Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Mary Lyon Hall

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: New Seminary Hall, Seminary Hall
Location on Campus: East Main St.
Date(s) of Construction:
1849addition of north wing Hathaway, James D.
1878additions Bryant, Gridley J. F.
1982-1983adaptive restoration Tseckares, Charles CBT/Childs Bertram Tseckares & Casendino, Inc.
Designer: James D. Hathaway; Gridley J. F. Bryant; Charles Tseckares (Boston)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Greek revival, Italianate (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: granite
Walls: wood
Roof: shingle
1849-1908museum (art gallery)
1849-1908old main (included, after 1889 addition, recitation rooms, offices, library, gymnasium, science laboratory, art gallery)
1849-present (2006)administration
1849-present (2006)auditorium (function room, for concerts, recitals, parties, speakers, etc)
1849-present (2006)classrooms
ca. 2004-present (2006)other (faculty lounge)

The architectural style of the original north wing, built in 1849, is a composite of the vernacular tastes of the 1840s. The "temple front" of the Main Street gable end, articulated by triple-grooved pilaster strips that rise to a broad entablature above which is a low pediment; pilaster strips coupled at each of the corners; the flat arches over the first floor windows and central door; and the siding of flush boards intended to resemble stone all are characteristic of the Greek Revival Style. Other elements of the building refer to the Italianate Style just coming into fashion, including segmental arches over the second floor windows, double brackets on the cornice, and the original coloring of brown pilaster strips against mustard yellow walls. The hood and trim over the front door provide a whimsical touch of lacy Carpenter Gothic. The same individuality appears in the capitals of the pilaster strips, which follow no Greek orders, but are an original design of a stylized flowerdrop below a highly articulated architrave and frieze and a cornice with an acorn pattern.

We believe these design elements to be the work of the carpenter James D. Hathaway, hired by the Wheaton family to build this new classroom building as a means of improving the physical plant and thus increasing enrollment at Wheaton Female Seminary. The building's plans may have been used at two earlier academic institutions in Massachusetts: the chapel at the Pittsfield Young Ladies' Institute (1847) and an academic structure at the Hinsdale Academy (1848).

A central staircase and cupola, as well as east, south, and west wings were added in 1878-9. Mrs. Eliza B. Wheaton hired the Boston architect Gridley J.F. Bryant, whose extensive practice included the design of the old Boston City Hall, buildings at Cony Female Seminary in Augusta, Maine, and at the Putnam Free School in Newburyport, Mass. Bryant continued the frame construction with flush siding and pilaster strips. The south wing, narrower and only one-and-a half stories high, contained one barrel-ceilinged room used for the science laboratory. The design of the cupola bears no connection to the earlier styles. Rising from a rusticated square base, the octagonal belfry features classical elements such as Ionic columns, pedimented decorative panels and arched openings, and is a harbinger of the Georgian Revival style. This addition provided a library, gymnasium and laboratory, additional classrooms, and a grand staircase and art gallery. The fanciful iron cupola adornment was probably removed circa 1938, following the great hurricane.

In 1898 the Trustees authorized alterations to the building by Worcester, Mass., architect Stephen C. Earle, who had designed buildings for Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Clark University, as well as many churches and libraries. His plans show the addition of a second floor on the south wing, but this did not materialize. It is not clear what alterations were made, although a cornerstone dated 1898 was installed in the foundation of the south wing. The building was painted yellow and white and electricity installed in 1899.

In 1912, when Wheaton Female Seminary became a college, Seminary Hall was renamed for Mary Lyon, the great pioneer in early women's education whose advice guided the Wheatons in establishing their school in 1834-5. Mary Lyon provided the initial staff of Wheaton Female Seminary, established the curriculum and rules, and did some teaching during breaks in her fundraising tours. She founded Mount Holyoke Female Seminary two years later (1837) in South Hadley, Mass.

In 1980, Constance Werner Ramirez (Class of 1961), president of Preservation Resource Group, Inc. of Springfield, Virginia, evaluated Mary Lyon Hall to determine possibilities for historic preservation and contemporary use. In her report she wrote, "Mary Lyon is a very significant structure in the history of women's education…. It is our responsibility to offer students the opportunity to experience something of what the educational environment was like in earlier times."

As a kick-off to the College's Sesquicentennial, in 1982-1983 the firm of CBT/Childs Bertram Tseckares & Casendino, Inc. (Charles N. Tseckares, principal) of Boston was chosen to oversee an adaptive restoration of the building. The exterior retained the white and yellow coloring adopted in 1900. The interior was restored to approximate the appearance of the 1880s, with improvements to HVAC and electrical systems. The major interior change was widening the hallway in the north wing and around the base of the stairs. Mary Lyon Hall again serves as a main entrance to the college, housing the alumnae relations and annual giving offices, classrooms, and recital rooms. The faculty lounge, in the south wing, is named for Elizabeth Stoffregen May, professor of economics and dean of the college 1949-1964, and acting president from 1961-1962.

