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In 1899, Bluffton College--originally known as Central Mennonite College--was founded on the banks of the Little Riley Creek in Bluffton, a small town in northwest Ohio. College Hall was the first academic building. Early documents stress the building's site on the highest point of the campus as much as the architecture, commenting on the "grove of large and small trees of nature's planting" which will shade the building as well as the "elevations and depressions, the low places with winding lagoons, the walks and the drive" (1909). Like many other Protestant colleges with historic antipathies to Catholicism, this Mennonite institution adopted the Romanesque "ecclesiastical" style of architecture. In his address at the laying of the cornerstone in 1900, N. C. Hirschy, the first president of the college, refers to the renewal of Christian emphasis at Harvard University; thus, one assumes that if Richardson Romanesque was appropriate for Harvard, it could be for a Mennonite institution. It was not until the 1960's with the design of Marbeck Center that Bluffton College clearly realized that architecture could reflect specific Mennonite values of simplicity, honest workmanship, and community.
Still, the Romanesque style is "toned down." While the building has decorative corbelling, belt courses and voissoirs in limestone, flat (gauged) arches above the windows, and rough-cut stone battered walls, it is not as decorative as Richardson's buildings. Although it is pleasantly asymmetric with a slightly projecting square tower, there are no densely carved details, no paired or squat columns with elaborate capitals, and no deeply recessed windows. In some ways this could be defined as Midwestern Richardson Romanesque (ignoring his Chicago Glessner House) or perhaps Mennonite "simple" Romanesque. And indeed, the sturdy Romanesque building with its tall tower does accord with Hirschy's metaphor at the laying of the cornerstone: "The foundation is now laid. Let the structure arise until the dawn of coming day gilds its topmost tower, and the last glimmering rays of the evening play in its summit." He imagines a day in which the Christian men and women who have been educated at Bluffton College will do "great things."
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.