Northwestern to play host to Castle on the Hill Memorial celebration

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Northwestern to play host to Castle on the Hill Memorial celebration

 The Castle on the Hill

The Northwestern "Castle on the Hill" shown was built as the state normal school of Alva, Okla.

Northwestern Oklahoma State University invites the Alva community and Northwestern employees to celebrate the newly erected Castle on the Hill Memorial, Thursday, July 17, almost 116 years to the day when the cornerstone was laid for the new Northwestern Normal School building on July 18, 1898.

The memorial celebration will start at 5:30 p.m.  in Herod Hall Auditorium with a play presenting the history of Northwestern and the alleged poker game that brought Northwestern to Alva, as well as the history of the Castle from its birth to its destruction by fire, and to the building of Jesse Dunn Hall.  A cookout east of Herod Hall on the Jesse Dunn lawn near where the memorial has been placed, is to follow at 6:30 p.m. and will consist of hotdogs, hamburgers, sides and drinks. Seating will not be provided on the lawn, so please bring chairs and/or blankets as required for personal comfort.

This celebration to thank the Alva community and Northwestern employees for their constant hard work and support is the second in a three-part dedication to the Castle on the Hill Memorial.  The first part occurred April 26 during the alumni banquet as a way to thank the alumni for their support. The third part of the dedication will be in the fall as a thank you to the students of Northwestern.

“The community of Alva has always been so very supportive of Northwestern,” John Barton, co-chair of the project, said.  “This goes all the way back to the beginning when Northwestern was a teacher school.”

“More than 200 schools needed teachers in Woods County, which was the primary reason Northwestern was founded.”

Conceived over a cup of coffee, the idea to commemorate the historical buildings on Northwestern’s campus came from two retired Northwestern professors, Barton and the late Wayne Lane.  The pair started this journey with the vision of creating a dedication to W.D. Newby and Newby Field.  Their vision was carried out with the unveiling of a memorial on Nov. 13, 2010, on the west side of the entrance to the J.R. Holder Wellness Center, where Newby Field once stood.  The Newby Field project ignited the mission to honor each historical building. Bronze plaques have been placed in front of the historical buildings on campus, all but Fryer Hall, as a dedication to the building, each one consisting of its own sponsor.

Spearheaded by Barton and Lane, the Castle on the Hill Memorial process started with forming the Historical Preservation Task Force.  Those members include: Lane, scribe and co-chair; Barton, co-chair; Paul Kinzie, Castle Project Chair; Jim Barker; Skeeter Bird; Freida Burgess; Dr. Yvonne Carmichael; Thelma Crouch; Dr. Kay Decker; Kathy Earnest; Keven Fields; Austin Prickett; and David Washington.

Information written in Northwestern’s history book, “A Centennial History” written by Lane, indicates that Northwestern’s long history in the city of Alva goes back to the Land Run of 1893 when settlers came to stake their claims to land within the Cherokee Outlet. With this new influx of people in the area came the need for schools and qualified educators. Alva’s visionary leaders saw that need, formed a committee on Jan. 3, 1895, and tirelessly worked toward the establishment of a normal school in Alva to benefit all in the area. The bill to establish “Alva Normal” was signed by Gov. W.C. Renfrow on March 12, 1897. Northwestern’s first day of class was Sept. 20, 1897, in the Congregational Church.

Funding and other disagreements on the size of the structure delayed the new building’s progress. However, work on the Normal School building finally began on April 1, 1898. Joseph Foucart, who designed many of the significant structures in Guthrie, was the architect.

The building’s cornerstone was laid on July 18, 1898, with great fanfare. A crowd estimated at 4,000 to 6,000 people came to witness the event. Merchants decorated their stores with flags and bunting; businesses sponsored and decorated more than two dozen floats for a parade of which the Alva Cornet Band led around the downtown square, then up the slope to the Northwestern Normal School site where the festivities took place.

Northwestern Normal, or The Castle on the Hill, was finally finished on April 5, 1899, and cost approximately $100,000. Classes in the new building began Sept. 11, 1899, with 10 faculty and an enrollment of 413 students, the most of any school of higher education in the territory.

The interior of the Castle was mostly wood, and exterior walls were made of red brick, most of which are said to be made from clay found in an excavation west of Alva. A few of the bricks salvaged from the Castle after it was destroyed by fire in the early morning hours of March 1, 1935, are in the new monument. Some of the salvaged bricks also serve as brick flooring for the bell tower on the lawn near Herod Hall.

The determination of Alva’s leaders to rebuild came immediately after the fire. A bill to replace the building was signed by Gov. E.W. Marland on March 15, 1935. Today’s Jesse Dunn Hall was built upon the same location as the Castle, and its first occupants used the facility in November 1936.

For more information about The Castle on the Hill Memorial celebration contact Steve Valencia, associate vice president for university relations, at (580) 327-8478 or by email at