Isa Amaro Varas ’23 awarded distinguished Watson Fellowship
The storied history of the buildings that comprise the Connecticut College campus provide a crash course in the history of the College and its mission of putting the liberal arts into action. Here you will learn about some of the most interesting and iconic structures. This page was updated in October 2018.
History: New London Hall was the first building on Connecticut College’s campus and has served almost every function imaginable. Administrative offices, classrooms, art studios and the library have all lived in New London Hall, some at the same time. New London Hall received a complete renovation and expansion in 2011.
Did you know? New London Hall is named in honor of the residents of New London, Connecticut. Many community members pledged to donate one day’s wages each to help establish the new women’s college in their town.
History: Blackstone and Plant were the first two dormitory buildings on the campus of Connecticut College for Women, and Branford House followed only a few years later. These buildings were designed with home-like qualities, including small living areas and fireplaces, for the women who would reside in them.
Did you know? The basement of each house once contained faculty offices, classroom space and even, at Blackstone House, the student bookstore.
History: Winthrop House served as a student residence hall for much of its existence, until the North Complex (aka “The Plex”) was completed in the 1960s. Although the exterior is designed in a Colonial Revival style, far different from the Collegiate Gothic style of Branford, Plant and Blackstone, its interior layout was quite similar.
Did you know? The residence hall was named for John Winthrop Jr., an early governor of Connecticut who founded the town of New London in 1644
History: Hillyer Hall was the first social space built on campus, and housed the College’s assembly hall, chapel and gymnasium. In the 1990s, a large renovation established a blackbox theater, Tansill Theater, on the second floor of the building, with space for dressing rooms and ticket offices below.
Did you know? Although rarely referred to as such, the building, to this day, is officially Hillyer Hall. Tansill Theater is but a space within this building. Ghosts and paranormal activity have been witnessed in the theater.
History: Blaustein caps the north end of the College Green, now Tempel Green, and is one of Connecticut College’s most iconic buildings. From 1923 through 1985, the building was known as Palmer Library and served as the College’s main library for nearly 50 years. In the 1940s, two wings were added, expanding the building’s storage capacity.
Did you know? Following the opening of Shain Library in 1976, Palmer Library lay dormant and abandoned for nearly 10 years before reopening as Blaustein Humanities Center. The renovations and reopening coincided with the College’s 75th anniversary celebrations.
History: Today, Knowlton is the international residence hall at Connecticut College. Originally, the first floor of Knowlton contained a large ballroom for formals and student events. The building’s original name, Colonial House, draws from its colonial architectural style. The name was changed, however, after Charles Clark Knowlton supplied the College with a gift of $200,000.
Did you know? The 1966 movie ”The Group” was partially filmed in Knowlton’s ballroom. Knowlton was also the first residence hall where members of all class years lived together. Finally, Knowlton did not serve as a hotel, despite common lore.
History: Fanning was built as an academic and administration building as the College outgrew New London Hall. Fanning was situated so that its northern facade would align perfectly with Blackstone’s southern facade, in keeping with early campus plans. The completion of Fanning coincided with the Inauguration of President Katharine Blunt.
Did you know? Fanning originally had entrances on all four sides of the building. The east and west doors have since been sealed. However it’s not uncommon to see students climb the stairs to the western doors, only to be confused to find a sealed wall without a door.
History: Windham House is named for the residents of Windham County, Connecticut, and was the product of the county’s two-decade fundraising effort. A competition was established to endow a new residence named for a Connecticut county that could successfully raise $50,000. World War I, however, occurred during the fundraising period and the resulting rise in the cost of materials necessitated an increase to $100,000.
Did you know? Windham’s original furnishings were quite the contrast from those in neighboring Knowlton House. Knowlton was known for elegant and minimal parlors while Windham sought to enliven the student experience with radios, board games and books in the common rooms.
History: Upon completion, Harkness was the largest student residence on campus. Harkness is an architectural conglomeration of its neighbors. Like Windham, Harkness features symmetrical wings and a low, hipped slate roof. Like Knowlton, Harkness draws visitors towards the Green, a symbolic gesture.
