LOST MANSFIELD # 23: THE EARLY CAMPUS BUILDINGS
As the fledgling agricultural school began to grow into a college, Whitney Hall, the former Connecticut Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home, was no longer adequate. More space was needed for classrooms and for student and faculty housing. A campus complex began to form on the hill above Whitney Hall. The first new buildings were the Chemical Laboratory and the Experiment Station Office, both constructed in 1887. These were followed in 1890 by Gold Hall, a 30-room men’s dormitory, and the Main Building, which housed administrative offices, classrooms and the library. In 1896, Grove Cottage was constructed to provide housing for the growing number of female students. All of these wood-frame buildings that comprised the early campus are now gone. Three were destroyed by fire and the remainder were torn down when they became outmoded.
The first building to meet with calamity was Gold Hall which was destroyed by fire on January 4, 1914. At the time Professor Sherman P. Hollister and his wife lived downstairs, an office in which six stenographers worked occupied the upper floor, and the male students resided in the long ell. Edwina Whitney, the college librarian, recorded in her diary, “About ½ past 12 this afternoon Gold Hall was discovered to be on fire. It could not be saved but most of the things were carried out… They had a fight to keep it from the administration building but succeeded.” The loss of this building left the college even more cramped and without adequate housing for its students.
On November 27, 1917, the Chemical Laboratory met a similar fate. The Hartford Courant reported: “Within an hour after the fire was discovered, at about 3 o’clock this morning, the laboratory building was burned to the ground. The fire was first noticed by the college community watchman who rang the bell on the administration building as an alarm. The students responded with fire drill discipline and manned lines of hose which were supplied with water from the tank on the hill north of the college. Despite the freezing temperature, barely five degrees above zero, and the high wind that blew the water about at the same time that it directed the flames to the main building, the fire fighters stood to their task and saved the larger structure from further damage than a scorching.”
The Main Building, which stood between Gold Hall and the Chemical Laboratory, miraculously escaped destruction both times. The aging and outdated building was later demolished in 1927.
This series is made possible by a Capacity Building Grant from The Last Green Valley, Inc.