There are many beautiful and historic buildings in Arkansas City, one of which is the old Arkansas City High School, now known as Cowley College’s Ireland Hall.
Plans to build a new high school were announced in the Daily Traveler on Feb. 26, 1890.
The building process started April 3, 1890, when the school board adopted the plans presented by Charles Sedgewick, of Minneapolis, according to an article in the Traveler one day later. The estimated cost of the building was $29,900.
“The plans selected are very fine,” the article states. “And will give Arkansas City the most handsome high school building in Kansas.”
The original doors, frames and internal furnishing of the building were purchased from the Canal planning mill and sash, door, and blind factory, which was owned by H.T. Roberts, according to an article on Aug. 14, 1890.
The factory only had been in operation for four years at that time and was considered to be one of the leading enterprises in southern Kansas.
Well-known Hackney resident Robert Baird was hired as contractor for the project, as was stonemason Joseph Bossi, an immigrant from Milan, Italy, who had settled on a farm southeast of Arkansas City, according to Kansas State Historical Society (KSHS) records.
Classes commenced Sept. 7, 1891, with 194 pupils attending school in the newly completed building, according to a newspaper article.
The total cost of the building and its furnishing was $38,000, according to state records.
Ireland Hall Is a three-story, Romanesque structure with a clock tower that is nearly five stories tall.
The building is made from white Silverdale limestone that was stained red due to the vermilion mortar, which was not waterproof, according to national records.
As the building weathered, streaks caused by the rain were absorbed, giving the building its iconic rose hue.
The building’s many external architectural features include several arched doorways, carved lion heads and two stone dragons.
Ireland Hall’s original interior was lavish, according to articles printed at the time.
The first floor housed three school rooms that had “handsome” mantles and grates, according to an article in June 1891.
“The school rooms are large and pleasant and unusually well lighted,” the article said.
There also was a large fountain for drinking water, which was surrounded by “choice” plants,” records show.
The first floor also was the home of the offices of the superintendent and the board of education.
Those rooms were finished with hardwood and marble, with Brussels carpet.
A second floor originally housed a large assembly hall that could hold 500 people, plus three recitation rooms.
The building also had a “roomy” laboratory that had modern conveniences for heat and water.
A new high school was opened in 1922, but Ireland Hall continued to house district-wide sixth-grade classes until 1949.
After that, the building was used by the Arkansas City Recreation Commission for a “Teen Town” program, according to “Cowley County Community College: Buildings on the Campus” by Allan E. Maag.
The American Red Cross also stored supplies in the basement at one time.
The building received very little upkeep in the years before Cowley College took possession of the building in 1971.
The college used it for social studies and carpentry, as well as housing the Endowment and alumni offices for several months in the late ’70s, according to Maag.
Ireland Hall now houses the college’s criminal justice program and the school of cosmetology.
While some minor restoration was done by Cowley College, the full restoration and upkeep of the building posed serious concerns for the institution.
The Arkansas City Historical Society, concerned members of the populace and the college’s board of trustees made concerted efforts to raise funds to restore the building.
It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 21, 1974, according to U.S. Department of the Interior and National Park Service records.
However, it was not listed as a landmark with the state until July 1, 1977, according to KSHS records.
With grant funds, city money and civic donations, the majority of the renovations to first and second floors was finished in 1982.
Cowley named the building Ireland Hall on Dec. 12, 1982, in honor of former trustee W.H. “Pat” Ireland.