Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


St. Joseph Hall

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Institution Name: Chestnut Hill College
Original/Historic Place Name: Mount Saint Joseph Collegiate Institute
Location on Campus: 9601 Germantown Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1903original construction (Payne & Co., builders) Durang, E. F.
Designer: E. F. Durang (architect); Payne & Co. (builders)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Romanesque revival, Other (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: stone
Walls: Chestnut Hill stone (Wissahickon schist)
Roof: red terra cotta tile
ca. 2004-present (2006)residence hall
ca. 2004-present (2006)observatory (planetarium)
ca. 2004-present (2006)observatory
ca. 2004-present (2006)academic department building (art labs, science labs, art studio, art gallery, music rooms)
ca. 2004-present (2006)classrooms
ca. 2004-present (2006)administration

Mount Saint Joseph Collegiate Institute was founded in 1900 as an extension of Mount Saint Joseph Academy, located in what is now the Convent of the Sisters of Saint Joseph. The Charter of 1871 granted to the Corporation of the Sisters of Saint Joseph "all the privileges and exemptions enjoyed by all Institutions, Schools, Academies, Colleges and Universities of the said city of Philadelphia." The new building was planned as a Collegiate Institute, and the cornerstone was laid on April 26, 1900. During the night of November 20, 1900, however, the building collapsed. A reconstruction project was undertaken with the help of contributions from local Catholics, and the contract for the new building was signed with Payne and Company for $294,000. The cornerstone of the building was laid on March 20, 1902, and the building opened on September 29, 1903. The first graduation program reads: Mount Saint Joseph College for Women with Academic and Preparatory Departments, conducted by the Sisters of Saint Joseph.

Two important features of this building are the five-story rotunda and the observatory. The rotunda, with its classic Corinthian pillars and its egg and dart design molding capped with a sky-light of stained glass windows, is unique to the area. The observatory, located on the roof of the building, has been in continuous use since 1903. The catalogue of that year reads: "The facts contained in the textbook are verified by actual observations, for which special facilities are afforded by a well-appointed Astronomical Observatory."

It was in this building that the College first began in 1924. Eight residents lived on the east wing of the third floor. Classes were held on the second floor, and there were labs in the basement and on the third floor. The gym was on the fifth floor. The new college was called Mount Saint Joseph on the Wissahickon. The building continued to house both the College and the Academy until 1961, when the Academy moved to a new site in Flourtown, PA. Numerous renovations have preserved the historic architecture and the important features of the building.


Chestnut Hill Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1985.

Contosta, David R. "The Philadelphia Story: Life at Immaculata, Rosemont, and Chestnut Hill." In Catholic Women's Colleges in America, edited by Tracy Schier and Cynthia Russett, 123-60. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.

Contosta, David R., and Carol L. Franklin. "Philadelphia's Wissahickon Valley."

Kashuba, Mary Helen. Chestnut Hill College, 1924-1999: Tradition and Risk. Virginia Beach, VA: Donning Company, 1999.

Logue, Maria Kostka. Sisters of St. Joseph of Philadelphia: A Century of Growth and Development , 1847-1947. Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1950.

Lukacs, John. A Sketch of the History of Chestnut Hill College, 1924-1974. Chestnut Hill, PA: Chestnut Hill College, 1975.

Mark B. Thompson Associates, Architecture & Planning. Chestnut Hill College Strategic Site and Facilities Master Plan Program Report. [Philadelphia: Mark B. Thompson Associates], 1995.


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