Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Sem, The

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Seminary Hall, Old Seminary Hall
Location on Campus: 1 Howard St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1834original construction Wheaton, Laban Morey
1849relocation to Howard St. Unknown
1868relocation back to campus Unknown
1933relocation to present location Unknown
1938addition of sunporch Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: granite
Walls: clapboard
Roof: shingle
1835-1849old main (all academic and most social functions of Wheaton Female Seminary)
1849-1868other (moved to Howard Street, became Straw Hat Factory, tenement, meeting place for Sons of Temperance)
1868-1933residence hall (moved back to campus and attached to Old Metcalf Hall, used as dormitory, laundry, post office, bookstore and infirmary)
1933-1941student union (moved back to Howard Street and used as student activity building, then faculty or student housing)
1941-present (2007)residence hall (faculty housing)

Significance: culture, education, history
Landmark designation:
National RegisterNorton Center Historic District (1977)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

"The Sem," built in 1834, served as the original classroom building for Wheaton Female Seminary and was called Seminary Hall. Its construction was supervised by Laban Morey Wheaton, founder of the Seminary. It was in this structure that the Seminary's first classes met on 22 April 1835, under the aegis of Mary Lyon, pioneer in women's education, and Eunice Caldwell, the first principal. Until 1989 when it became coeducational, Wheaton was the oldest institution for the higher education of women in New England. The Sem has "witnessed" Wheaton College's entire history.

The original design included neo-classical features in its two-story front portico, four simple columns, and low pediment. The columned cupola, topped by a weathervane, gave it a decidedly "schoolhouse" appearance. Its current appearance bears little resemblance to this original design. The portico and cupola are gone. A two-storey sun porch was added to the south side in 1938.

Originally, The Sem stood on Main Street across from the Wheaton homestead, on the site where the north wing of Mary Lyon Hall now stands. The Wheaton family and the college moved this modest structure across Howard Street three times, and it has stood in four different locations. The Sem was used variously, and often simultaneously, as a straw hat factory, tenement, rented meeting hall, laundry, campus post office, infirmary, bookstore, student activity building, dormitory, and residence for faculty and staff.

Its front portico, columns and cupola were probably lost during its first move to Howard Street in 1849. Its second move in 1868 attached it to the back of the Seminary Boarding House (later Old Metcalf Hall), where it served various functions including campus post office and bookstore. As such, it was the most popular spot on campus after morning chapel, when students would rush to collect their mail before their first classes. In 1933, prior to the demolition of Old Metcalf, The Sem was placed in its current location on Howard St. and named by college President J. Edgar Park. This name appears on a small pediment over the front door. The Student War Activities Board (SWAB) used its rooms during World War II for sewing, knitting, rolling bandages, and the like.

The most vivid imprint of The Sem's previous history survives in the upstairs apartment, where four rooms that stand in pairs off a long, narrow hallway still feature transoms over each doorway. In each of these rooms, on either side of the entrance, are two closets, containing deep, built-in shelves meant to serve as dressers for student residents.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Boulding, Christine, and Hope Phillips. Norton Center Historic District [including Wheaton College]. National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

Helmreich, Paul C. Wheaton College 1834-1957: A Massachusetts Family Affair. New York: Cornwall Books, 2002

Paine, Harriet. Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton: A Chapter in the Higher Education of Women. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1907.

"Seminary Items." The Rushlight 24, no. 2 (Winter 1879): 33.

Shepard, Grace F. "Reference History of Wheaton College." Typescript. 1931. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Architectural History of the Wheaton College Campus: History of Land and Building Acquisition. [Norton, MA.: s.n.], 1987, rev. 2002.

Stickney, Zephorene L. "Faces behind the Facades: Campus Development & Named Buildings at Wheaton College, Norton, MA." Online (2006). Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Wheaton Imagined, Wheaton Realized: Twentieth Century Perspectives on Planning. Norton, MA: Wheaton College, February 1988.

Stickney, Zephorene L., and Sandra C. Davidson. Of All Our Immemorial Past: 150 Years at Wheaton. Norton, MA: Watson Gallery, Wheaton College, 1985.

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

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