Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Old Main

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Institution Name: Franklin & Marshall College
Original/Historic Place Name: College Building, Recitation Hall
Location on Campus: College Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1854-1856original construction Dixon, Balbirnie & Dixon
Designer: Dixon, Balbirnie & Dixon
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, history, religion
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Foundation: stone
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
ca. 1854residence hall
ca. 1854faculty offices
ca. 1854dining hall
ca. 1854chapel
ca. 1854classrooms
ca. 2004-present (2006)administration

Franklin & Marshall College is the thirteenth oldest institution of higher education in the United States. Its campus includes seventeen buildings constructed before World War II and two significant landscapes. The campus is a symbol of history: its buildings chronicle the transformation of higher education in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as the evolution of American architecture.

Franklin & Marshall traces its origins to Franklin College, which was founded in 1787 to help assimilate Pennsylvania's large Germanic population into the political and social culture of the newly formed United States. Its principal benefactor was Benjamin Franklin. In 1853 Franklin College merged with Marshall College, which was founded in Mercersburg Pennsylvania in 1836. James Buchanan, later the fifteenth president of the United States, was president of the new college's Board of Trustees. He chose for the college a ten acre site in the northwest part of the city that was the highest point in Lancaster.

John Williamson Nevin, who had been president of Marshall College, chaired the committee responsible for developing the curriculum and erecting the buildings for Franklin & Marshall. The committee chose a Gothic Revival design prepared by Dixon, Balbirnie and Dixon, a Baltimore architectural firm. The choice of the Gothic Revival for the College Building was an important cultural statement. Nevin was a principal figure in what historians of religion term the Mercersburg Theology, which emphasized Christology, the restoration of Christ's life and crucifixion as central tenets of Protestantism. It also called for the reintroduction of ritual to the liturgy of the German Reformed Church that had been stripped away during the Reformation. The Mercersburg Theology paralleled the ecclesiological movement in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States. It marked a turning away from the austere building tradition of the Reformation and embraced the use of Gothic forms, stained glass, and architectural sculpture to create sanctuaries in keeping with the new liturgy.

The use of the Gothic Revival was also an important statement of the college's educational mission, an assertion that Franklin & Marshall was the heir to a tradition of scholasticism that extended back to the founding of the great European universities in the middle ages. During the 1840s and 1850s the Gothic Revival enjoyed some popularity as a style for colleges and universities. Alexander Jackson Davis, for example, designed Gothic Revival buildings for the University of Michigan, the Virginia Military Institute, and New York University, while Harvard, Yale, and the Princeton Theological Seminary also erected buildings in the Gothic Revival style.

The College Building, erected by Lancaster contractor Haden Patrick Smith, is a three-story brick structure that faces east. The projecting entrance is emphatically Gothic, with a square tower rising majestically above the roofline, ending in four tall spires, crowned by finials that rise from the corners of the tower. Gothic windows embellish the tower, while two smaller turrets flank the entrance. Drip moldings and other architectural details add to the richness of the design. A two-story wing extending west from the center of the building contains the college's Chapel. Tall Gothic Revival windows created precisely the setting for worship Nevin intended. In addition to the Chapel, the College Building contained six classrooms, dormitory and dining rooms, and a kitchen, which was located in the basement. The College Building was completed in the Spring of 1856 at the cost of $25,136.

During the spring of 1856 the college's two student literary societies, Diagnothian and Goethean, laid cornerstones for their buildings, which would provide space for their respective libraries as well as a place for meetings and socializing. The identical two-story brick buildings, which flank the College Building to the south and north, were designed by Dixon, Balbirnie and Dixon in the same Gothic Revival idiom as the College Building. Flanking turrets define the projecting entranceways, just as with the College Building, and the window treatment and other elements of the design create a remarkably unified ensemble. Two significant differences in the literary society buildings are the Gothic arches over the entrances and the presence of buttresses between the fenestration on the south and north sides of the building, which are undoubtedly more symbolic than functional. Members of the student literary societies were responsible for raising funds for the construction and furnishing of the halls, including the commissioning of murals, all of which was completed in July 1857.

That same year, Thomas Conrad Porter, a member of the Franklin & Marshall faculty who went on to write a series of important botanical studies, including Flora of Pennsylvania, led students in purchasing and planting a number of trees on the college property. At least one of the trees that stands in the green to the east of Old Main appears to date from this time. The green, now known as Manning Alumni Green, is the first of three landscape features dating from the period of significance.

Old Main, Diagnothian, and Goethean halls are Franklin & Marshall College's signature buildings. They represent an early and historically significant example of the use of the Gothic Revival on American college and university campuses. Old Main, Goethean Hall and Diagothian Hall were listed in the National Register of Historic Places on July 30, 1975.

Throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, the College added buildings to meet evolving educational needs. Two identical Victorian buildings, now Gerhart House and Huegel Alumni House, were erected in 1871 to house professors from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Church, which at the time shared facilities and classrooms with the College. A Tudor Revival gymnasium, designed by James H. Warner, was built in 1891; a High Victorian library, donated by John Watts dePeyster and designed by M. O'Connor, an architect from Hudson, New York, was erected in 1897-98; and in 1900 the college erected a Science Building, designed in the Beaux Arts classical idiom by Lancaster architect C. Emlen Urban.

