‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ Spirit Rock on the Move

Drew Vandemore '15 (CAHNR), left, and Jasmine Kirkland '16 (CAHNR) paint 'Welcome to UConn' on the rock near the UConn Foundation Building on Aug. 20, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Drew Vandemore '15 (CAHNR), left, and Jasmine Kirkland '16 (CAHNR) paint 'Welcome to UConn' on the rock near the UConn Foundation Building on Aug. 20, 2014. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Weighing in at more than 11,300 pounds and covered in more than an inch of paint, the Spirit Rock at UConn Storrs has long been a landmark at the corner of North Hillside Road and Alumni Drive.

It will soon be moved from its current location as part of a construction project – but don’t worry, UConn Nation, it won’t go far and will eventually have a permanent location in an equally prominent spot nearby.

The University and contractors have been ramping up for construction of the new Northwest Science Quad in the area roughly bounded by King Hill Road to the south, Hillside Road on the east, and Alumni Drive on the north.

As part of that work, the Spirit Rock has been hoisted from its current location and placed in a temporary spot in front of the North Garage, facing Hillside Road. The removal from its current location happened on Saturday, Aug. 1. The rock is scheduled to be in its new location, ready to be painted, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, after some landscaping work to prepare the new spot.

It will remain there through the end of October 2021, and then move to a new permanent location on the northeast side of Hillside Road, at the corner near the North Garage’s main entrance driveway. That situates the rock diagonally from its longtime spot on the other side of the intersection.

The Spirit Rock has provided an outlet for decades for students, alumni, and others in the UConn community to celebrate social events, share political or social justice sentiments, show school spirit, and express their artistic creativity.

Today’s Spirit Rock is a smaller piece of a giant rock that once sat where the George Safford Torrey Life Science Building is currently located, and which students and others had painted since at least the 1940s.

The original rock was broken up when construction began on that building in 1958, and the triangular, 7-foot-high piece known today as the Spirit Rock was moved to the corner of North Eagleville and Hillside roads.

It was moved again in the late 1990s – this time to storage on the Depot Campus — when the University built the Lodewick Visitors Center at that location and the nearby North Parking Garage. That storage, meant to be temporary, ended up lasting until the idea was raised in 2008 to re-install the rock and it was rescued from a weedy lot.

A hazmat team cleaned it up and sandblasted it down to the original surface to remove old lead-based paint before the rock was placed on a flatbed truck and hauled to the site where it sat until recently.

Over the following years, more than 1.25 inches of paint accumulated layer by layer, according to a test that UConn Facilities Operations conducted in 2018 in a small corner of the rock, carefully using a small drill bit to go through the layers until they felt the edge hit rock.

The Spirit Rock is the most visible and well-known of the three “paintable” rocks at UConn Storrs, which also include rocks near the Towers residence halls complex and the Buckley and Shippee residence halls.