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When Spalding University, originally called Nazareth College, opened in 1920, its sole building was the 1871 structure known as the Tompkins-Buchanan-Rankin House. This Italianate building was designed and built by architect Henry Whitestone for the family of Joseph T. Tompkins, a wealthy dry-goods merchant and importer. Later, the Buchanans and Rankins lived here. George C. Buchanan was a distiller who aspired to make the mansion one of the greatest in Louisville, and had it redecorated in 1880. Although the facade of this Italianate structure has disappeared, the north and south sides of the original building are visible; on the north are three deeply projecting bay windows, and on the south, a two story loggia. In 1918 the residence was vacant, so the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth purchased it for $75,000 as the site of the college they planned to open in Louisville. The fact that this house is one door north of Presentation Academy, also operated by the Sisters, was fortunate. Architect Whitestone introduced the Italianate style to Louisville, using Rome's Palazzo Farnese for his model.
As successive owners occupied the mansion, they added such treasures as a hand-tooled leather ceiling from Florence for one parlor, ebony mantels, and a large hand-carved hat-rack, which Mr. Buchanan purchased at the New Orleans Exposition. The stained glass which graces this mansion is one of its outstanding features. When Dr. John Coolidge, one-time Director of Harvard's Fogg Art Museum, visited Louisville, he said that Spalding University has the most marvelous display of nineteenth-century stained glass he had ever seen. Many other artifacts make this building a veritable museum. Its crystal and brass chandeliers, "petticoat mirrors," Viennese etched glass doors, and hand-painted tiles in the fireplaces are just a few examples of the elegance this structure contains.
Erected in 1942, the Administration Building, which was attached to the front wall of the 1871 building, fills not only the space of the two lots north of the original building but also that of the former terrace in front of the mansion. The old stained glass street number, 851, no longer faces the street, but it still gleams brightly in the passageway between the newer building and the old Whitestone mansion. Certainly, like many other buildings 132 years old, the Spalding Mansion has many needs. Its heating system leads this list, and administrators are actively seeking grants to remedy this problem.
In December 1973 the Mansion was designated a Kentucky Landmark. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in April 1977.