The silo on UMBC Boulevard suggests a connection between the university and farming. What was that property before it became UMBC?
—Mary Slicher ’73

Anyone who enters the university via UMBC Boulevard has certainly pondered why a white silo is located at the main entrance to campus – and how it has survived almost 50 years of architectural changes at UMBC.

If the university had been built on one of three other proposed sites considered by the University of Maryland (two of which would have placed the campus in Baltimore City and not Baltimore County), we probably wouldn’t be talking about UMBC’s white silo. But former Maryland Comptroller Louis Goldstein’s brainstorm to found the university on land owned by Spring Grove Hospital between Catonsville and Arbutus placed the campus on farmland once worked by students at the Baltimore Manual Labor School – an institution that used agricultural labor as a means to improve and reform impoverished boys.

The Baltimore Manual Labor School closed its doors in 1917 and the state purchased the land – including the farm – in 1922, shortly after Spring Grove Hospital constructed the Hillcrest Building on what is now UMBC’s campus. But the silo remained, and it was perhaps used by Spring Grove to store the harvests of the farming activities organized by the hospital as part of the therapeutic and rehabilitative program for its criminally insane inmates. (See Hillcrest)

So why wasn’t the silo demolished when construction on UMBC began in the 1960s? One theory was that the old structure was kept as a remembrance of the site’s history as a farm.

UMBC’s founding chancellor Albin O. Kuhn addressed this very question in a 2006 interview.

Kuhn allowed that keeping the silo preserved the memory of UMBC’s roots, but he also suggested a more practical reason at the bottom of the question: The silo was too large and heavy to move or demolish. Kuhn reasoned that the old silo “wouldn’t bother anybody.”

Indeed, UMBC’s distinctive silo recently survived yet another change in its vicinity this year, as the university engineered a sweeping redesign of its main campus entrance with the structure that was there at UMBC’s founding still intact.

Perhaps the silo will be around for another 50 years.

– Theresa Donnelley ’13

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