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Designed in part by Timothy Alden, founder and first president of the College, Bentley Hall was the first building on Allegheny College's campus. Considered one of the finest extant examples of Federalist architecture in the country, second only to Independence Hall in Philadelphia, it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Bentley Hall is three stories above grade with an elevated first floor. The third floor currently is unoccupied due to safety code restrictions.
The walls, constructed of local brick, are 18 inches thick atop a stone foundation. Two wings with massive pillars flank the three-story central part of the building, which is topped by a bell tower. Deterioration of brickwork led to exploration of means of treatment to strengthen and preserve it. The softness of the brick, however, precluded use of most remedies then available, as did lack of funds. Instead, more paint was applied. French drains were installed along the north and west foundations in 1996 and 1999. The original six-over-six wood double-hung windows remain, but aluminum storm windows and window air conditioners diminish the original stately appearance. The building's interior has been modified with new finishes, systems, and lay-in ceilings, but retains much of the original room, corridor, and stair configuration.
A gift from trustee Willow Wilcox Brost and her husband, Gary M. Brost, both class of 1974, enabled the College to restore the tower in 2000 and to replace an electronic carillon that was originally installed in the 1970s but had fallen into disrepair. Bentley's bell tower, the most recognizable symbol of Allegheny and part of the College's logo, is visible from miles away from several different highways. It is also visually prominent from the perimeter of College grounds and from vantage points throughout the campus.
In 1822, a sycamore tree was planted at the southwest corner of Bentley Hall. Today, this Platanus occidentalis (American plane-tree) is 125 feet tall, towering over the building that once dwarfed it. According to Greek legend, a sycamore so planted will bring good fortune and prosperity to the inhabitants of the neighboring building. Thus the sycamore's health is linked to the continuing success of the College as a whole. Allegheny's sycamore has been nominated for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Trees.
One of the most famous stories about Bentley Hall involves William McKinley, 25th president of the U.S. According to tradition, when McKinley was a student at Allegheny in the early 1860s, he led a cow into Bentley's bell tower and was subsequently expelled. Although we do know that McKinley never graduated from Allegheny, published accounts suggest that he left because of ill health. Whether the rest of the story is fact or fiction is unknown, but the legend nevertheless lives on.
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