Auburn News

Boathouse

What a difference 46 years make. A few months ago, I was doing some research for Auburn Magazine when I came across this picture of Auburn students hanging out of a tugboat deckhouse (sans the boat itself). Needless to say, I felt compelled to get to the bottom of the story.

Here’s what I found out: In the years following World War II, Auburn University experienced an increase in student enrollment that led to a housing shortage on campus.* As a quick fix, administrators purchased tugboat cabins and situated them on West Samford Avenue, across Donahue Drive from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tillage Lab (near the present-day Telecommunications & ETV complex).

Ninety-three adventurous men were housed in the less-than-luxurious deckhouses. Each blue-gray cabin was 17 feet long, 7 feet wide and 7 feet high, and the upstairs pilot’s quarters was a mere 7 x 7 feet. Two male students would sleep in the pilot house, study downstairs in the cabin area and shower in a nearby bathhouse.**

In stark contrast, I recently toured the new Village living community here on campus and couldn’t help thinking about the tugboat living quarters of 1946. (By the way, I think I would have done back flips to live in a place as nice as The Village). Certainly, this comparison between the deckhouses and The Village is pretty lopsided. While both the new state-of-the-art Village and the makeshift tugboat cabins were built and commandeered, respectively, to solve housing shortages on campus, the deckhouses were certainly a temporary solution borne of immediate need.

Nevertheless, it’s fun to compare the two. The few incoming freshman I know have a lot of ambivalence about living in community housing because, as a couple of soon-to-be freshmen explained to me, they worry they’ll feel cramped and miss their privacy. Well, it is a different world in 2010, and students today are understandably different too–even compared to my generation. I certainly understand where they are coming from—but I still like to watch the horrified expressions on their faces when I explain that, in my college days, I shared a bathroom with 32 other girls. And we all wore flip-flops to the showers to keep from getting exposed to foot fungus.

*The post-war influx of students was felt at many colleges. Life magazine featured Auburn’s creative housing solution to show how colleges were coping with the housing shortages.

**In 1949, the university sold the boathouses to a businessman for a total of $1,860.