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Herring-Cole Hall stands on the old part of the St. Lawrence University campus to the west of Richardson Hall, midway down the tree-lined "college walk." At one time, it was balanced on the south side of the "college walk" by Fisher Hall (built in 1883 and burned in 1951). Herring-Cole Hall was built in two stages; its T-shaped plan is due to the attachment of the Cole Reading Room in 1902, built at right angles to the original Herring Library of 1869.
By 1869, a college library was badly needed, and in that year, Silas Herring, the maker of Champion safes in New York City, made a gift that covered the cost for the building. The architect, still unknown, chose to use local Potsdam sandstone to build in the so-called "Italian style" current in the mid-nineteenth century. As a result, Herring-Cole contrasts with the nearby Richardson Hall in almost every detail. Smaller in dimensions and yet fortress-like and monumental in character, Herring-Cole Hall appears to crouch defensively in the shadow of its elegant, tall, almost willowy neighbor on the top of the hill.
By 1899, Herring, which had been forced to become a repository for government documents, was overcrowded, poorly heated, and generally unsatisfactory. Edward Cole supplied the funds for the addition, which nearly doubled the size of the original structure. The New York firm of Huberty & Hudswell designed the lavish new reading room, a single lofty space surrounded by a gallery supported by Corinthian columns and paneled throughout in oak.
After the construction of the new Owen D. Young Library, Herring Cole Hall served several interim years as the home of the studio art department, until it was taken over by the University archives. It is gradually being restored to reflect its original beauty.