Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Windows and Parlors

President's Council 2012

The Chapel has nearly reached completion.  Just a few final touch-ups and some pews and she will be all set.  We have already had our first official college event in the chapel and that was this year's President's Council Spring Reception.  People were invited to see the new chapel as well as the parlor and center rotunda.  Many were also taken aback by the stained glass windows that surround the room.  Each window depicts either a college song, tradition, or historical event.

One of my favorite rooms in the newly renovated Cowles Hall is the parlor.  What I like the most are the original french doors that were in the room when they were working on the first floor.

Cowles Hall Renovation

Originally, the parlors were specific rooms for the sororities on campus.  There were two types of Greek letter societies.  One was literary and the other were class sororities. They existed on campus for sixty-nine of the College's first hundred years, from 1865 to 1925.

The first society was Callisophia, organized in 1856 with Dr. Cowles as its sponsor.  The second, Philomathea, was founded a decade later, in 1866, and was sponsored by Dr. Ford.  Both were literary societies. Callisophia, whose Greek letters were Kappa Sigma, had a Latin motto: Per aspera ad astra (Translates to: "Through hardships to the stars").  Philomathea's Greek letters were Phi Mu, and it also had a Latin motto: Cor unum una via ( Translates to: "One heart, one way"). 

Each of these societies had a parlor in the west wing of the main hall.  In these parlors, the societies assembled libraries, conducted meetings, and girded for public programs, which were called "exercises."  These exercises went heavily into discussions of highly elevating nature and were well attended by the public.  They were presented in a time before the auto, the movie, the radio and the cord were presenting materials to the masses.
image taken for the 1905 Iris yearbook

In 1883, Callisophia and Philomathea dropped their old names in favor of their Greek letters, by which they were designated until they dissolved voluntarily on December 13, 1911.  The parlors, so long sacred to Kappa Sigma and Phi Mu, were then opened to anyone who cared to enter.

The Class sororities date from 1905 and they existed for two decades. Delta Psi comprised the class of 1907 (juniors in the year of organization). Zeta Rho was for the sophomores and Epsilon Gamma was for the freshmen. The seniors had no sorority the first year.  In the Fall of 1906, the new freshmen formed Delta Phi. Thus there was a sorority for each class.

These sororities remained active through the twenty years of their existence until what has been called their "sudden demise."  The reasoning behind the dissolution appears to have been that a greater unity among the students might be achieved if the barriers of the societies ceases to exist.  Kappa Sigma and Phi Mu were dissolved in 1911 for other reasons, which are detailed in the faculty minutes of 1911.  The members submitted formal statements in which they expressed the feeling that their continued existence was detrimental to the best interest of the college.

The decision to disband the two old societies found opposition from many graduates.  Older Alumnae, of the time, would return to campus and often pay sentimental visits to one of the parlors to recall the glad days as members of Kappa Sigma or Phi Mu.

Other early societies still exist today on campus such as Orchesis, a dance group and Sibyl, a literary society.  Callisophia  also stills exists on campus but as a student and staff annual journal published in co-operation between the gender issues group and the women's studies program.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Major Photo Update

Cowles Hall Renovation

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Work on the chapel is moving forward at an almost breakneck pace. A large portion of the wood paneling is up and the stained glass windows are going in this week. You can see them in a couple of the photos provided above. The windows are back lit so when the lights are turned on, I will show you what they look like.

I have found two interesting passages from an Iris yearbook dating back to 1897. The first is a fun anecdote and the second is an interesting piece about Elmira College's history. Both take place during the College's founding years. The first tale is as follows:
"One fall in those first years there was a famous rebellion. When the girls returned after the vacation, they found that the butter used on the table was of very bad quality and that the winter supply of the same kind had been put in. Remonstrance proved in vain. By some pretext, one of the girls obtained the key to the storeroom and at midnight of the same evening, tub after tub of that obnoxious butter rolled down the hill and fell with a splash into the lake. Next morning in the chapel our honored president, after gravely stating his views of the escapade of the night before said, in conclusion, that he would see the guilty parties in his study at a certain hour, although he would mention no names and would leave it to their honor to report there. At the hour appointed the president answered a knock at his door and found, to his surprise, the entire college assembled outside to acknowledge the deed of the night before."
The other piece has to do with the College's original name for first-year students.