As Franklin and Marshall's student body, reputation, and curriculum continued to grow and change during the early twentieth century, the college recognized the need to erect new facilities to accommodate scientific endeavors, athletics, and on-campus housing. To design these new facilities the college hired Charles Zeller Klauder as architect in 1923 and challenged him to plan the future development of the school, the "new" Franklin and Marshall. The Philadelphia-born Klauder was one of the most influential designers of educational buildings, particularly on college campuses. He has erected college building across the country, including Princeton, Pennsylvania State University, University of Pittsburgh, University of Colorado, University of Delaware, Yale, Chicago, Wellesley, and several others. For Franklin and Marshall, Klauder designed seven buildings, all in a Colonial Revival style: two dormitories, Dietz-Santee and Franklin-Meyran; Biesecker Gymnasium (with William C. Prichett); Hensel Auditorium; Fackenthal Laboratories; a Boiler House; and Fackenthal Pool. Klauder also prepared the first master plan to shape the college's growth.

The Klauder buildings presented a new architectural imagery to the campus. Older buildings had been designed in an array of styles: the three original structures, Goethean, Old Main, and Diagnothian, were Gothic Revival buildings; Watts de Peyster Library was an exuberant high Victorian structure of vividly contrasting colors and textures; James H. Warner introduced English Tudor elements to the design of the old gymnasium (Distler House); and C. Emlen Urban, Lancaster's first professional architect, designed the new Beaux Arts science building (Stager Hall) in 1900. On Franklin & Marshall's campus, as elsewhere, the eclecticism acceptable to an earlier generation gave way, after the triumph of the World's Columbian Exhibition of 1893, to an emphasis on architectural unity. On many campuses the new ensemble was Gothic, at others Beaux Arts classical. Franklin & Marshall, where the earliest buildings on campus were Gothic Revival, turned to the Colonial Revival.

The transformation of the college's architectural imagery was intentional. An article describing plans for Hensel Auditorium noted that "all of Franklin and Marshall's new buildings will be Colonial in architecture." During the decade when the sesquicentennial of American independence inspired a revival of interest in Georgian architecture, the Alumnus dismissed the campus's late nineteenth-century buildings as "departures from the Colonial style" and presented the newly designed structures as a "reversion" to the college's architectural roots. The Alumnus further noted that the trustees chose colonial revival architecture because they considered it "representative of the small American college."

Two other buildings, Keiper Liberal Arts and Shadek-Fackenthal Library, designed by Philadelphia architect William H. Lee, were erected in 1936 and 1937 in a Georgian Revival style similar to the structures Klauder had designed.

As the college's first planner, Klauder introduced the open or three-sided quadrangle as the organizing principle. Two of the campus spaces he designed are historically significant. The first, known today as Hartman Green, is significant because Klauder located Hensel Hall on axis with Hartman Hall and made the open space between the two buildings a character-defining landscape; the second, known today as Klauder-Apple Walk, is defined by a wall extending between two dormitories Klauder designed in 1924-1925, Franklin-Meyran and Dietz-Santee halls. The wall, with exedra and stairway, forms the southern end of an open quadrangle and marked a symbolic transition from the eclectic old campus to the comprehensively planned new college.

The buildings erected between 1856 and 1938 and the three designed spaces retain a high degree of integrity. Together, the buildings and designed landscapes demonstrate the changing spatial needs of a liberal arts college from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. The buildings document the development of the modern college curriculum as well as the importance of residentiality and the college's commitment to educate the whole individual. These buildings also reflect the evolution of American architecture from the Gothic Revival to the Colonial Revival and the ways different generations embraced the symbolism of a particular style as expressive of contemporary cultural values.


Dubbs, Joseph Henry. History of Franklin and Marshall College. Lancaster, PA: Franklin and Marshall College Alumni Association, 1903.

Griffith, Sally Foreman. History of Franklin & Marshall College, forthcoming (2006).

Jarvis, Sarah, and William K. Watson. Old Main, Goethean Hall & Diagnothian Hall [Franklin & Marshall College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1975.

Klauder, Charles Z., and Herbert C. Wise. College Architecture in America. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1929.

Klein, H. M. J. History of Franklin and Marshall College 1787-1948. Lancaster, PA: Franklin and Marshall College Alumni Association, 1952.

Klein, Frederick Shriver. Since 1787: The Franklin & Marshall College Story. Lancaster, PA: Franklin and Marshall College, 1968.

Larson, Jens Frederick, and Archie MacInness Palmer. Architectural Planning of the American College. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1933.

Leslie, W. Bruce. Gentlemen and Scholars: College and Community in the "Age of the University," 1865-1917. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.

Schuyler, David. "The 'New' Franklin & Marshall: Charles Z. Klauder, Henry Harbaugh Apple, and Campus Design in the 1920s." Online. (1998). Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.


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