Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Robert R. McComsey Career Development Center at the Steinheim

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Institution Name: Alfred University
Original/Historic Place Name: Allen Steinheim Museum
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1876-1886original design Allen, Jonathan
1996addition Handler Grosso Durfee & Associates
Designer: Jonathan Allen; Handler Grosso Durfee & Associates
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Gothic revival, Contemporary, Regionalist/Vernacular (Glossary)
Significance: architecture
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: stone and concrete
Walls: stone and concrete block
Roof: shingle
 
Function:
ca. 1886-1953museum (natural history)
1996-present (2006)other (Career Development Center)
 

Narrative:
Inspired by castles he had seen in Germany, Jonathan Allen, Alfred University's second president constructed the Steinheim ("Stone Home") using stones collected within a three mile radius of Alfred. Since the stones were brought by the Great Glacier over a half million years ago and deposited on the shores of Lake Alfred, President Allen was able to include between seven and eight thousand samples of different rocks in the building's exterior. The interior was also finished with seven or eight hundred specimens of wood, including fruit trees and shrubs, collected from the hills of Alfred and from other various parts of the world. A local artisan worked on and off for three years handcrafting the paneling and trimming. Just inside the main doorway of the building is an Indian grinding stone. Above the window over the front entrance are three significant stones. The window cap is a stone from an old mill in a nearby town, and resting on this is another stone bearing the date "76," which commemorates both the class of 1876 and the date work on the Steinheim began. Above this stone is another with the date "23," signifying the year of President Allen's birth as well as the year the old mill was constructed.

Jonathan and Abigail Allen played significant roles in the development of Alfred University. In addition, they were both strong supporters of women's rights as well as abolitionists. Abigail was a friend of Julia Ward Howe, and the Allens were able to bring many prominent speakers to campus. Both President and Mrs. Allen studied the natural sciences and were ardent collectors of specimens. The Steinheim provided a place where their collections could be displayed and used for study, and where the building itself could serve as what President Allen termed a "geological cabinet."

The Allen Steinheim Museum was the second oldest college science museum in the U.S. until it closed in 1953. It sat empty until 1996, when it was restored and reopened as the Robert R. McComsey Career Development Center. In 1998, it won a Design Award from the Rochester (N.Y.) Chapter American Institute of Architects . The building was listed on the National Register in 1973.
 

References:

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

Levy, Steven S. Allen Steinheim Museum. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1973.

"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.

 

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Last update: November 2006