Banner

Center Hall chapel and library

This photograph is one of the oldest that we have of our campus, dated 1875. In this section of the image, we see a completed Center Hall. That is to say that by this time the north and the south wings were added to the central structure.Center Hall was built in three stages. The center portion was first and opened for service in 1857. What a lovely gift to the College for its 25th anniversary and yet it would be almost another 20 years before the building was completed. The Civil War, lowered enrollments and the death of our beloved president, Dr. White, all took their toll on Wabash.

But by the 1870’s Wabash was on its feet again and the word was, “Build!” Center Hall was designed by Irish architect William Tinsley, who left Ireland for the opportunities in America. Over the course of his career, Tinsley designed a number of public buildings and private homes in the Midwestern states. He designed a building at Butler, one at Indiana, the Ascension Hall at Kenyon and many others. If any of you are familiar with the lovely church on the Circle in downtown Indianapolis, he designed that as well.

The photo above is of the College Chapel on the second floor of the north wing. The Chapel was a very tall room and ran the length of the entire wing, east to west. At the far end (which in this picture is the west or Mall side) there was a platform where the president and the speakers would have sat for Chapel exercises. The substantial beams overhead brought out the pranksters in the student body. Various items including the college skeleton were hung from the beams prior to chapel services.Today this is now the home of, appropriately enough, the philosophy and religion department. The offices break up the space yet, with a little digging, traces are still available to us. The Chapel was used until the student body outgrew its capacity to hold them all. At that point the Chapel was moved to the upper gymnasium in the Armory.

This image is of the College Library as it appeared in 1906. This is the area now used by the Business Office. It is a 16’ tall room. This allowed for the two stories of books that we see here. The little niches on the second floor are alcoves. To truly honor someone, a donor would outfit an alcove. Indeed, we still have many books in the Lilly Library which note that they are from one alcove or another. In a lovely piece of continuity, the framed picture of Abraham Lincoln, which can be seen hanging from the balcony in this picture, still hangs in Center – although now in the Dean’s offices.

As an aside, during the demolition of the business office over the summer of 2007, I was able to pop in and see the room wide open. It really is a very large space. When it is all enclosed as it is now, it is hard to believe that it is the same space.

This library served the college until the building we know as Detchon Hall (originally named Yandes) was built as a library building in the early 1890’s.

One small note about Center Hall – it was built facing into the Arboretum and the town. Although the Mall is now our main space – you may note that Center has no ornamentation on the Mall side. One the east side is a very intricate porch as seen in this old picture.In fact, the entire historic campus was built facing Grant Street.

The next posting will tell the story of the Peck Hall of Sciences – the first building on campus devoted entirely to science – and the story behind the Peck bequest.

Best,

Beth Swift