Did you know? Harkness House is named for donor Mary Harkness, the husband of an oil baron and renowned philanthropist. Mary Harkness became close friends with President Blunt, and would visit “her” house annually.
History: The southern-most residences on campus, Jane Addams (more commonly known as “JA”) and Freeman were built one year apart and mark the third and fourth buildings, in as many years, completed during the term of President Blunt. Freeman House was paid for, in part, by residents of Hartford County who were inspired by Windham County’s success.
Did you know? 1937 House was permanently renamed in 1942 following the death of Harrison B. Freeman, chair of the Board of Trustees. Jane Addams is named for the famed founder of Chicago’s Hull House, the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize.
History: Buck Lodge remains the only public structure in the Connecticut College Arboretum and, for much of its history, did not have electricity. Since its construction, Buck Lodge has served as an outdoor classroom for College departments and local groups.
Did you know? Upon her graduation in 1932, Frances Buck was given a $2,000 gift by her father Nelson for remaining true to her promise not to smoke while at school. Frances, in turn, donated the funds to create the Arboretum amphitheater. The Buck family was so pleased with the amphitheater, they made a second gift to facilitate the construction of Buck Lodge.
History: Architecturally, Bill Hall is significantly different than its northern neighbors Fanning Hall and New London Hall. Like other buildings surrounding the College Green, Bill has a granite and limestone facade, but differs in style with a flat roof, steel-framed windows and a more modern tone. The studio art department originally resided on the fifth floor, with physics, astronomy and psychology on lower floors.
Did you know? Although the modern telescopes on Olin Science Center are used more regularly, the roof of Bill Hall holds an esteemed 1888 Alvan Clark refractor telescope. Following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, students began a round-the-clock watch for warplanes from the roof of Bill Hall.
History: Palmer Auditorium offered a larger alternative to the easily-crowded event and performance spaces in Hillyer Hall and the Knowlton House Salon. The new auditorium incorporated Art Deco aesthetics, in keeping with the late 1930s design. Sisters Virginia and Theodora Palmer donated funds for the building in honor of their father, Frank Loomis Palmer. Their uncle, Frank’s brother, was George S. Palmer, the benefactor behind Palmer Library.
Did you know? Palmer Auditorium has played host to numerous prominent speakers and performers. This list includes Billy Joel, Eleanor Roosevelt and Hillary Clinton, Frank Lloyd Wright, Toni Morrison and others.
History: The completion of Grace Smith and Alverna E. Burdick Houses marked the first time in the College’s history that all students could be housed on campus. Prior to this, the College reluctantly placed some students in boarding houses in the Riverside community of New London, directly across Mohegan Avenue. But President Blunt felt an on-campus, residential community was important for her students and ensured that housing challenges were overcome during her presidency. Built originally for first-year students, both residence halls only contained double and triple rooms before later renovations.
Did you know? Two years after the building’s completion, an addition was built on the north section of Burdick, allowing for a faculty dining room and lounge. Today, these spaces function as the College’s architecture studio and the LGBTQIA Center, respectively. In the space below the former Smith Dining Hall, recently converted into the Smith Game Room, a former dance studio was turned into the Womxn’s Center in the late 2000s.
History: Harkness Chapel remains one of the most iconic buildings on the Connecticut College campus. Like Harkness House, the Chapel emerged from President Blunt’s friendship with Mary Harkness, whose inspiration for the gift can be found clearly in the inscription above the entry, which reads, “Built through the generous gift of Mary Stillman Harkness to express her belief in the importance of religion to college students.”
Did you know? In 1988, a cross that once stood atop the steeple was replaced with a weathervane, which depicts elements from the College seal. The bell in the Harkness Chapel steeple is inscribed with the phrase, “Great is truth and mighty above all things.”
