Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Seibert Hall

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Institution Name: Susquehanna University
Original/Historic Place Name: Seibert Memorial Hall
Location on Campus: University Ave.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1901original construction Unknown
1924expansion Rianhard, Arthur
1981renovation Lynch, David
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: concrete
Walls: wood (frame); brick
Roof: wood frame; slate
ca. 1901-present (2007)residence hall (women)
ca. 1926-present (2007)dining hall
ca. 2006-present (2007)academic department building (education department)

Significance: history
Landmark designation:
National RegisterSelinsgrove Hall and Seibert Hall (1979)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The politics of determining building programs and land acquisition got complicated as ambitions for the institution's future segmented among its constituents. When Charles Heisler began his term as President in 1899, the Board was trying to unravel the conundrum of allocating resources for a woman's dormitory or a gymnasium. Momentum for both existed. Living space for women had been a problem since the old Susquehanna Female College folded in 1872 and women began to be educated on the campus. The prevailing standard of in loco parentis put a special burden on a campus unable to round women up and place them under a watchful eye. In the mid 1890's, the college catalog had offered the solace of Mrs. Sones' care in a house adjacent to the campus, but that arrangement was too casual. So in 1898 when the Reverend Adam A. Warner, the college's Financial Secretary, offered to invest his own money to make arrangements for women to live on the campus, the Board jumped at it. Warner made improvements to the two lower student houses, presumably the double-sided house closest to Selinsgrove Hall, provided room for fifteen women there and board for forty other students, with his wife acting as matron. The plan was for him to receive all rent and board money as a return on his investment, and when Warner had his money back the structure would revert to the college.

Just as these plans reached fruition, word was received about the legacy of Samuel Seibert of Hagerstown, Maryland. His connection to Susquehanna appears to have been through his pastor and Chairman of the Board, the Rev. Samuel Owen. The gift was $19,533.81 and the Board decided to use it to fund the arrears of professor's salaries and other lingering debts, provide the college's share of the cost of a gymnasium, buy a supply of coal, with $8,000 placed in the endowment. However, "in order to be in accord with the wishes of the Seibert heirs," a portion of the legacy was shifted to fund a woman's dormitory. Exactly what the Seibert legacy funded is not clear but enough was given toward the new dormitory so that in November of 1901 the Board decided to name the new building Seibert Memorial Hall.

The site selected for the dormitory was occupied by stables and other out buildings and very close to the student houses Ziegler had built. Groundbreaking occurred September 25, 1901 with the college paper reporting that all the coeds turned soil, symbolic perhaps of the reality that for years the rules and privileges of Seibert's residents would be those of all SU coeds. These rules began to be formed a year before the dorm was completed because Matron Warner was having trouble maintaining order in what was coming to be called "Warner Hall." The Board had to intervene, appointing two other woman teachers to live in the dorm and establishing a long list of rules for the house. The latter included hours of rising (6:00 AM); hours of retirement (10:00 PM); study hours; hours when men could be in the building (Saturday from 4:00 PM to 7:00 PM); permission required to leave the dorm or the college; compulsory attendance at Sunday Church Services, accompanied by the teacher; a demerit system for poor behavior; grades monitored by the matron-here was the first elucidation of in loco parentis at Susquehanna University!

Seibert Hall was constructed in a neo-classical style, first found in Selinsgrove Hall. It was of red brick, trimmed with limestone and marked with eight large Corinthian columns supporting the expanse of the front porch. The building became a marker for the college, reproduced on post cards, memorial trays, and wooden blocks, its beauty amazing given the poverty of the college at the time when it was constructed. Three stories high, Seibert initially was shaped as an "L" with the ninety-two foot front facing Selinsgrove Hall (tennis courts between) and the sixty foot wing attached to the south side, running west. The top two floors contained rooms for women and the matron; the first floor had social parlors, an art room, a room for piano instruction and a recital hall. The basement had a large room housing the new Commercial Department. The whole building was fitted for electricity which finally came in 1907 when the town's electrical plant began. Interestingly, there were no accommodations for eating, neither a kitchen nor a dining hall. Rather, the first double-sided house built by Ziegler which had just been converted to a dining hall and women's dorm by Warner, was attached by a shed-like corridor to Seibert Hall and served as a kitchen and dining hall until 1926-Lewers Dining Hall. On August 8, 1902, Seibert Memorial Hall was dedicated; on that same day (or night) a groundbreaking occurred for the Alumni Gymnasium.

Other technical improvements were made to Susquehanna's physical plant in these years. Heating these new buildings strained the boilers of the steam heat system located off the southeast corner of Gustavus Adolphus Hall and a fire in the boiler building in 1922 justified changing the heating system. The boiler building was moved to the south end of the campus, adjacent to the railroad siding at which the college received its coal. Two new boilers were added to provide steam heat for almost all the University's buildings. In these years, a nearly square "aquarium and fountain" was dug fronting Steele Science Hall which became the famous "frog pond."

