Remembering Harold Holden Sayre

Group documenting history of Sayre Hall, old Wesley College to honor namesake hero before planned building demolitions

Sayre Hall

On May 3, at 11 a.m., a small ceremony will take place at Sayre Hall to remember Harold Holden Sayre and his sacrifice in World War I as well as the history of the old Wesley College, of which Sayre Hall was a part for much of its history. UND Archival photo.

For 110 years, the majestic old building known as Sayre Hall has stood on the corner of what is now University Avenue and Oxford Street, on the UND campus, in honor of Harold Holden Sayre, the young American war hero whose namesake it bears.

But that physical legacy will soon come to an end.

William Caraher

William Caraher

This summer, the University plans to raze Sayre Hall as well as Robertson Hall (which is attached to Sayre), Corwin-Larimore Hall, Chandler Hall and a number of former student housing buildings to alleviate ongoing operational and maintenance expenses in these vacant or low-occupancy structures.

However, before that happens, at 11 a.m., on May 3, a small ceremony will take place at Sayre Hall to remember Harold Holden Sayre and his sacrifice in World War I as well as the history of the old Wesley College, of which Sayre Hall was a part for much of its history. The public is invited to attend.

The idea for the ceremony came about as a result of a one-credit experiential learning class of 10 students under the direction of UND History Professor William Caraher. It attracted students from majors across campus interested in helping to document the history of the soon-to-be-demolished buildings. Brian Larson, UND associate director of construction management; Jeffery Wencl, of the Grand Forks Historic Preservation Commission; and Joe Kalka, a graduate student in the UND History Department, collaborated with Caraher on issues of access, historical architecture and class instruction.

The group is doing all it can to make sure a part of UND’s history is not soon forgotten.

“As we learned about Wesley College and Sayre Hall, it became more and more important to us to make sure that these buildings and their stories be remembered on campus,” Caraher said. “Sayre Hall was renamed for Harold Sayre, but was also the home to such famous UND figures as Maxwell Anderson (famed playwright) and Carl Ben Eielson (aviation pioneer).”

About Harold Holden Sayre

Sayre was not a UND alum. He was born in Hutchinson, Minn., but spent most of his time on the East or West Coast. He attended Stanford University where he played on its undefeated 1915 rugby team. But his name has been engraved in the history of the UND campus since 1919, when Sayre Hall was renamed in his honor, thanks to a friendly request from his father.

Harold Holden Sayre

Harold Holden Sayre

A member of the U.S. Army Air Service, Sayre died as German planes ambushed his Breguet 14B.2 aircraft, during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel on Sept. 14, 1918. He was a gunner, and was killed while firing at enemy aircraft. His pilot, 1st Lt. Horace Shidler, survived that battle and the war, and would later commemorate his fallen comrade’s bravery in a poem that’s preserved in UND’s Department of Special Collections.

Sayre enlisted first in the American Field Service as a sophomore at Stanford in 1917, where he served in the ambulance corps before the United States even entered the war. When America declared war in 1918, he enlisted in the Army.

“I don’t want to be a slack and not go; I’d feel like a coward as long as I lived,” the younger Sayre would tell his father, A.J. Sayre.

A.J. Sayre was a successful business man and land broker, originally from Harvey, N.D., who made his fortune in Calgary and California. He funded the construction of what would one day become Sayre Hall. Following his son’s death, A.J. Sayre requested that the building, then part of the Wesley College campus, could be named in his son’s memory. In A.J. Sayre’s words, it would be dedicated “to the high ideals … I see in the life of my own boy.”

Edward Robertson, the president of Wesley College, quickly agreed to the request. And for 99 years, this building has stood in honor of a young man who died very far from home.

About Sayre Hall/Wesley College

Sayre Hall functioned as a men’s dormitory for most of its life along University Avenue. Designed by prominent New York City architect A. Wallace McRae in the Beaux Arts style, it cut a sophisticated and cosmopolitan figure on the Wesley College campus.

Wesley College was founded in 1905 in a unique co-institutional arrangement with UND. Its students, who lived in Sayre and nearby Larimore Halls, took classes in music and religion, and could also earn credits at UND. UND students also could take music and religion classes at Wesley College. This arrangement allowed UND to expand its course offerings without straying from its overtly secular mission. UND also didn’t have to hire its own faculty to teach those classes.

The arrangement continued until 1965, when the struggling Wesley College finally sold its property to UND.

Under UND’s care, Sayre Hall continued to commemorate Harold Sayre’s sacrifice, while its adjoining building, Robertson Hall, paid tribute to former Wesley College President Edward Robertson.

Sayre Hall functioned as a men's dormitory for most of its life along University Avenue. Designed by prominent New York City architect, A. Wallace McRae, in the Beaux Arts style, it cut a sophisticated and cosmopolitan figure on the Wesley College campus, of which it was a part for much of its history. UND Archival photo.

Sayre Hall functioned as a men’s dormitory for most of its life along University Avenue. Designed by prominent New York City architect A. Wallace McRae in the Beaux Arts style, it cut a sophisticated and cosmopolitan figure on the Wesley College campus, of which it was a part for much of its history. UND Archival photo.

About the Wesley College Documentation Project

The Wesley College Documentation Project is a collaboration between Caraher (Department of History), UND Facilities and the UND Honors Department to work with students to preserve and document the history, architecture and archaeology of the Wesley College campus in the months before its demolition.

Ten students, community members and UND faculty and staff have worked painstakingly to document Roberston, Sayre, Corwin, and Larimore Halls through music and ritual, photography and videos, and interviews and archival research. They hope to make the results of their efforts publicly available in the months and years to come.