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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.