Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Bentley Hall

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Institution Name: Allegheny College
Original/Historic Place Name: Bentley Hall
Location on Campus: between Brooks Walk and Bentley Lawn
Date(s) of Construction:
1820-1835original construction Alden, Timothy Temple, Alexander
Designer: Timothy Alden; Alexander Temple
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Federal, Greek revival (Glossary)
Significance: architecture, education, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: local stone
Walls: local red brick
Roof: slate
 
Function:
ca. 1829president's house (Timothy Alden's home and office)
ca. 1829administration
ca. 1829faculty offices
ca. 1829library
ca. 1829classrooms
ca. 2004-present (2006)administration (offices for President, finance and treasury, public affairs, Dean of the College, and supporting functions)
 

Narrative:
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.
 

References:

Bulger, William J. [Bentley Hall, Allegheny College]. Historic American Building Survey photograph. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1937.

Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates. Deferred Maintenance and Building Renovation Cost Study [Allegheny College]. Report. [Pittsburgh, PA: Burt Hill Kosar Rittelman Associates], 1999.

Celli Flynn Brennan. Campus Master Plan [Allegheny College]. [Pittsburgh, PA: Celli Flynn Brennan], 2002.

Deed Book H. Meadville, PA: Crawford County Court House, pp. 404-05.

Dober, Lidsky, Craig and Associates. Allegheny 2000. Master plan. [Belmont, MA: Dober, Lidsky, Craig and Associates], 1987.

Dober, Lidsky, Craig and Associates. Heart of the Campus Report [Allegheny College]. [Belmont, MA: Dober, Lidsky, Craig and Associates], 1987.

Dober, Richard P. Campus Planning. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation, 1963. Reprint, Ann Arbor, MI: Society for College and University Planning, 1996.

Helmreich, Jonathan E. Historic Campus Tour. Meadville, PA: Allegheny College, 2001.

Helmreich, Jonathan E. Through All the Years: A Browser's History of Allegheny College [working title for publication celebrating College Bicentennial]. Meadville, PA: Allegheny College, forthcoming.

"Old Allegheny." Allegheny College Bulletin (January 1922).

Pitts, Carolyn. Bentley Hall. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1976.

Rolland/Towers. Campus Master Plan [Allegheny College]. [New Haven, CT: Rolland/Towers], 1992.

Smith, Ernest Ashton. Allegheny College--A Century of Education. Meadville, PA: Tribune Publishing Company, 1916.

Stephens, D. M. Old Allegheny: A Handbook of Information. Meadville, PA: Allegheny College, 1921.

Stotz, Charles M. The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania. New York: William Helburn, Inc., for the Buhl Foundation, 1936.

Stotz, Charles M. The Early Architecture of Western Pennsylvania: A Record of Building Before 1860 Based upon the Western Pennsylvania Architectural Survey, A Project of the Pittsburgh chapter of the American Institute of Architects with an Introduction by Fiske Kimball; with a New Introduction by Dell Upton. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

 

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