FROM THE ARCHIVES
As the Mueller Center,
Rensselaer’s newly opened fitness facility, buzzes daily with students
pumping iron and shaping up in the aerobic and other multipurpose workout
rooms, it’s easy to forget that higher education didn’t always embrace
the concept of working out.
It wasn’t until the
mid-1800s that the development of physical education and workout facilities
in universities began to gain popularity around the country. Rensselaer
took the initiative to look into building a gymnasium in May 1883, when
students handed the Board of Trustees a petition that stated steps be
taken to provide a “suitable gym for student use.”
A year later, in
1884, the trustees purchased a lot on the south side of Broadway, and
a $20,000 gymnasium was constructed. One-third of the money came from
student donations. Made of brick and trimmed with stone and terra cotta,
the two-story building opened March 11, 1887. The lower level housed a
bowling alley, and fencing and boxing rooms. The main floor was devoted
to a large workout room with a track around its edge.
glass-enclosed Mueller Center at 29,000 square feet would easily dwarf
the 80-feet-long by 44-feet-wide Broadway gym, and students back then
still lacked a playing field for the Institute’s football and baseball
teams. Nevertheless, the facility was Rensselaer’s first concession to
nonacademic needs, and students hailed it as a start of a new era and
a future source of good health.
In 1891, Rensselaer
employed a gymnasium instructor at $30 a month before a physical health
and education department was established 20 years later.
As efforts to increase
health and fitness at the university began to grow, the trustees appointed
a committee in 1910 to establish “a department of physical culture.” The
committee concluded the Broadway gymnasium was “entirely inadequate” considering
the increasing number of students, and a modern gymnasium needed to be
built to establish physical education.
This “modern gymnasium”
is better known as the ’87 Gym on Sage Avenue. Named in honor of the Class
of 1887’s 25th anniversary, it opened in 1912. Alumni from the class paid
for the building and its equipment at a cost of $162,000. The old gymnasium
on Broadway was then converted into a theater for the RPI Players before
it was razed in the late 1960s.