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Richardson Hall, located on the crest of a hill near the village of Canton, was the first building constructed for a Theological School founded by the New York Universalist Education Society. At first known as the College Building, this structure housed the dining room, chapel, classrooms, and dormitory space. Its scale and permanence hardly betray the instability of the college's early years during the Civil War period with no endowment and few enticements to attract faculty to its remote location. Faced with many poorly-prepared applicants, the college established a preparatory department in 1859 to bring entrants up to the required level. The long co-ed tradition at St. Lawrence University began with the acceptance of the first woman applicant in 1861 and throughout the 1860's, both men and women lived in the main college building. This reflection of liberal Universalist thinking ranks St. Lawrence as among the first co-educational universities in the state.
The third floor of the College Building was the domain of the theological students. The "theologues," as they were called, had rooms there, while the steward lived in the basement. By the 1870's, storage rooms, also on the third floor, became meeting places for secret societies which later became Greek letter organizations. First, the P.D. society was established in 1874. It was a secret club organized to control the Thelomathesian Society, a debating club started eleven years earlier. Beta Theta Pi, the first fraternity at St. Lawrence, grew out of the P.D. club in 1879, and in time other secret societies claimed meeting rooms on the third floor of the College Building.
The renaming of the College Building was a gesture of gratitude made in 1906 to Mary A. Richardson of Worcester, Massachusetts, who was responsible for the building's renovation. Today, Richardson Hall, though heavily altered on the interior by a second renovation in 1962, stands as a functional and symbolic link to the founding of St. Lawrence University.