"Elmira was chartered by the legislature in 1855, ten years before Vassar. Her first class graduated in 1859. At the time when Elmira was founded there were only two co-educational colleges in the country, at Oberlin and at Lima. There was no college for girls alone, and no model on which to form one. For example, Dr. Cowles was rather afraid of calling the first class of girls the Freshman class, and so coined a word for it, calling it the Protomathian Class. It was not until ten years later, that at the founding of Vassar, the two presidents agreed to call it the Freshman class, irrespective of sex. The Lady Principal was at first called the Principal Preceptress, but this seemed a clumsy term and Dr. Cowles again coined a word which has been rapidly and universally adopted."

Many things have changed over the years. For the next blog, I will give you a brief list of them. One thing you may not have known is that at one time, there were sororities on campus.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mother of Colleges

Cowles Hall recently celebrated a milestone in its renovation progress. On Thursday, September 22nd, Cowles Hall was "Topped Off." In building construction, topping out (sometimes referred to as topping off) is a ceremony held when the last beam is placed at the top of a building. The practice of "topping out" a new building can be traced to the ancient Scandinavian religious practice of placing a tree on the top of a new building to appease the tree-dwelling spirits of their ancestors that had been displaced. The practice migrated to England with Scandinavian invaders and took root there. The tradition has continued and is still very popular today.

Topping off Ceremony

To commemorate this event, the College community was invited to sign the last two beams that were to go up.

Topping off Ceremony

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With all this talk about renovation and chapels, the conversation usually comes back to the history of the College. It is hard to imagine that the entirety of Elmira College, at one time, was just Cowles Hall. Some buildings seem to have been here forever.

It wasn't until the mid 1870s that expansion began to take place on campus. It started with the construction of the north wing of Cowles Hall. The subsequent buildings to follow would become cornerstones to every students' experience at EC. Gillett Hall, the gift of Solomon Gillett - one of Simeon Benjamin's great fellow workers in college affairs - is dated 1892. Carnegie Hall was built in 1911. MacKenzie Cottage, built around 1890, became a dormitory in 1916. Fassett Commons, the College's dining hall, was added to the Cowles Hall North wing by Mr. and Mrs. J. Sloat Fassett in 1917, and Alumnae Hall, the sophomore dormitory, was built the same year. Fassett Commons and Alumnae Hall signaled the administration of Elmira College's great builder, Dr. Frederick Lent, Elmira College's seventh president.

The years of 1927 and 1928 can be referred to as the golden age of additions to the campus. In 1927, the College saw the completion of the majestic library, part of which was built by Jennie Crocker Fassett to house the library of her husband, J. Sloat Fassett, who had died in 1924. In 1928, Sarah Wey Tompkins Hall was constructed. It was the gift of the widow of Ray Tompkins, who, like Fassett, had been an Elmira College financier, man of affairs and philanthropist.

The Library and Tompkins Memorial are among the most beautiful buildings in the area. Both sweep to graceful Gothic heights of brick and stone within the shadows of historic Cowles Hall. Much has changed in the past 75 years since Tompkins Memorial was constructed. Today it is simply known as Tompkins Hall and the Library is now Hamilton Hall, home to admissions and alumni relations. Hamilton Hall has changed many hands over the years, even housing the art department for some time. You can see the names of many past alumni painted on the rafters. The library was moved to a central location on campus in the 1960s when the need arose due to the increased size of incoming classes.

Other buildings have morphed with the times and have been re-purposed, while some have been lost completely. Gillett Hall still is in use but is now home to faculty offices and student art studios. MacKenzie Cottage would become known as the French house and was in use up until the end of the 1960s. Fassett Commons would retain its name, but as the College expanded, so did the need for a larger dining area, and with the construction of the Campus Center, the dining hall would move there. Fassett Commons is now home to the Art Department. Alumnae Hall was demolished in 1977. The North Main Street Dorm was then renamed Alumni Hall. You can still see Alumnae Hall history around campus today as the stained glass windows that were part of its entrance were saved and are now on display in MacKenzie Pub and Hamilton Hall.

The history of Elmira College is rich with generous gifts and far reaching goals, most commonly exemplified by its original mission to educate women at the same level as men and the founding donation made by Simeon Benjamin. The expansion and evolution of the College could only be made possible by the continuation of these first ideals. During the golden age of the College's expansion, the goals of Dr. Lent pushed the College forward both in buildings and the money needed to construct them. Dr. Lent set his goals higher and farther than any College President before him.