The most ambitious and intricate expansion of the 1920's revolved around Seibert Hall, the only dormitory for women. To make room for this expansion, the double-sided cottages built by President Ziegler between 1868 and 1873 were moved further west on the Middleburg road to the farm property purchased in 1920. Faced with red brick, they became "faculty row." Lewar's Dining Hall had been in one of these cottages and eating facilities were placed in the basement of Steele Science until Seibert was finished.

Seibert Hall originally was in the shape of a "L" with the front facing Selinsgrove Hall and the side along the south edge of the building. In 1924 an eighty-two foot addition designed by Arthur Rianhard of Williamsport was added to the north side. In its first floor was a new assembly hall with over 400 seats, graced with a new organ supplied by Board member, M. P. Moeller of Hagerstown, Maryland. The top two floors contained dormitory rooms for women, two rooms sharing a bathroom in a suite arrangement, though no showers were likely placed in the shared bathrooms. An addition of forty feet was also built onto the south side of Seibert Hall, so the two sides were now even and the building took on the shape of a "U" in the upper two stories. A new dining hall named for Registrar "Daddy" Horton and social parlors were built into the first floor of the south side with dormitory rooms for women above. The total cost for the expansion was $89,000; the contractor was Albert Boyer of Sunbury. Seibert Hall now held seventy-five women. Because it was the sole residence hall for women, rules and regulations for the residence were also those for women on the campus.

Qualitative and quantitative growth marked Susquehanna University's life in the Golden Twenties and the physical environment reflected both. The beauty for which the institution has been subsequently admired was made possible as the cluttered and unpleasant structures and odors of rural life diminished. New dormitories for both women and men accommodated growth and allowed the college to push ahead with projects that enhanced its appearance in the mirror held by external agencies. The dollar sign underlay much of this change, as it generally did in the commercialized Seibert Hall 1980's renovation.

The renovation of Seibert Hall carried a new vision about the use of space. Plans for this project began in 1981 when a small committee of administrators and faculty decided it should be a multi-use facility with the potential to realize a rental income. Messerli wanted this renovation to follow two guidelines. First, it had to preserve the historical character of the edifice which had recently been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Second he wanted it to be up-scale-a place where young people of means would feel comfortable. Of course, this fit right into the culture of the Eighties Reagan Revolution and its beneficiaries, a fair number of whom were finding their way to campuses such as that in Selinsgrove. A new architect, David Lynch of Lancaster, was employed because he was experienced with historic restoration. In Seibert's lowest floor, the computer and its auxiliary equipment were located with the offices of the Mathematics department and faculty members in the newly created Sigmund Weis School of Business. The old chapel was redone "in a tone of wedgewood." Opposite it a Model Classroom, suitable for large-scale instruction of either undergraduates or businessmen attending a symposium, was carved from space that had been the old Horton Dining Hall.

The top two floors vividly portrayed Messerli's drive to create an environment for individuals familiar with affluence. The wings were joined by an atrium that served as a living room for student rooms looking out on this space. Large wicker furniture added a comfortable look to this space; art was manifest in a brick sculpture of the Creation Story from Genesis One in Hebrew on the east wall of the Atrium. Living arrangements departed from the row-effect of cells typical in a college dormitory. Two rooms shared a bath; the corner spaces were made into a town house, with bedrooms, a small kitchenette and a living room. These were to be occupied by students in project houses. A new philosophy for the students living in Seibert was developed by the Residence Life staff to fit its elegance and novelty--"Seibert Alive." Project Houses were a part of that philosophy as were 24-hour quiet period, these two bespeaking an attitude of study and service.

Although costs were far above what had been estimated, the resulting ambiance of renovated Seibert Hall set a standard for other living spaces on the campus, emphasizing an upscale look and uses appropriate to "students as clients." Other changes were also made that were calculated to please the student clientele. A closed cafeteria system was adopted, to diminish theft, and ARA replaced Wood as the University's food vendor. Dormitories were wired for cable television. In 1981, Mellon Lounge in the Degenstein Campus Center was renovated according to the same aesthetic design as influenced the Seibert renovation and the Health Center was moved from its location at the distant end of the Avenue to a cottage in the middle of University traffic. These designs and uses of space complemented the Project House system. These latter took a variety of directions, helping groups as disparate as the Girl Scouts, elderly at the Doctors Convalescent Center or high school students in need of a program in alternative education. In the early 1980's the Project House system worked through a structure called SUN, Susquehanna University Neighborhood, and included over 15% of the student body. In 1984 this program received the Keystone Merit Award presented by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Resource: Housley, Donald. A Goodly Heritage: Susquehanna University, 1858-1985 (excerpts).

I. Bibliographic sources:

Housley, Donald. Susquehanna University, 1858-1985: A Goodly Heritage. [s.l.: s.n.], 2007.

Bariess, Phillip, and Mark Blake. Selinsgrove Hall & Seibert Hall [Susquehanna University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1979.

II. Location of other data:
Government Offices

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