Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Old Main and Annex

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Widener University
Original/Historic Place Name: Old Main
Location on Campus: 14th St. (One University Pl.)
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1867original construction Crump, John
1882-1883renovations Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: stone
Walls: stone; stucco
Roof: standard shingle
ca. 1867other (science laboratory)
ca. 1867old main (Military Academy)
ca. 2004-present (2007)other (University Writing Center)
ca. 2004-present (2007)academic department building (School of Nursing)
ca. 2004-present (2007)administration

Significance: architecture, education, history
Landmark designation:
National RegisterOld Main and Chemistry Building (1978)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Compiled partially from the National Register report:

Known as the "West Point" of the Keystone State, the former Pennsylvania Military Academy (now Widener University), made a significant impact on our military strength as a nation. It prepared many officers who would be instrumental in the Civil War as well as the wars that would follow. In the mid-1970s the decision was made to re-name the institution Widener University in order to honor the memory of Eleanore Elikins Widener, the maternal grandmother of Fitz Eugene Dixon, Jr., a generous supporter of the institution for four decades. Eleanore Widener's husband, George Dunton Widener, and her son Harry perished in the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912. There have been many "firsts" attributed to the institution that are now permanent additions to the culture; for example, football plays via a numerical code were invented here; the loops on the back of shirts were created here; "taps" was written here.

Old Main, constructed in 1867, was designed by John Crump, a Philadelphia architect whose work included the city's notable Union League, and whose "lavish yet functional" style is said to have been the primary example of Philadelphia architecture in the second half of the nineteenth century. The building was designed to accommodate a military institution comprised of 350 cadets, several faculty and service functionaries, classrooms, and office space. The self-contained edifice served as the principal domicile of the institution for several generations with minor alterations being made to accommodate growth and expanded needs. In 1882, after a fire destroyed the original building, Crump designed a replacement, which has been in use since that time. Its exterior has been restored to the original specifications thus qualifying it for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

Currently, the building serves as the center for the University's administrative offices as well as the location of the School of Nursing (3rd and 4th floors). A skywalk at the second floor level connects Old Main to its Annex to the left of the building. The nursing lecture hall is located on the 2nd floor of the annex. On its first floor is housed the University's Writing center. Originally, the science laboratory was located in the far left wing of Old Main. It was here that the devastating fire started. The replacement building (the current structure) placed the science laboratory adjacent to but separate from the main building.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Buxton, Henry J. Pennsylvania Military College: The Story of One Hundred Years, 1821-1921. [Chester, PA?: s.n., 1922?].

Carnwath, Thomas, and Nancy M. Steele. Old Main and Chemistry Building [Widener University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1978.

DelVecchio, Valentine. Beneath the Dome of PMC: The Story of Pennsylvania Military College 1821-1972. Santa Barbara, CA: Reference Desk Books, 1997.

Moll, Clarence R. "A History of Pennsylvania Military College: 1821-1954." Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1956.

Norton, John David. Widener College: Minimizing Conflict in Accomplishing Change. [New York]: Teacher's College, 1977.

Widener Magazine [no volume or issue numbers indicated].

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices
Other: Delaware County Historical Society

Contact us / About Site / About CIC
© 2006
Council of Independent Colleges
One Dupont Circle, Ste. 320
Washington, DC
All rights reserved
Last update: November 2006