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Fenwick Hall is the signature building on the campus of the College of the Holy Cross and was the only college building from the founding of the college in 1843 until 1895. The original Fenwick Hall, finished in 1843, was partially destroyed by fire in 1852; what survived is still part of Fenwick Hall as it is known today. Fenwick is dominated by two lofty towers which figure prominently in books and songs about the college.
From National Register Report (1980):
In 1836 Reverend James Fitton, who had organized St. John's Roman Catholic Church on Temple Street in 1834, bought the farm of "Henry Patch, deceased" on Pakachoag Hill. In addition to a house and barn, the property included approximately 60 acres of land. Shortly after the purchase, Fitton hired local builder Tobias Boland to construct a wooden building on the property, which then became the Seminary of Mount St. James.
By 1843 Fitton had transferred the title to the property to Bishop Benedict Fenwick, the second Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston. Bishop Fenwick ordered the construction of a brick and granite academy building, which was completed on the site of Fenwick Hall in 1843. A course of study requiring seven years began to be offered in November of 1843 with entering students ranging in age from eight to fourteen years old. In the late 1840s an east wing was added to the brick building.
In July 1852 a fire destroyed the 1843 building and damaged the then new east wing. Although the possibility existed that the school would close, it was decided to rebuild. By October 1853, Fenwick Hall and the surviving east wing had been rebuilt and reopened. Surviving records do not mention the architect for the 1852 building; illustrations of the two buildings show a great similarity of plan and style (Greek revival). Alterations designed by Elbridge Boyden in 1867 seem virtually to have eliminated Greek revival style elements and have created a slight similarity of appearance between Fenwick Hall and the Ladies Seminary of the early 1850s (now demolished), also designed by Boyden.
In 1865 Holy Cross was chartered by the state to allow the granting of degrees. Prior to that time the College's degrees had been granted through Georgetown College in Washington D.C. The State of Massachusetts apparently delayed the granting of this charter due to strong anti-Catholic sentiment which was thought to have lessened during the Civil War. With the addition of O'Kane Hall in 1895, Fenwick Hall assumed most of its present appearance, the two attached structures serving all the college's needs for classroom, library, gymnasium, refectory, and dormitory spaces until 1904, when the additional buildings which make up the present campus began to be built.
In its present form Fenwick Hall is a major local landmark. In 1867, the existing building was raised one story, a new west wing constructed, and a mansard roof and towers added, all from designs by Elbridge Boyden. In 1875 the east wing was also raised one story extending eastward, and presumably a mansard roof added to match that existing on the rest of the building. Plans for the 1875 alterations were prepared by P.W. Ford of Boston. During the latter part of the nineteenth century, Ford designed many Roman Catholic churches in Worcester, including an addition for St. John's Church. From the evidence at hand it seems likely that P.W. Ford may have been a priest or member of one of the church's monastic orders. Alterations to Fenwick Hall were so great by 1893 that the "Worcester Commercial Magazine" was led to comment: "Few traces of the original building remain, the transformation has been so perfect that but a small part of the first foundations have been left undisturbed." In 1907, the "commencement porch" was enlarged and remodeled to its present, classical appearance.
In 1895, O'Kane Hall was added to the west end of Fenwick Hall. Designed by Fuller & Delano of Worcester, the building contained a gymnasium, theater, classrooms, and assembly halls. Although essentially Romanesque revival in style, O'Kane Hall was intended to harmonize with Fenwick Hall. Its tower was thought to provide an important element of this harmony.