Some call Grumbein’s Island, the pedestrian island on University Avenue between WVU’s Mountainlair and Martin Hall, a refuge for walkers. Most would disagree.

Nearly 700 people cross this tiny section of University Avenue in the minutes between 12:15 p.m. and 12:30 p.m. alone, according to a 2011 feasibility study considering changes to Grumbein’s Island. Most are pedestrians heading to the PRT, the Mountainlair, or class—and many walk with heads down, looking at cell phones and darting precariously between cars. Traffic, meanwhile, is backed up, inching slowly forward through the crush of human bodies.

Though these photos were taken decades later, Grumbein’s Island took shape in 1934 when John B. Grumbein, department head of Experimental Engineering, proposed the island concept. A sea of students continues to overwhelm the island during the academic year, though there have been periodic whispers of discussion about ameliorating the congestion—like the 2011 feasibility study suggestions that, ultimately, were dropped for cost and impact concerns.

If you are one of those pedestrians checking Twitter while crossing the road, it’s time to check the facts: WVU will not pay for your tuition if you’re hit as a pedestrian, so put the age-old myth surrounding Grumbein’s Island to rest.

Then & Now is published in partnership with WVU Libraries’ West Virginia & Regional History Center.

written by Jordan Carter | photographed by Carla Witt Ford