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The lower campus at Colgate creates a distinctive visual context for the upper campus, which is set on the hillside table overlooking the Chenango valley. What distinguishes Colgate as a whole is the aesthetic separation of the upper and lower campus and the way they interact. As an irregular and picturesque assemblage of elements, the lower campus prepares visitors for the clarity of the main quadrangle.
This lower campus element was not part of a self-conscious plan. The decisive moment in its evolution appears to have been a visit to Hamilton by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. at the request of James B. Colgate during the fall of 1883. There is no known report of the visit, but on the basis of a letter we know that Olmsted suggested Colgate depart from the linear arrangement of its first three buildings on the upper campus and take more advantage of the picturesque qualities of the lower campus and the transition to the hill.
Over the next thirty years, several key elements of the lower campus were introduced, including the installation of Taylor Lake in the 1890s, and the construction of Oak Drive and a Stone Bridge (1922) to span Payne Creek. Another feature of lower campus is Willow Walk, a tree-lined pathway connecting the University with the village of Hamilton.
With the closing of the Academy (1872 1912)--which had been located within a 2nd Empire structure in the middle of the lower campus--the University moved to integrate the lower campus into the physical identity of the institution. The Academy building became an administrative building, and the many private residences which lined the northern end of the grounds were moved. The work was completed by 1929, and the lower campus was realized. The only major development after that time was a 1964 fire that destroyed the Academy building.
The Colgate University Centennial Celebration: 1819-1919. Hamilton, NY: Colgate University, 1920.
Williams, Howard. A History of Colgate University, 1819-1969. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1969.