Standing at a lofty 140 feet, Ayres Hall proudly sits atop the University of Tennessee’s famous hill. The collegiate Gothic structure has seen almost 100 years of school history, and has inspired many a Vol, from mathematics majors to General Neyland himself. It is now the most identifiable academic building on campus – and is even listed on the National Register of Historical Places – but little is said about its conception.
In 1919, with the help of the board of trustees and an architect, UT President Brown Ayres began planning on a building that would replace three outdated structures – West College, Old College, and East College. Unfortunately, Ayres passed away unexpectedly later that year, and construction was left to others at the university.
Once the building was finished, Harcourt Morgan (Ayres’ successor as UT President) proposed that it be named after Ayres, as it had been his vision. However, when a plaque honoring Ayres was placed on the building in 1921, it spelled his name incorrectly - ‘Ayers,’ instead of ‘Ayres.’ It wasn’t until 1992 that the misspelled plaque was replaced with one featuring the correct spelling of Ayres.
Perhaps the most well-known story of Ayres Hall highlights its influence on UT athletics – specifically, the introduction of the iconic checkerboard endzones used in Neyland Stadium and Thompson-Boling Arena. According to Volunteer lore, legendary coach Robert Neyland used Ayres as motivation for his players, yelling “Don’t stop until time runs out or until you reach the checkerboard – and once you get there, get there again!” The checkerboard that Neyland referred to, however, was the checkerboard engraved bell tower of Ayres Hall.
From 2008 to 2010, Ayres underwent a much-needed renovation, in an attempt to modernize while preserving the building’s Old-World Charm. The bulk of construction consisted of updating classrooms, adding meeting spaces, and making the building more energy efficient. Afterward, the US Green Building Council issued LEED Silver Certification to Ayres Hall in recognition of its many energy conserving features.
Today more than ever, Ayres Hall is the nucleus of the University of Tennessee. The South Lawn in front of the building is a popular event space for everything from senior send-offs to national television broadcasts of football games. The tower bells still chime to inform faculty, staff, and students of the time each day. Upon the passing of Volunteer legend Pat Summitt in 2016, they rang a heartfelt tribute to the tune of the Tennessee Waltz. No matter the occasion, Ayres Hall remains an integral part of UT History.