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“Doubtless, God could have made a more beautiful scene than this, but He never did.”
-Methodist bishop gazing across the Walnut Valley from the top of the 77.






A service road once ran
parallel to Christy Administration Building, dividing the bottom portion of the steps from the final flight into the Christy doors. This road has been removed.

The steps are recognizable in the college’s main logo, which includes five steps and four Christy columns.





Aside from minor cosmetic changes, there have been no fundamental alterations to the 77 Steps since 1910. Neither the disastrous fire of 1950, which destroyed Richardson Hall, nor the construction of Christy Administration Building in its place, seriously impacted the steps. Only the government could insist on a major alteration: Handrails were installed in the 1980s when OSHA insisted.

Photos and art on these pages are from the Southwestern College Moundbuilder, the college’s archives, and personal collections. The engraving on the left is from the 1914 Moundbuilder. The photo illustration at the bottom is from the 1915 Moundbuilder. Cover and photo at top left is from a postcard printed in 1910. Ages of other photos are estimated to be 1940s (far left), 1950s (middle left), and 1960s (above).

The Heart of the Hill

Their history goes back to the edges of photographic preservation.

Faded sepia-tone reveals horsedrawn wagons, workmen in derbies and overalls dipping into water barrels, piles of sand, landscape without trees.

At the top of the photo is newly-constructed Richardson Hall, even before occupation its four columns and dome claiming its spot as the campus’s architectural anchor. At the bottom of the photo wooden forms reveal the embryonic shape of what would become one of the most beloved and identifiable landmarks on Southwestern College’s campus.

The date was April 21, 1910, and the cluster of workers was building the 77 Steps.

Less than a month later, as the college celebrated its first quarter of a century, alumni and community friends were joining students and faculty as they climbed the 77 toward the new $70,000 Richardson.

From the beginning these steps claimed their role as a Winfield and Southwestern College landmark.

Since 1910, every graduating class but one (the class of 1950) has marched up the 77 steps. They provided the venue for the grand march of the May Queen and her retinue. Faculty in full academic regalia process up the steps for convocations in the fall and spring. As the college facilities expanded from two buildings in 1910 to its current size, the steps became the link between lower and upper campus.

Jerry Wallace, Southwestern College archivist from 1999 to 2001, researched the steps in a 2001 document.

“With the loss of other historic campus structures, these ancient steps serve as a link to the college’s past,” Wallace wrote. “The steps are part of the romance and lore of the campus and help to give it its special character.”

In spite of the passing of more than nine decades, the steps have remained largely unchanged. Nine flights of stairs with nine landings between. Ornamental concrete side rails. A marble slab on the third landing with the Jinx embedded in the concrete. (The Jinx landing dates from 1958, but a representation of the Jinx, in one form or another, has been found on the Steps for most of their existence, Wallace discovered.)

Heart of the Hill campaign

During the past 93 years millions of footsteps have pounded the heart of the hill. Kansas weather has alternately flash-frozen and heat-blasted the nine flights. And as time has passed, the 77 Steps have chipped, cracked, and shifted. Attempts to patch the steps have prolonged but not cured them.

“Are the steps still used?” one returning alumna asked a few Homecomings ago. “I figured they couldn’t be, because they are in such disrepair.”

Now Moundbuilders can take part in restoring this grand campus landmark. A Heart of the Hill campaign has a goal of $250,000 for renovation of the 77 Steps.

Donors will have a variety of opportunities to participate in this Annual Fund campaign.

A gift of $2,500, for example, allows the donor to name a step. The naming can be in honor of the donor, or of someone that person wants to memorialize (such as a favorite professor).

A gift of $5,000 will allow the donor to name one of the six landings of the 77, each landing including an engraved stone with an icon of Southwestern history.

A gift of $25,000, payable over three years, will lead to naming of the Jinx landing.

Special opportunities are available for classes with the largest class gift, the highest class participation, the greatest increase in giving, and the greatest increase in class participation.

Everyone who makes a contribution of $500 or more will receive a piece of the original steps.

For more information on the Heart of the Hill campaign, contact Paul Bean, vice president for development, at pbean@sckans.edu, or 620-229-6286.




But the steps also have become chipped and shabby. Patching has not kept up with the harsh Kansas weather, and wayward petunias occasionally bloom in the middle of a flight.

Still, talk to a student or an alumnus about the steps, and they’ll describe them in human terms. Friendly. Warm. If you’re at the bottom looking up, unbending.

They’re the backdrop in the daily drama that is Southwestern College, and no matter how shabby they have become, like the Velveteen Rabbit in a much-loved children’s story, they have been loved into reality.

To Moundbuilders who understand, the steps can’t be ugly.

They are the heart of the hill.

Research by Jerry Wallace
Story by Sara Severance Weinert
Design by Sunni L Sheets