College Hall: From Past to Present

Tyra Wu ’19
Contributing Writer

With over 100 buildings, Smith College’s campus represents a variety of architectural styles, evident in buildings like Capen House, built in the Greek Revival style and Cutter and Ziskind Houses, built in the International Style. Spanning 147 acres, the campus illustrates the history of American architecture over period of more than 250 years. During the last quarter of the 19th century when the College began construction the High Gothic style was popular. In the early 20th century, neo-classical elements, such as columns and pediments, appeared in the architecture of Neilson Library and John M. Greene Hall. The houses in the Quad, built in the 1920s, are built in neo-Georgian style. The Art Deco style, popular in the 1930s is represented in the elaborate design of the Alumnae House.

College Hall, Smith College’s oldest building, has a particularly interesting architectural history, as it was the college’s only building in its years. College Hall was designed by the Boston firm Peabody and Sterns in the High Victorian style, which flourished in America from 1850 to 1880. The High Victorian style had strong moral connotations, as it was associated with the Christian cathedrals of Medieval Europe. The design for College Hall was influenced by Matthews Hall, a Harvard dormitory built by Peabody and Sterns around the same time.

On July 14, 1875 an audience of over 1,000 people gathered for the dedication of College Hall. The building initially included a Social Hall, a Reading Room, laboratory, classrooms and offices for the President and Treasurer. It also contained an art gallery, one of the first in an American college. However, as the number of Smith students grew, the Social Hall had to be enlarged, first from 500 seats to 900, and finally to 1,400. Concurrently, offices were added, the collection in the Reading Room was increased and more pieces were added to the art gallery, including works by American artists Thomas Eakins and George Inness.

The clock tower in College Hall was presented by Deacon Hubbard, the Treasurer of the College. In 1919, the wife of Smith’s first president, Clark Seelye, donated the College bell. A set of 12 bells was donated by Florence Jeffrey Carlile ’1893 in memory of her daughter, Dorothea Carlile, who died of influenza in her first year at Smith.

College Hall now houses administrative offices, including the President’s office, the Dean of the College, the Dean of Faculty, financial aid and disability services.

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