One million dollars was his goal, and a hearty goal it was. The campaign began in late 1922 and by June 1, 1923, it was announced that over $700,000 had been raised. This included $126,095 from alumnae; $166,395 from friends in Elmira; $150,000 from the General Education Board as well as many other locations. It was a proud day for Elmira College. The two buildings which the campaign had made possible were a mighty pair. These were the Library (Hamilton Hall) and Tompkins Hall. In the years the campaign took place, the student body grew from 323 to 596 and the faculty from 31 to 53.

It was fortunate for Elmira that Lent pushed his money-raising plans when he did. It was a mere two years after completion of the Library that the "debacle" (as it was referred to) of 1929 happened. The stock market crash of 1929 marked an unfortunate set back to Dr. Lent's future plans for Elmira College and her growth. At the time, plans were to locate a gymnasium, a dormitory, and other facilities that would surround Tompkins Hall, creating a quadrangle that would enclose a court in keeping with its design and purpose.

Below is a rare document that very few have ever seen and I only know of two in existence. This is the campaign book that was sent out two months before the stock market crash of 1929. If you notice the cover you will see a steeple. This was the first plan to have a real chapel on campus and keeping with Dr. Lent's goals, it was to be grand in scale. You can also see the planed expansion of Tompkins Hall.

While the center of Cowles Hall was used as a chapel, there was never a real chapel on campus. In 2012, Dr. Lent's goal of a real chapel for students will come to fruition within the renovations of Cowles Hall.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Updates and History

Cowles Hall Renovation 7-14-11

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Construction is moving forward on time and on budget. You can see the chapel wing is coming along nicely. The west wing has now been gutted and support beams have been put into place. The center octagon also had all of its old timber removed.

With all the work going into the original campus building, I have been doing some research on other campus buildings. Some that are no longer here and others that never were. I thought I would write about the College observatory.

1924 bulletin - observatory

Below, I found an excerpt from the book Elmira College: The First 100 Years:
EIGHT-TENTHS of a century elapsed between the breaking of ground for Elmira College's observatory in 1858 and the final setting of a little cloud of historic dust upon the triangular plot east of Tompkins Hall and the president's home.

The little brown-domed observatory, next to Cowles Hall, the college's oldest building, was a landmark dear to Elmira students, a monument to Professor Farrar, a workshop for Dr. Ford, a meeting place for the distinguished company which comprised the Elmira Academy of Sciences-and the scene of "dome parties" which fill the heart of many an alumna with memories in which nostalgia tinges happiness, a not uncommon characteristic of memories.

The observatory was built because Professor Farrar was both an astronomer and a go-getter. Its history can be traced in the minuscule type of yellowing college catalogues and old clippings, by anyone interested in acquiring acute astigmatism. Its significance lies in the fact it was an Elmira College "first," and in what it contributed to a struggling and impecunious institution both as a classroom and as the gathering place for some of the greatest men Elmira ever knew-men whose work goes on to this day, far more durable than the flesh and bone of its beginners.

Science was a magnet so powerful that it could draw together men like Beecher and Mark Twain, Farrar, Brockway, and Ford, and hold them together through long years as a great and unusual force in the community's cultural development and an endless inspiration to the college.

So it was no ordinary dust that settled on the triangle bounded by Sixth Street, College Avenue, and Park Place that, summer's day in 1939, when the last stone of the old observatory's foundation was hauled away and only in memory did there remain a dome to glow with light whose travels are measured in years. The observatory had its beginning in 1858 when Farrar borrowed a 4-inch refractor from S. G. Camp of Owego. The students were so interested that an attempt was made to purchase it (Camp was willing to sell it for $275) but the effort failed. However, the idea didn't die (few of Farrar's did), and by February 1859, under his energetic promotion, a campaign to buy a 6-inch telescope was successfully completed. Then an 8inch telescope came to Farrar's attention. It had been used by S. M. Rutherford and Prof. C. W. Hackley of Columbia, and it was available from Henry Fitz of New York for $1,820, a price Fitz was willing to shade to $1,600. Farrar bought it with an $800 chattel mortgage to adorn the transaction.

