Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Old Sem

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Institution Name: Cornell College
Original/Historic Place Name: Old Seminary
Location on Campus: central campus
Date(s) of Construction:
1853original construction Local builders
Designer: local builders
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Greek revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: local limestone
Walls: locally made brick
Roof: wood

The structures reported are part of some 120 listed in the Cornell-Mount Vernon Historic District (1980) that includes the entire campus and surrounding religious and residential buildings. The district illustrates the historic development of a small town and small college from 1853 to 1965. Hundreds of colleges were founded in this period and this district shows how the college and town helped shape the others. Taken together with the topography (landscape) of the town and college and the architectural integrity of the structures, the story of the national college building movement is well told.

The district includes nearly all of the styles widely deployed in the Midwest. Removed from major suburban and urban sprawl, and the conserving nature of private colleges have left the area with little impact on the natural environment and little intrusion on the landscape. Both local and regional architects are represented on the campus. Natural material (wood, limestone, and brick of local ingredients) tied the structures to the landscape in the 19th century. Structures in the 20th century are respectful of the earlier period and make references to specific details or elements. The campus plan seems to be dictated by the topography rather than an abstract notion of design. The campus remains open to fine vistas and to the town surrounding it. Mount Vernon is an upper middle class community with protection for its excellent historic housing stock. The college is in good condition with all 19th century buildings recently renovated.


Bowers, M. H. Cornell College/Mount Vernon Historic District. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1980.

We Must Build a College--The History of Cornell College 1853-2003 (forthcoming).


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