Front Campus

66 Davis Family Library At the west end of Franklin Street and the park begins Middlebury’s campus proper, marked by the impressive mass of the college’s new main library (Gwathmey Siegel Associates, 2000–2004). Prior to 1968 Storrs Avenue cut straight across to Main Street, with faculty housing to the village side and a green grove leading up to Old Stone Row on the other. However, in that year the College decided to place the sciences at its front door. The construction of the Science Center to the designs of The Architects Collaborative (Cambridge, Massachusetts) closed Storrs Avenue with what was programmed to be the first of a line of three interconnected, five-plus-story buildings of Brutalist concrete and limestone construction, cutting off the front campus from the village. A brilliant success at encouraging and invigorating the sciences at Middlebury, the building was also an urbanistic disaster. When, in the 1990s, the time came for its enlargement, the college determined to correct rather than compound its earlier mistake, move the sciences to the northwest corner of the campus (McCardell Bicentennial Hall), deconstruct and recycle the Science Center, and build a new library in its place.

The architects of the new library faced a difficult set of challenges — providing an interior that could accommodate the rapidly changing needs of library and information technology services, inserting a large building into a delicate historical front-campus location, and creating an exterior that is of its times and yet of its place. They addressed the first with a great hall that gives onto three floors of loft-like stack and technology space wrapped by a mezzanined perimeter of offices and study carrels, the contemporary interiors warmed by the use of certified woods harvested from local forests as part of the College’s program of environmentally conscious building. They addressed the second by setting the building into the hillside and making it a compact object floating below Old Stone Row rather than a fourth side to a quadrangle. The semi-circular form of the uphill side reinforces the arc-like flow of space between the Row and the village while it also invokes the imagery of rotunda-libraries initiated by Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia. It is tied to the structure of the campus above by placement as the anchoring terminus of the important Storrs (Chapel) Walk. To adjust the facades to the scale and materials of the historic campus, the architects have manipulated their characteristic modernist geometries to create individually readable units (picked out in marble against a more textured stone body) that repeat the colors and proportions of the nearby Painter and Warner Halls.

The library is not only home to a collection of approximately one million items, but also to high-tech classrooms, multi-media facilities, group studies and viewing rooms, a resource and writing center, a café, the college archives, and a full range of information services. Its reading rooms celebrate vistas to the Green Mountains on the east and the historic campus core to the west. Its Abernethy collection of American literature contains over 19,000 volumes (mostly first editions) and manuscripts of some 1000 authors, including Thoreau, Emerson, Henry Adams, and Robert Frost. Middlebury’s collection of “Frostiana” ranges from books and manuscripts to photos, documents, and realia — including the poet’s armchair. Other special collections comprise materials on Vermont and local history, rare books and manuscripts, and the Helen Hartness Flanders Ballad Collection and Vermont Traditional Music Archives with their extensive holdings relating particularly to the musical heritage of New England.

In the new building’s vestibule a history wall traces the evolution of the college’s libraries. Its atrium is dominated by a huge mural commissioned and funded in 2004–2005 from Matt Mullican with the assistance of the Edwin Austin Abbey Fund Committee of the American Academy of Design. On the south flank of the building can be found “The Garden of the Seasons” by Vermont-based environmental artist Michael Singer, commissioned as part of the college’s initiative for Art in Public Places. This reading garden incorporates sculptural elements in granite and concrete, indigenous plantings of all seasons, and a water/ice wall to create a changing year-round celebration of the natural world.

Front Campus

Walking past the Library, one follows an ascending path across the front campus toward the College’s oldest buildings. At one time this portion of campus was given a more formal aspect by a fine fence and gates along Storrs Avenue and tree-lined lanes leading to the Old Stone Row at the top of the hill. Today it is an area of more picturesque informality, with groves of fine old trees and glimpses of limestone and marble buildings.

