Mary K. Benedict Hall
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Mary K. Benedict Hall, also known as "Academic," is the most imposing of the original four buildings built for Sweet Briar College in 1906. At the time of its construction, the building was simply named for its functional use of housing academic classrooms. Only following its renovation in 1976, was the building named for Mary K. Benedict, the first president of the college.
Set on a high terrace, Benedict Hall and the other three original buildings, Gray, Refectory and Carson, are connected by a series of sheltering arcades constructed of the same warm-toned brick. Initially, the bricks used in the construction of the college were made on campus in a kiln located on the hill near the dairy, and the bricks were hauled by work horses to the construction sites. A temporary kiln was set up close to the buildings to accommodate the demand and the fires burned constantly in order to fill the need. To help defray the cost of the buildings, the contractor was supplied with wood from the surrounding land. Oak and poplar trees were used for sheds during construction, and dead wood and field pine was used for firing the bricks. More than 3,000 cords were used for the firing of the one million bricks made on campus (The Sweet Briar Story, p. 57).
In June 1906 when President Benedict arrived on campus, she rejoiced at the beauty of the stately exteriors of the campus buildings, but was dismayed when she entered the Academic building. "There was nothing in it except piles of plaster on the unstained floors. There was not even a blackboard" (The Sweet Briar Story, p. 70). The other buildings on campus were not in any better shape. The stem fitting had not yet been done, and electric wiring needed to be installed. The executive committee decided to finish the other buildings, including the dormitories and Refectory, before they completed Academic (The Sweet Briar Story, p. 70).
Academic served as the original classroom and administration building for the new campus and also housed the library. Vesper services were conducted in Academic with the faculty assuming responsibility for conducting the services unless there were visiting clergy or board members on the campus. One of the most unusual participants of the chapel service was the campus peacock. He usually responded to noise with an unusual musical call. He often sat in a tree behind Academic, close to the room where vespers were held. Whenever the students started to sing a hymn, the peacock joined in with his lovely screeching tone ("Alumnae News," December 1937, Interview with Mary K. Benedict, p. 9).
To the south of Benedict Hall is a courtyard with balustrade and stone steps leading to a terrace. This natural terrace landscaping was the site of various activities. When the sheep were finished grazing, the lawn was used by the students and faculty for sports and social events. Mr. Manson, chairman of the Executive Board, spent so much time at Sweet Briar that many felt he should receive a salary. Manson and his wife had also lost their only child, a daughter, and Sweet Briar helped to fill the void in his life. Manson, a lawyer who served as mayor of Lynchburg, city attorney, and vice-president of the National Exchange Bank of Lynchburg, had a clock golf set made at the foot of Academic. One of his great pleasures was spending time there playing with the students (The Sweet Briar Story, p. 61).
Benedict Hall is a handsome Georgian revival style brick building featuring a brick arcade on the south facade of the first story with two entrances within the arcade. The second and third stories are designed as a piano nobile with seven central bays recessed behind a portico of limestone Ionic columns. After undergoing significant renovations to the interior in 1976, Benedict is still used for classes today. The interior now contains an auditorium, classrooms and offices
Harnsberger, Douglas. Historic Structures Report. Sweet Briar, VA: Sweet Briar College, 1997.
Henry, Geoffrey B. Sweet Briar College Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1995.
Sasaki Associates Inc. Master plan. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], 1997.