History: This residence hall was the final construction project undertaken by President Blunt, who oversaw more construction projects during her time as leader of the College than any other president. As such, the new residence hall was quickly named in her honor and is often referred to as “KB.” With the completion of Smith/Burdick, all students could live on campus, so this building would be the first residence hall that would allow the College to expand without the concern for housing the additional students.
Did you know? Architecturally, Katharine Blunt House is identical to Jane Addams. The only differences are minor: KB has a basement and, on the southern wing, KB is only feet longer, accommodating one additional room per floor.
Just as Jane Addams has Freeman attached, Blunt was built ready for a partner building in the future. In the photo above, one wing has limestone while the other has a stone facade. With the expectation that another residence would be attached, limestone was used so as to not waste money on stone that would never be seen. Instead of a Freeman-style building, the low-slung Larrabee House was built and the limestone facade can still be seen today.
History: Warnshuis was the first building constructed under the presidency of Rosemary Park and is perhaps the first truly architecturally modern building on the campus. On the lower floor, a car dock was used for deliveries and ambulance transports.
Did you know? After students were found “squatting” in unused, rear rooms of the infirmary in 1986, the College converted former sick bays into student housing. The wing was in use as a residence through 2008, before becoming offices.
History: Hale embodies the new, modern style of architecture first exemplified on campus by Warnshuis, and was built to provide better teaching spaces for the growing chemistry department. Hale was built into a hill, allowing for two floors without the need for much excavation. Professor William Ashby McCoy painted the unique mural on the stairwell landing that illustrates the Biblical scene of Adam and Eve.
Did you know? Hale Laboratory was built only feet from the Power House to minimize the costly electrical lines that would be needed for the high-voltage laboratory equipment.
History: Larrabee House is the largest residence building on campus and was built as part of President Park’s initiative to anticipate increased numbers of students following the post-war baby boom. Larrabee is architecturally striking. Not only is it the first truly modern building on campus, but it’s physically attached to Katharine Blunt House, which adds to the sense of incongruity between the buildings.
Did you know? Larrabee is not just a building, but a complex. Each of its four elements are interconnected masses (residence area, former dining hall, living room and glass-lined hallway) that are sized in order of importance and positioned around a granite courtyard.
History: The College Center at Crozier-Williams is distinct from every other building on campus. Originally Crozier-Williams held athletic facilities, student services like the snack bar and bookshop, and an entire wing devoted to Alumni Relations called the “Frederick H. Sykes Alumnae Center.” The new building was originally slated to sit next to Warnshuis Infirmary, continuing an early campus plan that called for an H-shape layout of buildings with Palmer Library as the crosspiece.
Did you know? The gymnasium portion of the building included a swimming pool (rumored to still be intact beneath the 1962 Room), two basketball courts (in the area of today’s 1941 Room and adjacent dance studio), modern dance studios (today’s Martha Myers Dance Studio), and a six-lane bowling alley (where today’s bookshop is housed).
History: “The Plex” is one of the largest construction projects undertaken in the College’s history, begun in 1961 with the intention of replacing older, wooden dormitories (like Winthrop) and providing housing for the highest number of students who could be accommodated without the need for additional classroom space. In addition to donors, the project was funded by Federal Housing and Home Finance Agency, which helped colleges and universities prepare for the influx of students expected in the 1960s. Although connected, the houses were not as intertwined as they are today. Instead, an open-air sundeck and garden could be found atop Harris Refectory where students could relax, study and cross from building to building. The entire complex underwent a massive overhaul between 2000 and 2008, a project that included indoor pathways between the houses and the construction of Main Street, an indoor version of the former rooftop sundeck. The Plex houses approximately 500 students.
Did you know? Originally, each of the six houses had its own flair, style and design. In fact, as seen on the signage above, each entry was distinguished by a dorm-specific font.
History: Lazrus House originally served as a cooperative house where students performed one hour of chores each day in exchange for reduced room and board costs. Today, however, Lazrus is no longer a cooperative residence, instead simply an option for students who wish to have access to a kitchen. Like Larrabee, Lazrus comprises interlocking slabs that delineate public and private spaces. Built on a steep hill, numerous at-grade entrances are present.
