t know about our campus. From our mascot, historic buildings and treasures to our campus history and traditions, there are many facts you probably would have never guessed to be true! Here are the top 10 facts:

1. What Puts the Bear in Bearcat?

It all began in the year 1924 when a real, live bear cub was bought with big dreams of becoming the football team mascot. Just two years later, in 1926, Susie, one of the live bear cub mascots, made her first appearance on campus. It was not just a short visit... Susie was here to stay. She quickly settled near Voigt Science Hall in a huge cage. But sometimes, she was able to go on walks around campus with a collar and chain. She was even able to go inside classrooms! However, Susie wasn’t the only bear cub to live on campus. There were many that once set paw on campus, like Lady Clio.

2. Our Mascot Almost Changed!

Speaking of mascots, McKendree’s almost changed in the 1960s! A college board member questioned the student body, “What is a Bearcat?” He felt that with such outstanding thinkers and athletic teams, McKendree students should be called something more heroic and bold. He came up with “The Circuit Riders.” But after lots of brainstorming, no name could beat the Bearcats.

3. The Prized Bothwell Chapel Bell

Standing high and tall is the steeple of Bothwell Chapel. Every half hour, the ancient 1200-year-old bell echoes throughout campus. This bell is not just one of the oldest bells in Illinois; it’s actually one of the oldest in all of North America, originating from Spain! Now you may be wondering, how did it get here? The story goes that in 1858, it was brought to the Illinois State Fair in Centralia and purchased by women in Lebanon for just 60 dollars! What a deal!

4. McKendree Regiment of 1862

Dating back to 1862, in the heart of the Civil War, many members of McKendree courageously joined the 117th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment to serve our country. In fact, the year prior, in 1861, out of the 200 enrolled McKendree students, 150 joined in the war with an initiative to defend the Union. In addition, the organized regiment was led by General Risdon M. Moore, one of McKendree’s brave members. To honor the McKendree Regiment and their service to our country, several trees were planted in the front lawn in memory of the forever McKendree members lost at war. Every tree holds a special place in McKendree’s history and heart.

5. Ancient Traditions

With a school as old as McKendree, there are many years of traditions and we’ll bet you haven’t heard of this wacky one! Each fall semester, the first-year students would have to wear a beanie to show their newbie status to the college. In doing so, they had to follow the rules established by the upperclassmen. The only way they could take off their beanies for the rest of the school year was if the football team won the homecoming game. But there were high stakes... if they lost, they had to keep wearing them until Thanksgiving! Now that would be a long semester.


6. The Oldest Building on Campus

Can you guess which building is the oldest building on campus? Its name may give it away... It’s Old Main! Old Main was originally known as Recitation Hall and had many offices, rooms for lectures, and two halls for some of McKendree’s renowned literary societies. Although, in 1828, a great fire burned down the original frame of the buildings that once stood. The Old Main we see today was constructed in 1850 to replace what was lost to the fierce flames and was the very first brick building on campus. In 1976, the building gained great recognition and was added to the list as an Illinois Historic Site and to the National Register for Historic Buildings.


7. Pearson Dining Hall

Over the years, Pearson Hall has been a variety of different things central to campus life. It has been a dining hall, meeting hall, performance hall, and even a bookstore! During its days as a dining hall, McKendree students used to serve other students for work study hours and benefits that went toward their tuition. Even though this chance has faded away, today, at 1828 Cafe, there are endless opportunities and chances to socialize and get to know your peers!


8. Housing in Clark & Carnegie Halls

To say the least, housing is much different than it used to be. On campus, there actually used to be separate residence halls for men and women. Can you guess which two halls? Clark and Carnegie! The two halls, as we know them today, are no longer residence halls, but rather filled with offices and classrooms. Next time you enter one of the two buildings, try and picture the setup!


9. Where Our Athletics Began ... in Wildy Hall!

Believe it or not, McKendree’s legacy of athletics all started in Wildy Hall! In 1868, it was known as the “Athleteon” which was home to a single-story gym for any and all athletics on campus. The building was originally built for athletics; however, it was quickly converted to a science hall and later used for administrative purposes, including financial aid, University communications, and even the President’s office!


10. Long-Lost Lake Beautiful

As you walk on campus from the Marion K. Piper Academic Center to Baker Hall, envision a quaint and peaceful lake with a rippling surface. There once was a lake in that exact spot called “Lake Beautiful.” Lake Beautiful was a hotspot where students and staff alike gathered around to socialize or for a little slice of serenity. However, toward the middle of the nineteenth century, the draining process began. Today, no trace of Lake Beautiful can be found on campus, but it will always live on in our yearbooks and our alumni Bearcats’ hearts.

McKendree surely has a lot of history and facts that will keep you guessing. If you can’t get enough of our history, head to Holman Library for exclusive digital archives, access to our very own museum, and a detailed guide to McKendree Historic Buildings & Sites. Now, as you walk around campus, imagine what it was like back in the day!