Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Alumni Hall

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Institution Name: Alfred University
Original/Historic Place Name: Chapel Hall
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1851original construction Stillman, Maxson
1985complete renovation and redesign
Designer: Maxson Stillman
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Greek revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, culture, education, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: concrete, stone
Walls: wood
Roof: tile
 
Function:
ca. 1852-1897chapel
ca. 1852-1897auditorium
ca. 1897academic department building (chemistry laboratory in one classroom)
ca. 1897student union (meeting rooms for the Alleghanian and the Orophilian gentlemen's literary societies)
ca. 1915-1929gymnasium
ca. 1930academic department building (English and drama)
ca. 1930classrooms
ca. 1930theater (also showed movies)
1985-present (2006)administration (Financial Aid, Summer Programs, and Parent Programs)
1985-present (2006)admissions office (and welcome center)
 

Narrative:
Constructed by local workmen in 1851-1852, this classically austere white frame building was designed by builder Maxson Stillman, an Alfred resident. Originally used for meeting rooms and as a chapel for all students, the building came to be called Academy Hall after 1897 when the preparatory academy was divorced from the University. The academy maintained its own religious service meeting place in the building, while the college students met elsewhere; but large gatherings such as Commencement were still convened here.

For many years, the gentlemen's literary societies, the Alleghanian and the Orophilian, had meeting rooms in parts of the hall. In fact, the building has undergone many interior remodelings and has been used for a wide variety of activities. For example, in 1887 a novel chemical laboratory was installed in one of the classrooms. From 1915 to 1929 the auditorium itself was used as a gymnasium. Between 1925 and 1930 the building underwent a thorough face-lift, including re-conversion to an assembly hall available for musical and dramatic performances, as well as thrice-weekly movies. (The Campus theater was the only movie house in the area, so townspeople and students enjoyed attending.) Classrooms and offices for the English and Drama departments occupied the bottom floor.

Among the great speakers and artists who have appeared at Alumni Hall are Ralph Waldo Emerson, Elbert Hubbard, Sojourner Truth, and Julia Ward Howe in the 19th century; and, more recently, Ogden Nash, Cornelia Otis Skinner, the Von Trapp Family Singers, Paul Robeson, and Andres Segovia. In 1877, Mrs. Caroline W.H. Dall received from Alfred the first honorary Doctor of Laws degree conferred on a woman in "modern times." The bell, installed in the tower at the time Alumni Hall was built, no longer summons students and faculty to worship and work together; yet it remains in the lobby as a visual reminder of days gone by. The 12-foot quill pen weather vane, however, still points the direction of the wind for inhabitants of the village, proving the old adage, "The pen is mightier than the sword."

In 1972, the building was closed, due to weakening of the roof, trusses, and the potential fire hazard. It was completely gutted and re-designed in 1985 to become Alfred University's "front parlor," where prospective students are welcomed to the university. Accordingly, Alumni Hall now houses the offices of Admissions, Financial Aid, Summer Programs, and Parent Programs. It was listed on the National Register in 1985.
 

References:

Association of College Unions--International. Planning College Union Facilities for Multiple-Use: A Study. [Madison, WI]: Association of College Unions--International, 1966.

Horowitz, Gary, ed. A Sesquicentennial History of Alfred University: Essays in Change. Alfred, NY: Alfred University, 1985.

"New York State Historic Preservation Building-Structure Inventory Form," (n.d.) Herrick Memorial Library Archives, Alfred University.

Norwood, John Nelson. Fiat Lux: The Story of Alfred University. Alfred, NY: Alfred University, 1957.

Strong, Susan Rumsey. The Most Natural Way in the World: Coeducation at Nineteenth Century Alfred University. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Rochester, 1995.

Todd, Nancy. Chapel Hall. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1985.

 

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Last update: November 2006