History of Ashurst Hall
Named for Henry Ashurst, prominent long-time figure of northern Arizona
The history of Ashurst Hall on campus at Northern Arizona University dates back to the late 1800s, when the Ashurst family arrived in Arizona.
Ashurst Hall at NAU is named for Henry Ashurst
Henry Fountain Ashurst was born in a sheep camp near Winnemucca in northern Nevada on September 13, 1874 in the course of a westward wagon trip. His father traveled, as a young man, from the family home in Missouri to the California gold fields. Soon after Henry’s birth, the family moved to Williams, AZ and two years later, in 1877, to the Mormon Lake area. Henry worked as a ranch hand by age 12, then attended and graduated from the public schools in Flagstaff. While living in Flagstaff he performed a number of odd jobs including a stint as a reporter for the local newspaper and working as a lumberman.
He completed studies at the Stockton Business College in California in 1896 and followed with studies of law and political economy at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. After admission to the bar in 1897, at age 23, Henry Ashurst began a law practice at the small town of Williams, AZ, just west of Flagstaff. That same year, he was elected as a member of the Arizona Territorial Legislature. He was re-elected in 1899. In the ensuing years he rose rapidly through the political ranks: first as Speaker of the House (1899), then as a Senator in the Legislature (1903), and as County District Attorney for Coconino County from 1905-1908. He was a gifted public speaker, admired by all, regardless of their political persuasion.
Henry Ashurst made his mark on Arizona
Henry Ashurst, a Democrat, won election as one of the first two U.S. Senators from Arizona in 1912. He served in that body for 29 years, until January 1941. During his later years in the Senate, he chaired the Judiciary Committee and was part of the group that championed the plan of Franklin D. Roosevelt to enlarge the U.S. Supreme Court, though he originally opposed the idea. After a short stint on the Board of Immigration Appeals, he retired in 1943. In 1959, at age 85, he was the commencement speaker at the Arizona State College at Flagstaff, receiving an honorary degree. Henry Ashurst died in Washington, D.C., on May 31, 1962.
The building of Ashurst Hall
The state made an initial appropriation in 1917 to build a wing for Old Main. The original intent was to construct Old Main with two symmetrical wings, but only the east wing was completed. Thus, some sources consider Ashurst to be the ‘missing’ wing, while others note that it was originally a separate building, later connected to Old Main. The Ashurst Building opened in 1918 with a style reminiscent of Old Main, though Ashurst has a hipped roof like the Blome Building and one distinct belt course of stone. In its early years Ashurst was the home for all-school assemblies, gatherings with important visitors, and commencement exercises. A 1952 remodel involved conversion of the auditorium to a music hall and various offices and music practice rooms were configured from the existing space.
At the conclusion of World War II, students raised $2,500 for the purchase of an organ for Ashurst, to honor those from the school who lost their lives during the conflict. What we now call Ashurst Auditorium is still an important gathering place for speakers, ceremonies to honor faculty and students, dancing, concerts, and special banquets and luncheons.
Today, after another remodel in 1989, the Ashurst Building has, in addition to the auditorium, other spaces in the building that serve as home for a variety of offices, including the Graduate College.