Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project



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Institution Name: Bluffton University
Original/Historic Place Name: Campus
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1961-present (2006)campus plan Bassett, James H.
Designer: James H. Bassett
Type of Place: Building group
Style: Colonial revival, Romanesque revival, Beaux-Arts classicism, Modern/post-WWII (Glossary)
Significance: landscape
Narrative: see below
References: see below
1961-present (2006)master plan (landscape)
1961-present (2006)master plan (campus)

The campus is situated on the northeast side of the town of Bluffton Ohio. It consists of 40 acres of rolling land, partially covered with a "natural" forest of oak, beech, buckeye, maple, and more than 100 other varieties of trees--some exotic and unusual. Woodland areas provide borders for the campus or provide frames or screens for campus views, adding the beauty of shadow patterns and seasonal color. (Trees have often been planted as memorials and efforts have always been made to site new structures without removing trees.) The south side of campus is traversed by the Little Riley Creek, and three campus bridges pass over this natural water feature. Sixteen acres of the campus is part of the flood plain. The walk system is informal and delightful, with contrasting open spaces and dense woodlands.

However, the campus was not always tree-covered. During the founding years there were three loose clusters of trees and the rest of the campus was pasture for grazing cows. For example, H.W. Berky describes various features of his early (1914) walks on the campus, including "crossing the Little Riley on the new Amstutz bridge, which had securely replaced Eaton cow ford. I proceeded along the brand new cement walk leading up to a sparsely wooded hill-crest on which stood a brick building (Ropp Hall)." In the early days faculty members like Professor Berky, M'Della Moon, Presidents Hirschy and Mosiman, and graduates like Oliver Diller (a naturalist and professional forester) demonstrated an interest in and commitment to shaping a campus that would be a home for diverse species of plants and animals and thus exemplify God's creation. They intentionally planted much of the "natural landscape" that we experience today. In a sense, before the campus plan there was a spiritual plan in which the natural environment played a very important role.

President Robert S. Kreider describes the Bluffton College Campus Plan of 1965 in the following terms: "The woodland, the stream, the slightly uneven topography, and the open spaces give the Bluffton College campus qualities which are unique and which should be handled with sensitivity. These natural resources should be respected and used to affirm the character of the campus--friendliness and informality, simplicity and casual patterns, life in close fellowship with natural beauty, life in intimate community. The clustering of buildings, the arrangement of spaces, the determination of the shape, mass, and motifs in buildings, and the patterns of roads and paths can also affirm these qualities of community. Structures drawn to residential and human scale speak to the issue of personal worth and sense of community. The close association of the campus with the town is a gift of relationship which needs to be preserved and cultivated. The landscape architect and the architect make use of visual symbols in affirming values related to persons and community. It is therefore imperative that site development be an act of stewardship." James Bassett, nationally known landscape architect and environmentalist, has been associated with the college since 1961. The principles outlined by President Kreider are those he has executed in his planning for the college over the years. In his most recent plan (with Sasaki Associates) he claims that the campus has a tradition of preserving the Riley Creek corridor and the surrounding flood plain. In 1959, for example, one architect wanted to fill the flood plain and destroy the wooded wetlands--a proposal which was rejected. Since that time plans have sought to enhance the character of the campus by focusing on Riley Creek's intimate and natural setting. Basset's most recent master plan (2000) continues the idea of "buildings in a park" to reinforce the landscape tradition. In addition, buildings are clustered, based on use and to enhance the college's relationship with the town. The campus plan, perhaps more than any one building, has led many to exclaim that Bluffton College is the most beautiful small college campus in Ohio.


Bassett, James H. Bluffton College Campus Plan: A Concept for Continuing Physical Development. November 1965. Bluffton University, Bluffton, OH.

Bassett, James H. Comprehensive Plan for Bluffton College. March 1961. Bluffton University, Bluffton, OH.

Sasaki Associates Inc. and Basset Associates. Bluffton College Master Plan: Executive Summary. [Watertown, MA: Sasaki Associates Inc. and Summit, NJ: Basset Associates], November 2000.


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Last update: November 2006