Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Thompson House

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Institution Name: Westminster College (PA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Residence of Professor S.R. Thompson
Location on Campus: 319 S. Market St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
ca. 1887original construction Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: none specified
Walls: wood (siding)
Roof: none specified
ca. 1887private residence
ca. 1920residence hall (women)
ca. 2004-present (2007)administration (offices for development and alumni relations)

Significance: architecture, history
Landmark designation:
National RegisterS.R.Thompson House (1985)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The Thompson House has been historically associated with the college for at least 115 years, and is the only college building on the National Register of Historic Places. Prof. S. R. Thompson was graduated from Westminster in 1863 and after a distinguished career in public education in the Midwest, he returned to his alma mater in 1884 to lead in the development of the modern laboratory approach to teaching the natural sciences. He purchased and improvised laboratory equipment, and finally gave the money necessary to build the Mary Thompson Science Hall, named in memory of his daughter who had recently died as a Westminster student. Following his death in 1896, his widow and later his niece provided room and board for students and professors in the Thompson House. In the 1920s the college leased the house for use as a residence for women students. The college bought the house in 1945 and since then has alternately used it for offices or student housing. The Thompson House was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. It is considered a fine example of the Stick Style of Victorian architecture as it had evolved in western Pennsylvania by the mid-1880s.

From National Register report:

The appearance of the house today is remarkably similar to its original appearance, or at least to the very early view of it in an 1894 collection of photogravures published by S.R. Thompson. Since that date, changes to the house's exterior have been few and generally superficial.

Three stories tall, it is constructed of lap-sided wood with irregular massing and Stick Style decorative detailing. A steep hip roof has projecting gables on all elevations. The original rectangular and round-shaped slate shingles, arranged in a pattern, are intact. There are three tall corbelled brick chimneys. The exterior of the chimney on the south elevation is notable for its detailing of panels of brick laid in several patterns, and a blind arch with keystone at the ground level.

Because the house has served as a residence for nearly all its lifetime and has had two owners only (S.R. Thompson and his niece) before Westminster College, its interior architectural integrity remains good. The house is believed to have been built by Mr. Thompson ca. 1884, when he returned to the college to become Professor of Physics and the leader and developer of Westminster's science department. An amateur photographer of considerable ability, he documented the buildings of Westminster College and New Wilmington in a collection of photographs which he published as a college souvenir in 1894. He developed his own photographs in a darkroom installed in the science building.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Schmidlapp, Christina. S.R., House [Westminster College (PA)]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1985.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections
Government Offices

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