The Old Main bell tower

June 09, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Old Main’s iconic bell tower rising above the trees is a familiar sight to everyone on Penn State’s University Park campus. However, it is actually the third tower to grace the main administration building.

Penn State's original Old Main building, with its first tower

Penn State's original five-story Old Main building, with its first tower, was completed in 1863 after a six-year period of construction.

IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

The original five-story “Main Building,” first occupied in 1859, had a simple round bell tower. After a fire in 1892 burned part of the building's roof (perhaps giving rise to today’s widespread — but mistaken — belief that Old Main itself burned down), the upper floor and the tower were remodeled by Bellefonte architect J. Robert Cole in a style that featured a straight mansard roof with slate shingles, and finials and balustrades around a tall square tower. As its gift to the University, the class of 1904 presented a clock for the new tower.

Second bell tower of the original Old Main

Penn State's class of 1904 presented the gift of a clock for the Old Main tower, seen above as part of the original Old Main in 1915.

IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

Time and heavy use took their toll on the “old” Old Main and it was razed in 1929, after architects deemed renovations impractical. Penn State engaged nationally renowned architect Charles Z. Klauder and in 1930 today's Federal-Revival-style Old Main and bell tower replaced the originals — however, the clock we see when we look up at the tower today (with modernized works) is the same one from the class of 1904.

In 2009 the tower’s bell — its chimes long replaced by modern technology — was removed and restored as a gift of Penn State’s class of 2009, and is now displayed outdoors at ground level near Old Main’s southwest corner.

Old Main bell tower clock

A close-up of the clock in the tower of today's Old Main.

IMAGE: Patrick Mansell


  • Old Main Bell Tower

    The Old Main bell tower, third of its kind, on Penn State's University Park campus.

    IMAGE: Penn State

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated June 20, 2016