The University Record, November 5, 2001

Tower serves as legacy to former president Burton

By Joanne Nesbit
News and Information Services

Early in the 20th century, University students were called to classes by a clock and a four-bell peal of the Old Liberty Building. But when the tower became too unstable to support the workings, the peal was moved to the University’s Engineering Shops, and there it sat.

The first suggestion for a campanile appeared in an editorial in the Michigan Alumnus in May 1919. The writer suggested a new clock tower “set high in the center of campus, to be at once a landmark and a thing of beauty,” one that alumni might want to leave as a memorial that was “at once practical and beautiful.”

In his commencement address of 1921, President Marion Leroy Burton suggested the erection of a tower as a memorial to the 236 U-M individuals lost in World War I, one that would be tall enough to be seen for miles and located approximately in the center of an enlarged campus as evidence of the idealism and loyalty of the alumni.

The Alumni Association was authorized to consider ways and means to make this happen, but the idea of a memorial to the WWI casualties failed approval.

Burton died in 1925 before a commitment was made to erect the tower he suggested. But the University’s secretary, Shirley W. Smith, suggested such a tower as a memorial to Burton, and plans to finance the structure were formalized. The University of Michigan Club of Ann Arbor committed money and suggested each graduating class during Burton’s term as President also contribute. They estimated there would be 18,000 grads from that time. The Depression of 1929 stopped the plans.

By this time, Charles Baird, the first and by then former athletic director at U-M, had given the University $50,000 “for the purchase of a carillon, to be known as the Charles Baird Carillon,” but there was no tower in which to mount it. The bells were purchased. Consideration was given to mounting them in the tower of the Michigan Union or the roof of Angell Hall, but neither plan was workable. A bell tower was the only solution.

The University of Michigan Ann Arbor Club raised $25,000 to augment what the University had and later gifts from Baird to supplement the funds for the tower, its clock, and additional bells, brought his total contribution to $77,500. The tower construction was under way, built between 1935 and 1936 and dedicated Dec. 4, 1936.


Marion L. Burton

During his term as U-M President (1920–1925), Marion L. Burton’s most visible achievements were new buildings. He arrived in Ann Arbor in 1920, a tall, red-haired man with a gift for making people like him immediately. Like Presidents Angell and Hutchins before him, Burton was a Congregationalist and a minister.

New building construction Burton oversaw included work on University Hospital, an addition to the School of Dentistry, construction of a model high school (now the School of Education) and the East Engineering Building.

During Burton’s tenure, the William C. Clements Library opened and a separate School of Education was created.

Burton insisted on high academic performance and raised the requirement for admission of high school graduates. He also possessed a sense of humor—which served him good stead in the age of the Flapper and the Charleston.

In June 1924, Burton made the nominating speech for Calvin Coolidge for president at the National Republican Convention. Later that year he suffered a heart attack and died in February 1925.