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Building a college

  Sesquicentennial  

Alumni Gym, built in 1909, was also renovated in 2002 as an art facility and renamed McWethy Hall. Later additions to campus include the Field House (1953) and the Richard and Norma Small Multi-Sport Center (1986). The Commons, built in 1966, has formed a hub for campus social life ever since its construction.

Beginning in the 1930s, the college began the construction of several residence halls, including Pfeiffer (1930) and Merner (1936) halls. In 1955 the college built Olin Hall with a gift from the F. W. Olin Foundation. Tarr (1965), Dows (1963), Pauley (1963), and Rorem (1966) are the latest additions to Cornell’s residential facilities.

Over the years the college has acquired a number of historic homes that border the campus. Restored with original Victorian-era paint schemes, these homes add to the beauty and historic character of the campus. Platner House (1892), now a music practice house, was a residence and, later, a funeral home and was acquired by the college in 1963. Other college-owned houses along First Street include Wade House (1884), now the admission office, and Lytle House (1884), which now houses the philosophy department. William Brackett, who supervised the construction of King Chapel, built Brackett House in 1877. Since the 1950s it has served as an alumni center and college guest house.

Rood House as it appeared before East House (1936) and North House (1955) were added.

A post-1976 campus aerial.

Rood House (1883), now a residence hall, was designed by Cass Chapman, the architect of the chapel and of Bowman Hall, for Henry H. Rood, a Civil War veteran and local merchant who served as the secretary of the Cornell Board of Trustees for almost 50 years. Two other homes, once belonging to Dr. A. A. Crawford and to Anna Jordan, which stood where Merner and Olin halls now stand, were moved to this site prior to the construction of those buildings and connected to the Rood residence.

The President’s House, built in 1850, is the oldest building on campus and was originally the home of the William Hamilton family. In later years Hamilton’s daughter married a former lord mayor of London, Sir Sidney Waterlow, and became a close friend of Queen Alexandra of England. When Queen Victoria died, Lady Waterlow helped divide her personal possessions among family members. William Fletcher King, the third president of the college, purchased the house in 1864 and lived here with his wife, Margaret, and their daughter, Lucy. In 1908 King presented his house to the college, but remained in residence there until he died in his study in 1921.

In front of the President’s House stands a gingko tree that, at approximately 85 feet in height and with a trunk 12 feet in circumference, is one of the largest examples of this prehistoric species in Iowa.

Harlan House (1875) was the home of the college’s fourth president, James Harlan. A Civil War veteran, Harlan was associated with the college for 62 years as student, professor, vice president, registrar, president, and trustee. The nearby Collin House (1889), which the college bought in 1924, contains apartments used by visiting faculty. The building was originally the home of Alonzo Collin, who taught science from 1860 to 1906.

The campus, now consisting of 129 acres and 41 buildings, covers a long, wooded hilltop. Until 1893 a wooden fence surrounded the campus in order to keep out livestock. The original hilltop lacked trees, a situation that Acting President Hugh Boyd remedied during his single year in office. Under Boyd’s direction, students dug trees out of the surrounding woods and brought them to campus, where the long-red-bearded Boyd planted them personally, throwing his spade from each newly planted tree and planting the next tree where the spade landed.

Students assist at the dedication of Olin Hall in 1955.

Construction of Pfeiffer Hall, which opened in 1930.

In 1966 the college added a 200-by-133-foot artificial pond to the campus in memory of Raymond Peter Ink, class of 1897 and founder of the social group Delta Phi Rho. The original pond, located on the Ink family farm, was a popular recreational spot for Cornellians for generations.

In 2002 a major landscaping of central campus was made possible through the generosity of Marie Carter. A mobile feature of the campus for over a century is the large granite boulder known simply as the Rock. First brought to campus by the class of 1889, the Rock has been buried, burned, painted, and kidnapped by generations of Cornellians.

The Cornell campus was included in its entirety on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the first college or university campus to be so honored. Additionally, several sections of Mount Vernon have been included on the National Register as historic districts, since the town contains an unusually high, and interesting, concentration of historic buildings.

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