Did you know? In its early years, Lazrus featured three special, soundproof study rooms on the upper floor, above the common room. Each study room had its own domed skylight to flood the space with natural light.
History: Cummings Arts Center was the first construction project under the leadership of President Charles E. Shain. However, the desire for a combined arts/music building was a priority dating back to Katharine Blunt’s presidency in the 1930s. Within the building are two stacked performance spaces, including 230-seat Oliva Hall and the 360-seat, double-height Evans Hall (originally Dana Hall before a 1990s renovation).
Did you know? Cummings Arts Center was originally slated to be located more centrally on the College Green, mimicking the indentation made by Freeman. Fearing they would lose the view of Long Island Sound, students, faculty and staff petitioned President Shain to move the building’s location.
History: Shain Library sits atop two former municipal reservoirs that had, since the College’s founding, always been an eyesore in the middle of campus. To make use of the previously-excavated site, the new library was placed within the reservoir foundation. In 2014, Connecticut College began a $9.1 million renovation to better outfit the library for modern students. Changes included increased group study and technology-rich spaces, better natural light, a new home for the Academic Resource Center and a relocation of the Blue Camel Cafe to the main floor.
Did you know? At Shain Library’s opening ceremonies, keynote speaker Kurt Vonnegut gave the address titled “The Noodle Factory.”
History: Following coeducation, the number of students participating in intercollegiate athletics doubled between 1972 and 1982. Connecticut College began developing an athletic center across Mohegan Avenue in 1980, as the facilities in Crozier-Williams were no longer sufficient. The first building was Dayton Arena, followed shortly by Luce Field House, which featured multi-purpose basketball courts and locker rooms. Luce Field House was expanded in 1992 with the addition of Lott Natatorium, additional basketball courts and the Christoffers Rowing Training Tank. In 2009, a new, two-story fitness center was completed and, in 2013, was named in honor of departing President Lee Higdon and his wife, Ann.
Did you know? The roof of the Athletic Center complex is known for looking like dunes, the natural habitat of Connecticut College’s mascot, the camel. This design is, however, quite functional. The buildings use wood and steel buttresses to support a hyperbolic paraboloid roof which eliminates the need for interior support columns. The “dune” look? Just a coincidental bonus.
History: The F. W. Olin Science Center was built to house the departments of environmental studies, astronomy and physics and was situated between Hale Laboratory and New London Hall to create a “science triangle,” underscored by the blue sculpture, “Synergy.” The visual style of Olin is derived from neighboring buildings, with the intent of merging old and new. The four faux-chimneys are reminiscent of those on Fanning Hall. The architects were not shy about using modern, exposed metal I-beams and frosted glass, seen in the entryway and stairwells.
Did you know? A massive observatory dome sits atop Olin Science Center, housing a high-powered, 22-inch telescope. Around the rooftop patio are smaller, mounted telescopes. Community members are invited to try out the telescopes during stargazing nights each spring and fall.
Much of the information in this article is drawn from The Architecture of Connecticut College, a senior thesis by Blake McDonald '10. At Commencement 2010, Blake was awarded The Oakes and Louise Ames Prize for that year’s most outstanding honors study.
So if you’re curious about a building we didn’t cover in this article, you can learn about every building (and we mean every building!) in Blake’s thesis.
As part of the festivities for the Inauguration of Katherine Bergeron as the College's 11th President, the Linda Lear Center for Special Collections and Archives produced an exhibit, “Strong Foundations: Celebrating a Century of Connecticut College,” highlighting the accomplishments of Connecticut College presidents. The exhibit included some of the unusual and artful greetings sent by other colleges and universities for the Inauguration. Located in Shain Library and online, the exhibit was open between March 28 and June 2, 2014.
This article originally appeared on Connecticut College's BuzzFeed account, as part of a series celebrating the Inauguration of President Katherine Bergeron.