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Building a college


Activity on the Orange Carpet in 1999.

Since 1905 the library has served Mount Vernon as well as the college, one of only three such partnerships in the world. Cornell’s first library was opened in 1854 on the third floor of what is now Old Sem in a room 10-by-16 feet, which, Dr. Stephen N. Fellows wrote, “was my bedroom, sitting room and parlor, and not being sufficiently utilized, became the library room.” Between 1857 and 1905, the library was located in various campus buildings. Thanks to the generosity of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, the college constructed its first building designed for the exclusive use of the library. Although Carnegie had already given hundreds of libraries to small towns across the country, the Cornell library was the first one that he gave to a college, with the provision that it be shared with the community, a special arrangement that endures to this day. Carnegie’s other provision was that the library be built with steel beams. In 1912 a shipment of books intended for the Cornell English department was lost when the Titanic sank in the north Atlantic.

The Carnegie Library is now the Norton Geology Center and Anderson Museum, a purpose for which the college renovated it in 1980. The increasing size of the collection led in 1957 to the construction of the present Cole Library, after which the Carnegie Library housed the chemistry department until 1976. Named for the college’s ninth president, Cole Library combined the functions of a library and a social center until 1966, when The Commons was built. A major library renovation in 1994–95 coincided with installation of automated circulation, catalogue, and acquisitions systems.

In 1925 the college opened Law Hall, built to house science classrooms and laboratories, and financed by a gift from the Rev. Marion Law, of the class of 1890, in honor of his parents and geology professor William Harmon Norton. Law Hall was the first addition to the college since College Hall was built in 1857 that was intended as a classroom building from its inception. Law Hall was renovated in 1980 and 1982 but most extensively in 2001 when it was renamed the Law Hall Technology Center.

The West Science Center, named for alumnus Merle Scott West ’09, opened in 1976.

Study time in Cole Library (1965 Royal Purple).

The 2002 dedication of McWethy Hall, formerly Alumni Gym.

Perhaps the most important place on Cornell’s campus to generations of alumni has been its chapel. The need for a separate chapel building was recognized in 1874, and the present stone chapel was erected during the next eight years. Designed by Chicago architect Cass Chapman, construction of the building was plagued with financial problems that delayed the construction and threatened to bankrupt the college. At one point the faculty voluntarily returned from 10 percent to 20 percent of their pay—and President King 40 percent—in order to help relieve the college’s precarious financial condition. When finally completed in 1882, the building had cost $72,000, almost triple the architect’s original estimate. The basement of the chapel housed an armory, where the cannons used by the college’s military training unit were kept until the government asked for them back during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The 130foot main tower houses the only remaining model No. 17 Seth Thomas clock, still regulated by its original 400-pound pendulum. The chapel contains the 1967 Moller pipe organ, the third to grace the interior of the chapel and said to be the largest such instrument between Salt Lake City and Chicago when it was dedicated in 1967.

Officially named in 1940 for the college’s third and longest-serving president, King Chapel has served not only for religious services, including weddings and funerals, but also as an auditorium for college assemblies, lectures, recitals, debates, pep rallies, and theatricals. Until 1957 required chapel services were held each weekday morning, although these services came to include guest speakers, music programs, puppets, and even pep rallies. For decades the Chapel served as the main concert venue for the annual May Music Festival, and many notable performers of the early 20th century, including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for six decades, performed on its stage.

During the mid-20th century, Cornell, like other colleges, experienced a tremendous surge in enrollment, leading to ambitious building programs. In addition to new residence halls, later additions to the college included Armstrong Hall of Fine Arts, built in 1938 by a bequest from Blanche Swingley Armstrong, class of 1891. Renovations of Armstrong Hall in 2002 included the addition of Youngker Hall and Kimmel Theatre.

King Chapel renovations in 1967

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