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Reis Hall served as the College's library until the mid-1970s. In 1931, a three-level addition north of the original structure was built. This addition was architecturally sensitive, utilized the same exterior materials, and more than doubled the size of the library. The main reading room featured a large wood-burning Belgian pink marble fireplace as well as 12-foot-deep galleries at either end, with alcoves beneath. Reis Library also includes a Treasure Room built to house the original library of Allegheny College.
The funds for Reis Hall originally were given anonymously, and so the building was known for years simply by its function as "the library." Thanks to significant donations from the fine private libraries of Dr. William Bentley, Judge James Winthrop (for a time Harvard librarian), and Isaiah Thomas, Allegheny's early library collection stood as one of the finest held by any of the early colleges of the United States. It was second in value only to Harvard's among the 48 institutions of higher learning in the country in 1819. Thomas Jefferson wrote to express his envy at the size and quality of Allegheny's book collection, and to express his hope that one day the University of Virginia might be so fortunate. The College also owns the papers of Ida M. Tarbell, Class of 1880, whose work is commemorated in the Lincoln Room of Reis Hall.
In 1920, the original donor's name was revealed: William Edward Reis (class of 1869), president of Shenango Valley Steel Mill in New Castle, Pennsylvania. In 1929, Reis also contributed the funds for the building's expansion, which was finished in 1931 by the original architectural firm C. W. Bolton & Son.
Throughout the first three-quarters of the 20th century, this stately building "crowned the campus" from its site on the highest hill. Italianate in style, its plan also featured a large, central octagonal reading room surmounted by a glass dome, evoking Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda at the University of Virginia, as well as others in a long heritage of domed buildings. It was the hub around which campus life, both intellectual and social, revolved. Handsome, dignified and comfortable, Reis Hall has contributed much to the welfare of the College. Today it serves Allegheny's students as the home of our national award-winning experiential learning programs, as well as other offices that provide the vibrant co-curricular enhancements central to the liberal arts experience.
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