Old Main was built in 1853 to house the newly-merged Franklin and
Marshall Colleges. (Shortly afterward, Diagnothian and Goethean Halls were built to
house Marshall College's competing literary societies.) It has served as
a classroom building, administration offices, chapel, and other uses
throughout the years.
As college legend has it, Old Main was built on the site of Lancaster's
old "gallows hill". This may be true, because the present site of the
college was, in 1853, large expanses of farmland. Old Main is the highest
point around Lancaster. Reportedly, towns hundreds of years ago used to
hang its convicted felons from the highest remote point outside the town.
This way, the townsfolk might look out and see the hanging, and perhaps
learn lessons from that. In these senses, this story of "gallows hill" may
be true. It's been speculated that the idea of hanging people outside of
town may be more accurate with, say, pioneer towns in the west. On the
other side, though, there is nothing to contradict these stories. In
Mombert's An Authentic History of Lancaster County, he says that
convicted murderers and theives were hung "at the usual place of execution
... till [they] be dead." (Mombert 286)
The F&M Gazette in October of 1990 described how the bell of
Old Main has been known to ring randomly a number of times in the middle of
the night, with no human involvement. Though the bell used to be rung
every day at the beginning, end, and changing of classes, now it is only
rung for special occasions such as the anouncement of the new president in February 2002.