Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Tower Court

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Institution Name: Wellesley College
Original/Historic Place Name: Tower Court
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1915original construction; Tower Court (central dormitory) Coolidge & Carlson
1917original construction; Claflin Hall (west dormitory) Coolidge & Carlson
1927original construction; Severance Hall (east dormitory) Klauder, Charles Z.
Designer: Coolidge & Carlson; Klauder, Charles Z.
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
1918-present (2006)residence hall

The central dormitory known as Tower Court opened in 1915, the west dormitory Claflin Hall in 1917, and the east dormitory, Severance Hall, in 1927. As a group, the three buildings are known as Tower Court, and represent a significant addition to the residential capacity of the campus in an architectural style particularly well-adapted to the unusual topography of the site. Tower Court was designed by renowned architects and landscape architects who also made recommendations for long-range campus planning.

Situated around the edges of College Hall Hill, the three dormitories form an open quadrangle with a large court facing Lake Waban. The plan of the three buildings appears to be complex because of the various wings and the intricacy of the architecture; however, upon closer examination the plan is a simple wide U-shape with small ells projecting into the U from Severance and Claflin, giving some definition to the southern boundary where the quadrangle descends to the Lake.

The buildings are made of brick laid up in a Flemish bond pattern and have stone and artificial stone trim and ornamentation. The roofs retain the slate shingles of varying colors of green and gray. Architectural details of the Tower Court central dormitory and Claflin are similar. The four-story buildings are connected by a vaulted stone archway with second-story rooms above. The tower of Tower Court is an additional two stories.

Tower Court replaced College Hall, which had been destroyed by a fire in March 1914. An anonymous donation was made for the re-building, with which there was a set of guidelines: the dormitories were to be fire-proof, and were to be built in the Gothic style with an interior court or quadrangle opening toward the lake. The donor of Tower Court was revealed at the unveiling of the tablet over the Great Hall fireplace on which is inscribed the donor's name, Mrs. Eileen Stebbins James. Claflin Hall was constructed using funds from the Restoration Fund and was named in memory of Governor and Mrs. William Claflin, early trustees of Wellesley College. Governor Claflin had signed the college charter in 1870.

See also Severance Hall.


Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Klauder, Charles Z., and Herbert C. Wise. College Architecture in America and Its Part in the Development of the Campus. New York and London: C. Scribner's Sons, 1929.


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Last update: November 2006