By any name: The Obelisk

June 11, 2015

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An old Pennsylvania State College postcard, date unknown, features the Armory and the "Stone Monolith," better known today as the Obelisk — and also sometimes referred to as the "polylith" — on the University Park campus. The Armory is gone, replaced by Willard Building addition in 1964, but the Obelisk still stands tall along the Allen Street mall, with Sackett Building on one side and Willard on the other.

No matter what you call it, the Obelisk is one of the campus' oldest monuments. In the 1890s, Dr. Magnus C. Ihlseng, the college's first professor of mining engineering and geology, and head of the department, desired to create an instructional, yet artistic, monument that would demonstrate the weathering qualities and commercial value of Pennsylvania's building stones.

In 1894 Ihlseng employed William Clinton B. Alexander, a freshman in the mining program, to secure stones for the monument. Alexander collected some 281 stones from 139 locations, mostly in Pennsylvania, from quarries and other sources. Thomas C. Hopkins, assistant professor of economic geology, assembled the stones in the obelisk in their natural geologic order, with the oldest rocks (Pre-Cambrian) at the bottom and the youngest (Triassic — the era of the dinosaurs) at the top.

The Obelisk was completed in 1896. That same year, the college elevated its Department of Mining Engineering into a full-fledged School of Mines — and named Ihlseng as its dean. Today it is the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences.

Visit to learn more, including the type and origin of each of the monument's stones.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated December 10, 2018