Udderly Innovative: Texas Tech Dairy Barn & Silo

A history of the endearing and enduring structure that continues to be an icon of tradition for Texas Tech.

Written by Jessica Alexander

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Still standing, the Dairy Barn has been a fixture on campus since 1926, bringing a little old-time flare to a rapidly changing campus.

Bicycles and flip-flops cross the stark paths once traveled by hooves and wagon wheels. And in the center of Texas Tech’s Spanish Renaissance-inspired architecture of glass, steel and brick sits a relic, closed and quiet.

Teeming with history and dearly remembered by Texas Tech's first students, the Dairy Barn and its adjacent grain silo, stand as a monument to Texas Technological College’s early aspirations of becoming a premiere institution.

“Udderly" Innovative

The state-of-the-art barn was designed by Fort Worth architect W. C. Hedrick with the help of agricultural dean A. H. Leidigh and professor W. L. Stangel. Construction began in 1926.

In the spring of that year, six students organized the Student Dairy Association (SDA), which operated under the supervision of the Department of Animal Husbandry and furnished milk to private customers. Members brought their own cows to campus and a number of students earned all or part of their college expenses in this manner. Milk was delivered by horse-drawn wagons and a "tendency on the part of the horses to run away and leave the wagons wrapped around trees added to the excitement, if not the comfort, of the department," according to an account in The First Thirty Years: A History of Texas Technological College.

Switching the Reins

By 1931, the Dairy Manufactures Department established by K. M. Renner, was self-supporting, furnishing milk and ice cream to campus cafeterias and the Lubbock community. The college herd, comprised of cattle bought by or donated to the college, swelled beyond the barn’s capacity by 1935. As a solution, students were asked to remove their own cattle from the barn and the era of tuition payments through milk sales came to an end.

The facility continued to serve as an educational site for students interested in the industry until it was abandoned in 1964 when dairy operations were moved to another location. Campus planners razed the dairy manufacturing addition a year later to make way for new facilities and the historic barn sat quietly ignored.

Restoration Plans Made and Abandoned

After six years of desertion, the first call for renovation was made. A story in the March 1, 1971, edition of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal called for students to submit designs to convert the barn into an entertainment center with informal theater facilities, a recital room and snack bar area with a coffeehouse atmosphere for local folk singers and poets.

A 1976 report and slide presentation titled “Restoration: Texas Tech Dairy Barn,” recommended the return of the Dairy Barn to its 1946 condition in order to create a dairy museum or perhaps a theater for the German, French and Spanish department.

During the late '70s, architecture professor Will Robinson began attempts to register the Dairy Barn as a historic place. His interests in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) were strengthened when the barn was deemed unsafe and structurally unsound by the Coordinating Board for the Texas College and University System in 1984. The report called for the building to be demolished or abandoned.

Save the Barn Campaign

The Texas Antiquities Committee designated the barn as a historical landmark in 1985, but renovation estimates soared to $500,000. In 1989, the Student Senate took action, creating a committee to study the preservation of the facility and work towards having it listed in the NRHP.

The “Save the Barn” campaign, a student and alumni effort held from 1990-92, raised $64,000 to weatherize the barn. The project sealed the facility from the harsh West Texas weather elements by rebuilding its roof, repairing the windows, doors and walls and repainting both the barn and the silo.

In a 1991 report on the barn’s optimum preservation methods, architecture professor Rick Lewis reinforced the historical importance of the Dairy Barn, stating "'the structure personifies the fundamental cultural, social and economical foundations on which the western plains of Texas and Texas Tech University, the premier institution of higher education in West Texas, were founded.”

Preservationists ultimately prevailed and the Dairy Barn and Silo were officially dedicated to the NRHP in November 1992. But the barn would not rest peacefully for long. University master planners drew in a pedestrian mall at its current location in 1997. Talks of renovation began again but the barn and silo continued to sit unchanged and today stand as a quiet and curious reminder of Texas Tech's agricultural roots.

As for future plans for the Dairy Barn and Silo, they are uncertain.

“The last renovation of the facility was the maintenance stabilization project in 1991 to correct the wear and tear that occurred over time," said Theresa Drewell, associate vice chancellor for facilities, planning and construction. "Nothing has been done to the buildings since. As for the future, there are lots of ideas for adaptive use of the facility, but unfortunately no funds have been set aside for any future projects.”

Dairy Barn: An Inventory of Its Records, 1970-1992 and undated, at the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library

Oral History Collection, Middleton, Raleigh

Story produced by the Office of Communications and Marketing, (806) 742-2136. Photos courtesy Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library, Jessica Alexander, Jonathan Beltz. Web layout by Zachary Conley.

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The Dairy Barn was originally offered as space for students to house, feed and care for two of their own cattle.

By 1928, hand-operated bottling equipment manned by students supplied the college bookstore cafeteria with milk products.

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Students housed their own cattle on campus and used dairy sales in exchange for tuition payments until 1935.

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