Front campus in 1910, showing (left to right), Starr Library, Starr Hall, Old Chapel, and Painter Hall. Source

67 Warner Hall Begun at the time of the College Centennial and completed in 1901 according to the designs of York and Sawyer of New York City, this predecessor to the Science Center was the gift of alumnus Ezra J. Warner ’61 of Chicago. It now houses the department of Mathematics. Faced with blue and white marble from the Columbian Marble Company of Rutland, it was an up-to-date structure—up-to-date for its high ceilings, large windows, and lecture hemicycle, and for its use of classical architectural details on an educational building (under the inspiration of the Beaux-Arts1 and City Beautiful2 movements at the turn of the century).

Warner Hall in 1900. Source

68 Painter Hall This, the oldest extant college building in Vermont, was the result of the “contest” of 1810, its actual construction dating from 1814–1816. Originally called “West College” (as opposed to the Academy Building, or “East College”), this building is as practical and straightforward as the town and the men who furnished the $8000 for its construction. The college needed space, space for any of a variety of purposes; and since the largest, most multi-purpose structures with which the townspeople had experience were mill buildings, it is essentially a mill building that they constructed for the college. Not that this was felt to be a shortcoming in any way. The new hall was a focus for local pride. Under the supervision of trustee Rufus Wainwright, the structure was built with local (Weybridge) stone by local masons. It had multiple entries (originally without porches) and staircases giving access to thirty-six rooms with fireplaces. The regular rows of windows and multiple great chimneys give it much the appearance of structures built to house mill workers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The flexibility of the building has paid off over the years. In time a library with reading room and multi-level stacks occupied part of the north end, a two-story gymnasium filled the upper floors of the south end. In 1898 Painter contained a reading room, the only lavatories on campus, a classroom, a library, and six student rooms. Today it is wholly a dormitory.

Shortly after its completion, the new building was responsible for the loss of a popular faculty member. In the fall of 1817, twenty-eight-year-old professor of Greek and Latin, Solomon M. Allen, climbed up on the roof to fix a defective chimney. Before the eyes of horrified onlookers, the scaffolding gave way. Allen slid down the roof and died when he fell to the ground.

In 1905, Kappa Delta Rho, a national social fraternity, was founded in Painter Hall, a fact that is commemorated by the plaque at the south end of the building.

Painter Hall in the 1890s. Source

69 Old Chapel The second structure built in Old Stone Row was Old Chapel. By the 1830s the student body had grown to 160, and classroom space demands were such that most of the students had to find rooms in town. Accordingly, President Bates proposed constructing a chapel and classroom building to permit the return of space in Painter Hall to dormitory use. Funds were solicited between 1832 and 1835, and President Bates sent his own ideas to Cambridge architect Laomi Baldwin, a Harvard classmate of his, for suggestions. Baldwin’s designs for a broadside building were not followed. In 1835–1836 the structure was built by local builder Asahel Parsons at a cost of $15,000, aligned with Painter as the central unit of an envisioned three building row. It was still in the mill tradition, but the mill (much like that in Frog Hollow) was turned endwise with a tower and cupola adorning its principal façade (more in the fashion of stone academy buildings then being designed by the Burlington-based Ammi B. Young). The ground floor housed the library and mineralogy museum; the second floor, class and lecture rooms; and the third floor, a two-story-high chapel, surrounded on the fourth by faculty offices. Not an inch of space was wasted. Yet it is obvious that a refined image was also desired for this principal structure of the institution. Greek Revival details, so suited to the nature of the college, are to be seen in the fine cast-iron railing of the outside stairs, the Doric pilasters of the tower and octagonal cupola, and the palmette of the weather vane. Besides its more general invocations of culture, Old Chapel, by virtue of its placement with relation to Painter Hall, alludes to an important prototype. Even before the construction of Painter Hall the college had advertised its project to build a three building row — dormitories flanking an academic building. Its model was Old Brick Row at Middlebury’s mother institution, Yale University, with its alternation of broadside dormitories and gable-front chapel and lyceum (since demolished) overlooking the New Haven green. Middlebury’s three-part Old Stone Row (celebrated by a U.S. Postal Service postcard at the time of the college bicentennial) exists as perhaps the closest and best conserved iteration of what was an important campus planning model in the early nineteenth century.