The history of Wheaton College and that of Mary Lyon Hall are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. The construction of this purely academic building emphasized that the Seminary was a place for scholarship and serious study. As the second oldest academic building at Wheaton, Mary Lyon Hall has been a part of all but fifteen years of the college's history. Until 1989, when Wheaton became coeducational, Mary Lyon Hall was the oldest building in continuous use as a classroom on any women's college campus in America. Mary Lyon Hall is the most visible and beloved architectural and historic landmark on the Wheaton College campus, and is part of the Norton Historic District. Its cupola and cruciform plan appear often on college documents and as a college and alumni association logo. The building derives significance as defining a place. Alumni, staff, faculty, and friends of the college identify Mary Lyon Hall with Wheaton, and the building figures in stories, poetry, and artwork by Wheaton students, local artists, and the internationally renowned poet Richard Eberhart. Wheaton's oldest ghost inhabits Mary Lyon Hall.


"The Best New Buildings Are . . . ." Boston Sunday Globe, January [or July] 23, 1984.

Boulding, Christine, and Hope Phillips. Norton Center Historic District [including Wheaton College]. National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

CBT [Childs Bertram Taseckares & Casendino, Inc.]. Mary Lyon Hall Restoration Building Program. [Boston: [Childs Bertram Taseckares & Casendino, Inc.], January 22, 1982.

"CBT and Stifter Architects receive Wood Design Awards." New England Real Estate Journal (1984): 1.

Clewes, Carolyn M. "Mary Lyon Hall a Century Old." Wheaton Alumnae Quarterly 28, no. 4 (October 1949): 6, 28.

"Construction work in progress on Mary Lyon Hall." Wheaton Alumnae Magazine (Winter 1983): 5.

Dahl, Curtis. "The Architects of Norton." Norton (MA) Patriot, 1978.

Dahl, Curtis. "Famed Architect Designed Lyon Hall." Norton (MA) Patriot, June 8, 1978.

Dahl, Curtis. "Mary Lyon 1878." Wheaton College Alumnae Magazine (Fall 1978): 6-7.

"The Fire on Mount Olympus." The Rushlight 24, no. 1 (December 1878): 10-11.

"General Notes: Norton, Mass.--The Wheaton Female Seminary has Enlarged . . . ." American Architect and Building News 4, no. 149 (1878): viii.

"Glimpses of Life at Wheaton." The Rushlight 28, no. 2 (June 1883): 4-7.

Hammond, Mannie. "Editorial." The Rushlight 24, no. 1 (December 1878): 34-36.

Helmreich, Paul C. Wheaton College 1834-1957: A Massachusetts Family Affair. New York: Cornwall Books, 2002.

Larcom, Lucy. Wheaton Seminary: A Semi-Centennial Sketch. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1885.

"Mary Lyon Hall restoration, Norton Massachusetts." American School & University Architectural Portfolio 57, no. 3 (November 1984): 107.

McCormick, Thomas J. "Wheaton College Architecture: Cram Versus the International Style." n.p.: Society of Architectural Historians, 1982.

Paine, Harriet. Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton: A Chapter in the Higher Education of Women. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1907.

Preservation Resource Group. Initial Evaluation for Preservation and Use of Mary Lyon Hall, Wheaton College, Norton, Massachusetts. Springfield, VA: [s.n.], August 1980.

"Region V, Regional Award: Mary Lyon Hall, Wheaton College, Norton." Governor's Design Awards Catalog (1987): 32.

"Seminary Items." The Rushlight 44, no. 1 (January 1899): 4.

Shepard, Grace F. "Reference History of Wheaton College." Typescript. 1931. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. " Architectural History of the Wheaton College Campus: History of Land and Building Acquisition." 1987, rev. 2002.

Stickney, Zephorene L. "Faces behind the Facades: Campus Development & Named Buildings at Wheaton College, Norton, Mass." Online (2006). Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Mary Lyon Hall. Norton, MA: Wheaton College, 1982.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Wheaton Imagined, Wheaton Realized: Twentieth Century Perspectives on Planning. Norton, MA: Wheaton College, February 1988.

Stickney, Zephorene L., and Sandra C. Davidson. Of All Our Immemorial Past: 150 years at Wheaton. Norton, MA: Watson Gallery, Wheaton College, 1985.


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