Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Thompson Memorial Library

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Institution Name: Vassar College
Original/Historic Place Name: Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library
Location on Campus: adjacent to main gate on Raymond Ave.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1905original construction Allen & Collens
1918expansion Unknown
1937expansion Unknown
1977Lockwood addition Helmut, Obata & Kassabaum
2001Ingram Van Ingen addition Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates Hardy, Hugh
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: stone masonry
Walls: Indiana limestone (trim)
Roof: none specified
1905-present (2007)library (reading, research, media resources, archives)

Significance: architecture, education
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

One of the most important of early campus buildings was the Frederick Ferris Thompson Memorial Library. Originally a free-standing structure built in 1905, it has grown in pieces over time. Renovations to double its space in depth took place first in 1918 and then in 1937. The latter linked the library to Taylor Hall to the south and included John McAndrew's important early modernist Art Library. There were further additions to the north, including the 1977 Lockwood addition (Helmut, Obata and Kassabaum) and its renovation, which has created the Ingram wing (Hugh Hardy, 2001).

Identifying the different parts of these renovations, some of which are indistinguishable to the untrained eye, would be a major goal of any educational material produced by the college as a result of this initiative. Such work would also help to focus attention on the ambitions of the early college and its original library--not just the central tower, which is truly monumental, or the Cornaro stained glass window, which shows the 17th-century Venetian intellectual, Elena Lucrezia Coronaro Piscopia, the first woman to receive a Ph.D.--but on the entire decorative program of the building, which links Vassar and its education to the world of wider learning.

The architectural character of this building, which mixes clear, box-like, Beaux-Arts massing with complex Gothic decorative detail, provides the dominant formal theme for the west side of the campus. Thus each of the linked additions (the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center to the south and the Ingram wing to the north) relate to this original structure. Generations of students, under the training of the history department most notably, used the library and its epistemological frame for their own study. Thus the building not only housed books, but was, in its form, a lesson for generations of students.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Collens, Charles. "Vassar College." Architectural Review 123, no. 2411 (January 17, 1923).

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Main to Mudd and More. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1996.

Daniels, Elizabeth A. Bridges to the World: Henry Noble MacCracken and Vassar College. Clinton Corners, NY: College Avenue Press, 1994.

Gaines, Thomas A. The Campus as a Work of Art. New York: Praeger, 1991.

Horowitz, Helen Lefkowitz. Alma Mater: Design and Experience in the Women's Colleges from Their Nineteenth-Century Beginnings to the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1984.

Lewis, Dio. The New Gymnastics. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1862.

Linner, Edward R. Vassar: The Remarkable Growth of a Man and His College. Elizabeth A. Daniels, ed. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1984.

Lloyd, Harriet Raymond. Life and Letters of John Howard Raymond. New York: Fords, Howard and Hulbert, 1881.

Lossing, Benson J. Historical Sketch of Vassar College. New York: S. W. Green 1876.

Lossing, Benson J.. Vassar College and Its Founder. New York: C. A. Alvord, 1867.

MacCracken, Henry Noble. The Hickory Limb. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1950.

Miscellany News. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Plum, Dorothy A., and George B. Dowell. The Great Experiment, A Chronicle of Vassar. Poughkeepsie, NY: Vassar College, 1961.

Schuyler, Montgomery. "The Architecture of American Colleges: X. Three Women's Colleges: Vassar, Wellesley & Smith." Architectural Record 31 (May 1912).

Swan, Frances W. et al., eds. Communications to the Board of Trustees of Vassar College by Its Founder. New York: Vassar College, 1886.

Van Lengen, Karen, and Lisa Reilly. Vassar College: An Architectural Tour. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

Vassar Quarterly. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassar Views, Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

Vassarion. Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, NY.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office

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