Without George Washington Wilson, there would be no Wilson Hall today—and there would be no ASU.
Wilson was a pioneer Tempe butcher of modest means who kept cattle on a 20-acre pasture awaiting slaughter.
Around 1883, Tempe’s town fathers, including Judge Charles Trumbell Hayden, decided to persuade the Territorial legislators to establish a normal school in Tempe.
Hayden and the Tempeans homed in on what they felt was the perfect site for a normal school—five acres just south of Eighth Street (today’s University Drive).
The five-acre plot, which was described as “a half-cleared patch of ground watered by the original Wilson Ditch…with a little trampled and thirsty alfalfa on it and plenty of cactus, creosote and mesquite grove,” was part of Wilson’s 20-acre pasture.
When Hayden and the Tempeans began lobbying the legislature for a school, they decided they'd have a better chance if the land was a gift to the territory.
The land was priced at $100 per acre, so the townsfolk dug into their pockets and came up with the money.
Wilson and his wife, Martha, sold the five acres—and later gave the remaining 15 acres for the Tempe Normal School.
Their cattle grazed on the school grounds for several years after the school opened in 1886, and Wilson strengthened his ties with the future university by working as maintenance supervisor for 25 years, until his death in 1916.
During his years as caretaker—and security officer—he built a corral for the horse teams of the Normal School students.
Tragedy struck the generous butcher in 1885, when the Wilson’s two-story house at the foot of Hayden Butte burned, and again in 1888, when his wife died in childbirth and left him to rear their six children alone.
In 1956, Wilson Hall was dedicated as a women’s residence and memorial to ASU's first benefactor.
Just as progress changed pastureland to campus, growth transformed Wilson Hall from dormitory to office and classroom building in 1972.
Wilson Hall was chosen because of its proximity to the Administration Building, a fact that did not sit well with the 70 coeds living in the building. According to an article in the State Press, they liked Wilson because there was no meal plan and thus was cheaper to live in.
But the deed was done, and today Wilson Hall houses offices for the College of Public Programs and the Graduate College.
After all the remodeling, there is no evidence that the building was a dormitory, save the bells for the east entry doors.
And, said Graduate College receptionist Jean Laaninen, “once in a while a man will come in and say he used to pick up his wife here.”
There’s a bronze plaque at the entry to the College of Public Programs commemorating the dedication of the building, but there’s not a portrait of George Washington Wilson to be found.