Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Sunset Hill and Lake

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Institution Name: Vassar College
Original/Historic Place Name: Sunset Hill and Lake
Location on Campus: southeastern area of campus
Date(s) of Construction:
1913original construction; lake
1916original construction; amphitheater Loring Underwood
Designer: lake created by damming, architect unknown; amphitheater: Loring Underwood
Type of Place: Landscape site
Style: (Glossary)
Significance: culture, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
ca. 1913-present (2006)outdoor space (gathering place)

Matthew Vassar desired to find a site for his college, chartered in 1861 and opened in 1865, which would provide the beauty of a natural landscape, pure air and water, and a healthy all-around environment for the students. From the beginning, exercise outdoors as well as indoors was part of the daily routine. Sunset Hill and the vale at the bottom of the hill, where the Casperkill and Fonteynkill converged to flow on to the Hudson, were natural attractions. Sunset Hill once had an unobstructed view of the Hudson River and the Shawumgunk Mountains west of the river, and was used by Vassar students for sledding, skiing, walking, and picnicking. In season, it is still used for picnics, sunning, studying, and lounging and has been planted with flowers, bushes, fruit trees, and pines.

The lake was created in 1912 by damming an area of the Casperkill which flows through the campus from north to south, with a waterfall and a bridge at the southern end of the lake, which has now been dredged several times. On the western perimeter of Sunset Lake is a lawn which was artistically altered in 1916 to fashion an outdoor theater, designed by Loring Underwood, where student plays were once performed. At present, the space is used for graduation, and on rare occasions other events which require accommodation for large numbers of people, such as when Hillary Clinton addressed a large audience drawn from the college and Poughkeepsie community.


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Last update: November 2006