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The architectural style of Pennsylvania Hall, or Old Dorm as it is familiarly called, is American Greek Revival. This type of building design was very popular from the 1820s to 1850s and epitomizes the dignified yet gracious structure of Old Dorm. The building is an expression of a unique facet of American architectural development and of American culture itself.
Pennsylvania Hall is not only significant architecturally but historically, as it was the first building of Gettysburg College. Old Dorm was first occupied for the November term in 1837 and quickly became the center of all campus activities.
The "College Edifice" as it was originally titled, remained the focal point of college affairs until 1890. Up until this time, Old Dorm had dominated the campus both as a physical structure and as an academic center. The construction of the imposing Recitation Hall (renamed Glatfelter Hall in 1912) and Brua Chapel, however, meant that "College Edifice" was no longer an appropriate description of the building. Old Dorm subsequently ceased to be a center of instruction, and for 75 years was employed principally as a dormitory facility. It was also a few years later, in 1898, that Old Dorm was formally renamed Pennsylvania Hall in the official college catalogue.
The history of Old Dorm is highlighted by the role it played during and after the Battle of Gettysburg. From its cupola, a college chemistry and mathematics professor pointed out to a Union signal officer the strategic advantage of Cemetery Ridge to the Northern Army. As the conflict progressed, the Northern troops were forced through town to positions on Cemetery Ridge by Confederate troops advancing from the North. The Rebels promptly occupied the college and converted Pennsylvania Hall into a field hospital. It has even been speculated that General Lee might have used the cupola to observe the field and the progress of the battle. Fortunately, the building was not seriously damaged during the battle, although it was struck several times by projectiles. As the Confederate forces withdrew from the field on July 4, the Union troops reoccupied the campus and continued to use Old Dorm as a hospital. Nearly five hundred wounded men were cared for here until the last survivors were removed to a general hospital east of Gettysburg.
The role that Pennsylvania Hall has played in history cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the significance is only increased when one learns that the American flag displayed from the cupola is flown both day and night. There are only twenty-one places in the United States where such display of the flag is sanctioned, and this fact further distinguishes the proud past of Old Dorm. As a "College Edifice," a building among many other campus buildings and, now, as a completely remodeled administrative and historical complex, Pennsylvania Hall continues to be a symbol of a well-respected, private liberal arts college as well as the oldest Lutheran college structure in America (portion of description from National Register report, "Pennsylvania Hall, Gettysburg Hall ).
Day, Sherman. Historical Collections of the State of Pennsylvania. Port Washington, NY: Ira J. Friedman, 1969.
Dober, Richard P. Campus Design. New York: John Wiley, 1992.
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Pennsylvania Hall, Gettysburg College. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1972.
Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.