Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Diagnothian and Goethean Halls

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Institution Name: Franklin & Marshall College
Original/Historic Place Name: Diagnothian and Goethean Halls
Location on Campus: College Ave.
Date(s) of Construction:
1856-1857original 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. 1857debating society (Diagnothian Literary Society and Goethean Literary Society)
1857-present (2006)library (libraries of the Diagnothian Literary Society and the Goethean Literary Societies)

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.

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.


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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