So fine an instrument deserved a suitable home and Farrar set out to raise $3,000. It was a difficult job but he was determined, and Elmirans then as now were a generous lot. Farrar surveyed numerous sites for his observatory. One on the college grounds was found unsuitable because the college tower obscured the view; in any case, the trustees didn't welcome to the campus any addition that was darkened by an eclipse of debt. E. P. Brooks stepped forward with the offer of the triangle, and the offer was accepted by Farrar with disarming alacrity for a variety of reasons, chief among which was the fact that the plot "would cost nothing."

Alisha Kingsbury drew the plans for what Callisophia for September-October, 1860, described as a "26-foot cube with symmetrical wings for Transit Room and Library, and mounted with an octagonal observing room and revolving dome."

Ground was broken August 8, 1859, and the building went into service April I, 1860. The following year the Elmira Academy of Sciences was founded, with the Reverend Thomas K. Beecher as its first president. After two decades, the Academy turned the observatory over to the college, complete with its excellent equipment and a wonderful heritage to boot.

Elmira College catalogues invariably contained a description of the observatory and its furnishings until 1928-29. By that time the old building had served its purpose, and time had taken its toll. It passed on before the nation's juke boxes issued strident warnings against letting the stars get in your eyes.

Drs. Farrar and Ford and the students weren't averse to starlight, and even Miss Bronson went along with the observations of celestial doings although she knew that these observations were enlivened with snacks and the levity which nocturnal feasting can engender.

Two brief accounts of the meteor shower of 1868 throw a mellow light on the observatory and its occupants eighty-seven years ago. One, by Mary C. Davis ’69, follows, in part:

... On November 14, 1868, our class in astronomy took our positions about the dome of the observatory. We divided the heavens into ten sections, with the stipulation that each girl should count only the meteors which seemed to originate in her section, in order to avoid duplication. About eleven P .M. a perfect Kappa Sigma appeared in the northwest, quite a proper thing to do as we were all members of Kappa Sigma sorority. From that time the meteors came thick and fast and we counted over five thousand till the rising sun obscured their view. Dr. Ford of blessed memory furnished us with "eats" and blankets, for it certainly was frosty that November night.

In the many years that followed I never found anyone who had seen that shower. Two or three years ago I wrote to Professor Fisher of Harvard, making inquiries. He replied that he had never found anyone who had witnessed it, that I was the first one to give him a detailed account of it. Later I wrote to the Museum of Natural History, New York, and my account was read at a meeting of the Amateur Astronomical Association of New York. A man employed by the museum had seen the shower in mid-ocean on his way from England to the United States.

To this, Mrs. Nora Stanford Wells '73 added:

I can remember it so well… The day was perfect and at dinner, 12:30 P.M. Dr. Ford gave us a good talk on the subject and the prospect of a wonderful display. The Seniors were to sit up all night at the Observatory, the usual custom on that date. You can imagine the excitement. At supper, Miss Bronson gave us a few words in regard to putting on heavy gowns and going wherever we liked to see the show. Dr. Ford had said that the weather still held and he expected one of the finest displays ever witnessed. He would send word to the college, have the bell rung and no one must miss it. Such excitement! The beautiful Seniors of 1868 were just full of "pep, vim and vigor," laughing and so mysterious that it nearly set us youngsters crazy, for they wouldn't tell us anything. Then the preparations being made at the Observatory-great baskets full of delicious things being carried down, etc! Of course, no one slept much, and when the bell rang we were out in a jiffy, slipped into our clothes, grabbed a comfortable or blanket and away we went, most of us to the cupola. Such a sight! I have never seen anything like it since, though I have watched many a time. Dr. Ford's expectations were fully realized and it was a joyous astronomy class who strolled home about 4 A.M. and had the right to sleep all that day.

When '73's turn came, all the usual preparations were made, but there wasn't a star to be seen, and after vainly trying all the instruments, we ate our spread and tramped back, and were in bed by eleven o'clock. It was a terrible disappointment for '73 was a lucky class and we expected as fine a shower as came for '68.

1924 bulletin - map

For almost 80 years there was an observatory on Elmira College campus exposing the young woman of the College to the stars. It Showed them that there was more to the universe than just what they could see out of there windows.

Next time I will talk about the original chapel that was planned to be built as well as the 3 other "Tompkins Halls" that were planned but never came to fruition.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A new visual update is here.