Old Chapel in the 1890s. Source

As with Painter, so here, too, is a structure much altered in the course of time. In 1869 the library took over the second floor, the chapel was diminished in favor of the physics department and remodeled in the Gothic Revival style. Its gallery became a reading room, assigned in 1883 to Middlebury’s first coeds as the one place on campus where they could study and gather. In 1940 the entire interior was adapted for use as an administration building, and in 1996 it was totally renovated for this purpose according to designs by Moser Pilon Nelson Architects.

70 Starr Hall This third element of the Old Stone Row had been conceived of as early as the design and construction of Painter Hall; and in the late 1830s surplus funds from the Old Chapel project gave serious impetus to planning for yet another structure to the south. However, as a joint result of harsh disciplinary action, student revolt, and a Hell-fire-and-brimstone religious revival, the college temporarily lost students and popularity. Only by 1860 had the enrollment regained sufficient size to encourage constructing further facilities. The Old Chapel surplus was substantially supplemented by Charles and Egbert Starr, and the cornerstone laid for the new dormitory, a building very similar to Painter Hall but lent a slightly Victorian flavor by the sharply-pitched gables over the entries. In 1864 Starr Hall burned on Christmas night and was rebuilt within the old shell with further donations by the Starr brothers. However, it was to be a long time before the new structure would be utilized to its fullest. First the Civil War and then disciplinary problems reduced the student body to a low of thirty-eight by 1880. Such were the circumstances of the college when in 1885 Prof. Ezra Brainerd ’64 accepted the challenge of the presidency and began to build for the institution new popularity, a liberalized curriculum, an expanded endowment, and new facilities.

Starr Hall in 1910. Source

71 Starr Library One of President Brainerd’s top priorities was the construction of a proper library. To this end he drew upon the 1893 gift of Charles Starr and the 1898 legacy of Egbert Starr. Beginning construction in 1899, he pushed for the completion of the new structure by Middlebury College’s centennial celebration in 1900. In the aftermath of the 1893 Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition, the idea of formal classical buildings of culture was much in people’s minds. What could be more suitable for a Vermont college than to have a Vermont marble temple for its library? The college hired the young New York architects York and Sawyer, fresh out of the office of McKim Mead and White, to design a building much in the mode of small libraries then being produced by that famous firm. They produced a T-shaped building (reading room and stack wing) very much of its times — with a chaste, finely detailed Greek exterior giving onto an opulent Roman interior with coffered ceiling, oak paneling and doors, and Irish marble fireplaces. No expense was spared. Not conceived in isolation, it was soon paired compositionally with another centennial-inspired, classical-marble, York and Sawyer edifice, the Warner Science Building (1900–1901), to lend a City Beautiful3 formality to the front campus.

Extended three times (by York and Sawyer, 1927; Shepley, Bulfinch, Richardson and Abbott, 1959–1962; and Tully Associates, 1978–1979), by the 1990s the library was in need of major reworking and expansion yet again. From many viewpoints — coherence of organization, accessibility, technological adaptability — the building did not lend itself to the needs of a contemporary multi-media library facility. It was determined to replace Starr as the college’s library and to adapt the historic building for other academic uses. The Boston architectural firm of Childs Bertman Tseckares was commissioned in 2004 to remove a 1970s stack addition (Meredith Wing), restore the historic shell and original reading and Abernethy rooms, and expand the building with a south-facing winter garden, office wings, classroom, screening, and video production facilities to accommodate the Axinn Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, named for donor Donald Everett Axinn ’51.

Starr Library around 1910. Source
Starr Library reading room around 1910. Source

72 Emma Willard House The house across South Main Street at the end of the library walk was built for Dr. John and Emma (Hart) Willard in 1811 and was the site of her female seminary from 1814–1819. Of brick with marble lintels over doors and windows, it originally had nine rooms. The wing to the southwest and the Greek Revival details of the interior are the additions by later private owners. In 1959 the College acquired the house and adapted it for use as an admissions office, ultimately adding the single-story wing to the north. In 1966 it was declared a National Historic Site.

  1. a tradition of showy, formal architecture, usually in a classically-inspired vocabulary, fostered by the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and popular in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries
  2. a tradition of classical public architecture and formal landscape in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, coming as a response to the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893
  3. see above
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