Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Upper Campus

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Old Campus
Location on Campus: E. Main St.
Date(s) of Construction:
1900-1935original design Cram, Ralph Adams
Designer: Ralph Adams Cram
Type of Place: Building group
Style: Modern/pre-WWII, Modern/post-WWII, Contemporary, Beaux-Arts classicism, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
1900-1935master plan (campus)

When Samuel Valentine Cole became president of Wheaton in 1897, he and Eliza Baylies Wheaton were already in agreement that the Seminary must be transformed into a college. At that time the campus consisted of a classroom building, dormitory, bowling alley, observatory, an old barn, and an orchard. Deciding in 1900 to begin with a new dormitory, Dr. Cole consulted Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram about its placement and whether or not buildings could be "grouped around a central court" with the founder's house at the north end. Cram said that they could and his rough pencil diagram of a "Court of Honor," a rectangular space surrounded by groups of named structures on a scale with the existing Seminary Hall (Mary Lyon Hall), identifies him with the Beaux Arts movement of campus planning. Cram would later become famous for his campus plans at Wellesley, West Point, Princeton, and Rice Universities. His sketch of Wheaton's campus, one of, if not the earliest of Cram's campus plans, still exists in the college archives.

Beginning with the construction of Chapin Hall in 1900, and continuing until 1935, all structures at Wheaton were situated according to this original plan, which had been elaborated upon by Cram and members of his firm of Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson in 1920. The main axis of the plan leads from the Wheaton homestead to the library, with other buildings ranged east and west on lines equidistant from that axis. While Cram and his firm did not design all of the buildings on Upper Campus, their placement was determined by his plan. The dormitories designed by Cram and Ripley & Russell recall actual Georgian dormitories like those at the Harvard Quad and William and Mary University. The last complex of dormitories (Metcalf, Hebe Parlors, and Kilham) and the administrative building (Park Hall), replaced the original boarding house (Old Metcalf). The pillars from the porch of the original boarding house were used to create a temple on the bank of Peacock Pond. All of the buildings are of neo-classical design, and the campus plan itself is in the Beaux Arts style, creating visual harmony, order and utility around an open park-like space, influenced by the popular Jeffersonian University of Virginia arrangement.

Wheaton is unusual in that all of its buildings, beginning with those on Upper Campus, are named for individuals who had long been associated with the institution, creating a true "Court of Honor." Those buildings constructed and located according to Cram's plan include: Chapin Hall (1900, named for Mrs. Wheaton's brother), Gymnasium/Admissions (1903), Old Power House (1905, renovated to Doll's House in 1925); Larcom Hall (1908, named for teacher Lucy Larcom), Emerson Dining Hall (1908, named for trustee, teachers and principal), Cragin Hall (1911, named for teacher Mary Jane Cragin), Science Hall (1911, named in 1971 for professor Jack Knapton), Observatory (1917, across the street), Cole Memorial Chapel (1917, named for Pres. Samuel Valentine Cole), Stanton Hall (1921, named for Principal A. Ellen Stanton), Library (1923, named in 1984 for alumna), Power House (1925), Everett Hall (1926, named for Professor Ida J. Everett), Peacock Pond (1929), Kilham Hall (1932, named for alumna, teacher, and trustee Annie M. Kilham W1870), Metcalf Hall (1933, named for Principal Caroline Cutler Metcalf), Hebe Parlors (1933), Park Hall (1934, named for President J. Edgar Park), Metcalf Pillars (1935).

The exteriors of these buildings facing on the Dimple remain remarkably similar to when they were built, with some additions, and the occasional ramp. All of the dormitories and Park Hall had cornices or balustrades along the edges of their roofs, of different designs and with different corner finials. Only the stone balustrade on Park Hall survives. All of the others were wood, were difficult to maintain, and were damaged in the 1938 Hurricane; they were removed between 1938 and 1940. The chimneys on Larcom Hall appeared too tall after the removal of its balustrade, so they were rebuilt in 1939 at a lower height approved by Hornbostel and Bennett (architects of the Student Alumnae Building). Cragin and Larcom originally had wooden "false teeth" pergola "porches" over their main entrances that were removed in 1939. Wooden pergolas with brick piers and concrete walkways connect Emerson to Cragin and Larcom; these were roofed over before 1951, possibly in 1939.

The quadrangle around which these buildings stand is called "The Dimple." The land south of Main St. was once a farm owned by Judge Laban Wheaton. Until 1905 a large barn and several elm trees stood in a natural depression in the ground. The swale was partially excavated in 1908 when Emerson was built, and enlarged when fill was taken during construction of the Chapel in 1917. It was not until 1920 that it was officially named the "Dimple." Traditions involving the Dimple soon developed, such as May Day celebrations, class singing, the senior class hoop roll, and class day and commencement exercises. According to Gaines, the "quad at Wheaton College in Norton is the campus. The Wheaton quad's proportions are splendid; its roof lines are related but not tediously level; it is stylistically integrated, one place were designers of Georgian, Federal, and Italianate can sit down and sup together." It is the student-gathering place for sun bathing, Frisbee, football and baseball tossing, juggling, and occasionally classes are held under the Elms. Barbecues, "Dimple Divers," and various other activities are also held in the Dimple, which is always busy during the academic year, as students cross it to attend class, and to get to the dining hall, Balfour-Hood Hall, and the registrar's and dean's offices.


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.

Cole, Samuel Valentine. "The First Decade." Wheaton Alumnae News 1, no. 1 (May 1922): 1-2.

Cole, Samuel Valentine. President's Reports, 1912-1922. Archives, Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Cram, Ralph Adams. "Sketch of campus plan." 1900. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Cram Goodhue and Ferguson. "Campus plan." 1920. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Gaines, Thomas A. "Class Acts: The Best Boston-Area Campuses, Aesthetically Speaking." Boston Sunday Globe, February 1, 1987.

Harvard Land Development Studio. Long-term Development Plan for the Wheaton/Norton Community. [Cambridge, MA: Harvard Land Development Studio], Spring 1988.

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

John Wacker & Associates. Land Use Study for Wheaton College. [Conway, NH: John Wacker & Associates], September 1985.

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

Sasaki Associates Inc. Planning and Landscape for the Wheaton College Campus, Report. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], March 1982.

Sasaki Associates Inc. Campus Master Plan: Upper Campus. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], 1987.

Sasaki Associates Inc. Wheaton College Master Plan: Composite Inventory Report. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], December 1987.

Sasaki Associates Inc. Wheaton College Master Plan: Executive Summary. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc.], March 1988.

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

Shurcliff and Merrill, Landscape Architects. Proposed Development Plan. Blueprint. [Boston: Shurcliff and Merrill, Landscape Architects], November 18, 1957, rev. October 1962.

Shurcliff and Merrill, Landscape Architects. Survey of Wheaton College. Blueprint. [Boston: Shurcliff and Merrill, Landscape Architects], June 1957, rev. February 1963.

Simpson, Susan. "A Blueprint for the Future." Wheaton Alumnae Magazine (Spring 1988).

Stickney, Zephorene L. Architectural History of the Wheaton College Campus: History of Land and Building Acquisition. [Norton, MA.: s.n.], 1987, rev. 2002.

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

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.

"Wheaton Campus Listed Among Nation's Most Valuable Cultural Resources." Wheaton Alumnae Magazine (Fall 1983): 6.

Young, Sarah Belle. "President Cole, the Builder." Wheaton Alumnae News 4, no. 3 (August 1925): 4-7.


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