Former UNI students admire one of the cannons in front of Lang Hall. 

Photo courtesy of UNI Special Collections
Former UNI students admire one of the cannons in front of Lang Hall. Photo courtesy of UNI Special Collections

The history behind Lang Hall’s cannons

Well over 400 years old and guarding campus for the past 122 years, the two cannons facing the east entrance of campus in front of Lang Hall have a long but largely unknown history harkening all the way back to 1565. They were originally used by Pedro Menendez, a Spanish navigator who founded Ft. Marion, the oldest fortification in North America. 

Menendez installed 80 large siege cannons in defense against the British on Ft. Marion, and in the following centuries from 1565 onwards, the fort alternated control between the British and Spanish. The cannons were used in 1702 and again in 1741 when British troops attempted to capture Ft. Marion to run the Spanish out of Florida. 

The cannons pictured in front of the old Administration Building which was demolished in 1984.
Photo courtesy of UNI Special Collections

In 1821, Florida was sold to the United States and the old cannons were torn out of the fort to make room for new weaponry. They remained discarded on a sandy beach at Ft. Marion where they laid unbothered until 1901 when Cedar Falls resident James Brownell Post secured the cannons from the war department. 

On June 10, 1901 the two cannons were formally presented on UNI’s campus, (then known as the Iowa State Normal School) in conjunction with the Quarter Centennial anniversary commencement exercises. For a brief period, piles of cannon balls were placed along with the cannons. 

A photo of Lang Hall and the two cannons complete with cannon balls in 1901.
Photo courtesy of UNI Special Collection

According to an article published in a 1961 edition of the College Eye (now known as the Northern Iowan), “The two cannons are among the very few remaining relics of the early Spanish navigators to be seen anywhere besides being the oldest armament belonging to the United States.”

Now rusted over, eerily silent and generally lost to history, the cannons will continue to guard campus for many years to come.


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