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Alumni Hall

Proposed Alumni Hall

This drawing by architect Richard M. Upjohn shows a new building called Alumni Hall to be built between Trinity Hall and Geneva Hall on South Main St.  The plan was proposed and accepted in 1878.

In an 1878 report to the Board of Trustees President Hinsdale outlined the need for a "Main Building" for the college.  He stated that the college was in need of proper recitation rooms, laboratory rooms, a space for the library, space for the mineralogical cabinet, and a large hall for student exhibitions, scientific lectures, and assemblies of the alumni at the annual commencement.  At the time only St. John's Chapel, the "Old Chapel," Geneva Hall, Middle Building, and Trinity Hall existed on the campus, and there was not adequate space for laboratories and lectures.  The Middle Building, built in 1835, was in disrepair.  The board voted to accept architect Richard M. Upjohn's plan for a new center building to be erected between Geneva and Trinity Halls in place of the decaying Middle Building.  It was to be called Alumni Hall, and Upjohn was paid $125 for his work.

For a number of years the college tried to raise funds for Alumni Hall.  In the meantime a new "Laboratory Building," later named Merritt Hall, was built south of Trinity Hall in 1879.  There was still a great need for a proper library, and for lack of a better space the Old Chapel was converted into the gymnasium and moved back from Main St.  An 1883 Geneva Daily Gazette article on a gathering of alumni included the following statement: "Mr. W.H. DeLancey, '56, explained how the building fund of Alumni Hall stood - urged everyone to do something for this object; showed its necessity, and how without it the college was hampered in every way; expressed the firm determination of the trustees, especially those who were Alumni, to see the matter successfully through until the disgraceful old middle building should no longer cumber the ground."

Alumni Hall was not built in 1883, and fundraising continued slowly.  In 1885 Mrs. Julia Douglas Merritt offered the college $10,000 for a new library building which was begun that year.  Shortly after construction began on the library the Middle Building caught fire, destroying much of the book collection that was still housed there.  However, this proved to be fortuitous for the Alumni Hall fund and for all those who wished for the Middle Building's demise - the insurance money from the Middle Building was applied to the fund and the salvaged bricks from the burned structure were used to finally build Alumni Hall in 1886-87, however not according to the original Upjohn design of 1878.

Merritt Hall and Alumni Hall on the south end of the quad, 1913

Photograph of the south end of the quad showing Merritt Hall on the left and Alumni Hall on the right, 1913.

Richard M. Upjohn's initial design for Alumni Hall, sandwiched between Geneva and Trinity, was never built.  Instead Alumni Hall was built on the south end of campus near Merritt Hall.  This building, however, was also designed by Upjohn, so one of his Alumni Hall designs did eventually materialize.  The college never built another building between Geneva and Trinity Halls.  Unfortunately the Alumni Hall that had been planned for so long was not destined to last.  It burned in 1915, after being declared unsafe shortly after 1900.  At the time of the fire it was used only for storage.