Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Ministers' Hall

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Claflin University
Original/Historic Place Name: Dining Hall
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1913original construction Unknown
1994restoration Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung Pierce, Michael
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: concrete (spread foundation)
Walls: clay brick
Roof: timber (frame); wood (decking); shingle
1913-1994dining hall
ca. 1990sother (storage)
1994-present (2007)other (facilities management building)
1994-present (2007)library (Ernest A. Finney, Jr. Library)
1994-present (2007)auditorium

Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Ministers' Hall was erected in 1913 and originally was known as the Dining Hall. While it was being used as a storage facility it caught fire in 1994, which caused significant destruction to the interior and prompting several people to call for the demolition of the building. Although the building's future was doubtful for some months, the campus community decided to make a full-fledged effort to restore the building to its original integrity. Under the guidance of Michael Pierce and the firm of Hussey, Gay, Bell & DeYoung of Columbia, South Carolina, this move has resulted in many architectural and archeological rewards.

The supporting roof trusses had been severely damaged as was the roof decking and masons. The main hall's two gable monuments, which had been constructed by students, were nearly completed destroyed. Great care was taken in rebuilding these features of the building. They had to be saw-cut out of the damaged walls for careful study in the rebuilding process. As the restoration of the building progressed, there was a greater understanding of the diligence of the student workers and the integrity of the structure reflected their many skills. Historical and cultural significance became of primary importance in the rebuilding process. For example, when the monuments were studied, it was realized the letters on them were hand carved. When they were rebuilt the letters were re-installed as they were originally.

Supervising architect, Pierce, believes that the scale of the building is notable, particularly with regard to the roof structure. The process by which they were restored was labor intensive. The roof was beyond repair, and its wood decking was removed to take off exposed heavy timber king post trusses, which were taken down individually and evaluated. Four were smoked damaged, another four were charred but salvageable and yet another four had to be completely replaced. Less damaged trusses were used as a template to build new ones. All of the trusses that were reused were taken apart, re-planed, and, when necessary, rebuilt. Steel brackets and hardware were removed from those that were beyond repair and reused on new timber. The architect says even an expert could not tell which of the trusses were damaged.

Other elements of the building were similarly examined and copied with close attention to the original structure. Rafter ends of the roof, typical of that era of construction, were taken off the burned building to be copied and re-installed. All the windows, including several that were damaged by the fire, were taken out of the building's frame to be evaluated. Those damaged beyond repair were taken to a millwork shop so replaced elements would be historically accurate.

Some surprises occurred as well in the restoration process. It was discovered that one hall had fine acoustics after restoration of the hardwood floors and stage were complete. In another example, it was discovered that about five feet of brickbats (left over from the original construction) had been left there, thus preventing saving the then-existing concrete floor.

The building now serves as a performing arts center. It also houses the Ernest A. Finney Jr. Library, named in honor of South Carolina's first African-American Chief Justice and Claflin University graduate.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Glover, Vivian. Men of Vision: Claflin College and her Presidents. Orangeburg, SC: Claflin College, Bill Wise Printers, 1995.

Gore, Blinzy L. On a Hilltop High: The Origin and History of Claflin College to 1894. Spartanburg, SC: Claflin College National Alumni Association, The Reprint Company, 1994.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library

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