Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Metcalf Pillars

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Metcalf Pillars
Location on Campus: E. Main St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1935original construction Unknown
Type of Place: Landscape site
Type of landscape–
Small-scale features:
Neoclassical temple built on banks of Peacock Pond in 1935 from the porch pillars of Old Metcalf Hall, the original boarding house constructed in 1835; in its center is a sundial mounted on a stand.
Other characteristics:
Materials: concrete foundation, wooden pillars, copper domed roof
1935-present (2007)outdoor space

Significance: culture, history, landscape
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Metcalf Pillars provides a lasting reminder of Old Metcalf Hall, the rambling wooden boarding house which provided a residence for all the students, teachers, and administrators, as well as the dining room, parlors, and offices for most of the first century of Wheaton's existence. It was actually a row of linked houses and wings built as needed to accommodate the Seminary's increasing enrollment. At the urging of Mary Lyon, the Wheaton family built the first house, called the "Boarding House," in 1836-37. A second house, called "New House," was added in 1857, and wings added in 1868 (The Sem, used as bookstore, post office and laundry) and 1874. One visitor suggested that, "a girl's title to her diploma should rest on her ability…to make a map…of this triplex house." The students named each hall: Seventh Heaven, Hades, Tragedy Alley, Comedy, Seminary, Purgatory, Paradise, Senior Corridor, and Broadway. Ultimately ninety-five people were housed in Old Metcalf. While living in such close quarters often "fatigued" the teachers and dampened the exuberance of the students, alumnae repeatedly noted the magnitude of the impression made by their instructors.

In 1901, the Boarding House was named for Caroline Cutler Metcalf, principal from 1850 to 1876. She stabilized the Seminary after a difficult period, improved the curriculum and living conditions, and attracted a superb faculty to the Seminary. After Chapin Hall opened in 1901, followed by other dormitories, many students still chose to live in Old Metcalf for its quirky charm and historic role in Wheaton's development.

Old Metcalf was torn down in stages between 1932 and 1934. The pillars from the front porch of the original section of this eccentric domicile were saved and used to create a Greek tholos on the shores of Peacock Pond. Under its copper-domed roof, a cement stand holds a bronze sundial that reads, "1836-1934. Here stand the pillars of Old Metcalf Hall." While few students realize the historic significance of this structure, it provides a bit of whimsy, and a lovely spot for photos or a private conversation.

I. Bibliographic sources:

"Glimpses of Life at Wheaton." The Rushlight 28, no. 2 (June 1883): 1-4.

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

Larcom, Lucy. Wheaton Seminary: A Semi-Centennial Sketch. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1885.

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

Park, J. Edgar. "Old Metcalf Hall: A Chapel Talk." Wheaton Alumnae Quarterly (November 1934): 7-8.

"Seminary Items." The Rushlight, see especially 19, no. 2 (March 1874): 31; 24, no. 2 (Winter 1879): 33; 46, no. 2 (June 1901): 34; 2, no. 1 (December 1905): 4.

Shepard, Grace F. "Metcalf Hall, 1837-1932." Wheaton Alumnae Quarterly 11, no. 4 (August 1932): 3-8, 22.

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., 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:

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