Every time I go over to take pictures, I always talk to the people working on the renovation. All of them say that the best part about working on this site is seeing and understanding how construction has changed through out the years. Look at each one of the boards that went into this frame work. Now, think about how each board showed up at Elmira College as a tree, then by hand, was cut and shaped on site, and then nailed into place.

3-28-11 Cowles Hall Renovation

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Most Recent Update

Cowles Hall Renovation

Work continues and remains on schedule. The picture above shows the chapel's framework. Right now, the belvedere (cupola) is in the process of coming off. The east wing has been gutted and the framework for the chapel has gone up. As you can see below, the roof was removed in order to lower the structural steel (red iron) into place.

Cowles Hall Renovation

I have been doing research and found interesting information that I thought I would share. The building's construction was so massive, that at the time, one firm could not handle all the work. As a result, there were three different construction firms used. One team built the east wing, another the west, and a final team built the center octagon. Each team worked at the same time, starting in the middle and worked outwards. On July 6th, 1854, the public was invited to see the cornerstone set in place. It was a ceremony of historic importance, since it was the cornerstone not only for the building, but also for the cause of women's education at the collegiate level.

Through the eyes of a reporter on that July afternoon, we are privileged to view the ceremony that took place.

Laying the Cornerstone

The ceremony of laying the cornerstone of the Elmira Female College, yesterday, was an occasion of unusual interest, and will be remembered with emotions of pleasure by numerous assemblage, which notwithstanding the intense heat convened to witness and participate in the proceedings.

After the stone had been prepared, and the cement for its setting laid, Rev. Dr. Murdoch, the presence of the auditory, specified the object of convening, accompanying the statement with some appropriate remarks, commending the enterprise to the Great Architect of all things. A metallic box containing the following documents, was placed in the stone: Charter and Circular of the Female College; Charter of the Village of Elmira, Copies of the Newspaper of the Village; copies of Religious Newspapers of different Christian denominations, the American and Foreign Christian Union; Home Missionary, and other periodicals of the day; Public Documents, speeches in Congress, ect.; ect.; Law of 1853, enlarging the powers of the Regents of the University of the State of new York; Circular of the American Women's Educational Association; catalogue and circular of the Elmira Female Seminary; and of other Literary Institutions, charter of the People's College; Thanksgiving Sermon by Rev. Mr. Fowler; and other documents not specified.

The cornerstone having been adjusted to its place, the Throne of Grace was addressed by Rev. Mr. Bement, the audience then repaired to the "shady side" of the hill; and under the cool awning of leaves, looking down on our happy and prosperous city, environed with its amphitheater of hills, listened to one of the most felicitous and pleasant speeches from Dr. Murdoch that was ever pronounced upon such an occasion. His allusions to the future of our yet infantile city, when with her head laid upon the college grounds, her tresses thrown back to the rear in the shape of of beautiful cottages and splendid mansions, her left arm resting upon the hills off to the east, her right upon those to the west, and her feet being laved in the pure waters of the Chemung; when the Female College, rising in her beautiful proportions, should be one eye, the counterpart of which, at no distant day would be "put in" on the same or adjacent grounds for the education of young men of this country; his illustrations of our city as a great hub of a wheel, the spokes of which would be the railroads, now converging and hereafter to concentrate at the point-were exceedingly happy and suggestive.

He was followed by Rev. W. H. Goowin in his remarks of some length on the change of sentiment and opinions relative to the education of the female sex since "the times of old," the practical elucidation of which should be set down to honor of this nation and which was illustrated in the enterprise before them . . . concluded by a benediction by Rev. Mr. Chandler, pastor of the Baptist Church.

The most surprising thing about this article is the information that is left out. For all the detail that is in it, the writer fails to mention the College's founder and the location of the cornerstone. The information about the cornerstone's location would have been handy as its position remains a mystery, and every effort to locate it has failed.

Cowles Hall Renovation

There have been many requests about seeing what the future chapel will look like. As soon as I have permission to show them to you as well as other pieces of the chapel, I will.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Visual Update

So here we stand looking up at the first campus building, Cowles Hall. Cowles has been closed for a number of years and is now going through a renovation process. Check out these pictures that have been taken in the past few weeks.


Fireplace Wall doorways tin ceiling Basement Level doorway hallway 1st floor