Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Philanthropic Hall

Click on image titles for larger views.
Institution Name: Davidson College
Original/Historic Place Name: Philanthropic Hall
Location on Campus: 216 N. Main St.; SW corner of college campus
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1850original construction Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: stone
Walls: brick
Roof: slate
ca. 1850library
1850-present (2007)debating society (Philanthropic Literary Society)
1850-present (2007)other (meeting hall for visiting lectures and symposia)
ca. 2004-present (2007)classrooms

Significance: architecture, culture, education
Landmark designation:
National RegisterPhilanthropic Hall, Davidson College (1972)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

This building, along with its sister building, Eumenean, were the center of the non-class social and intellectual activity for the young campus. The societies were founded when the college was; however, these buildings were not constructed until 1849 (Eu) and 1850 (Phi). According to a handwritten report found during an earlier renovation, the building cost $2,500, which was paid for by subscriptions raised by the student members. It was in these buildings, on the lower floor, that the first good libraries of the college were located. The College Archives has book catalogues from these libraries as well as books with bookplates indicating they were from these early libraries.

The upper level is an elegant meeting room, featuring noteworthy plaster work and a crystal chandelier made in France for the Crystal Palace Exhibit in London, the world's first world's fair. It was supposedly a copy of the chandelier under which Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie were married. It was later brought to New York for an exhibition that did not materialize and was purchased for the society and moved to this hall. Original dais desks are still in use, the original chairs are available in the room.

Each of the buildings elected representatives who served as marshals for all formal processions, leading in the students. Each wore a regalia, blue representing Phi and pink representing Eu. This tradition continues today, 167 years later. The colors of the societies, pink and blue, were the offficial college colors until the advent of intercollegiate football (it was changed then to red and black).

During commencement each year, one full day was devoted to the activities of the societies, with debates between them and a luncheon 'on the ground.' These played a large part in the life of those special events.

Both buildings were restored in the mid-1950s, but other than a new roof, nothing has been done to them since.

Eumenean Literary Society Hall forms one side of the campus' original quadrangle, facing Philanhropic Literary Society Hall. The grounds between the two were sites of noted debates between North and South Carolina students, of particular note before and during the War Between the States.

The campus architecture is based on the University of Virginia, with Jeffersonian neo-classical design. The original chapel (now gone), early dorms (Oak and Elm Rows) and two literary society halls (Eumenean and Philanthropic) make up the old quad, as a mini-version of Monticello. The library, built in 1974, was designed based on "Bremo," the only flatroofed building Jefferson designed. Jefferson's influence was considerable from the outset and has had a lasting influence all over campus. Five apartment-dorms built in the last ten years were designed based on the style of Eumenean and Philanthropic Society Halls. The campus design was a mini-quad based on the Lawn at the University of Virginia. Subsequent additions have followed that Jeffersonian neo-classical style, with quads and groupings to give buildings an appropriate relationship to others, not "by chance" locations.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Beaty, Mary D. A History of Davidson College. Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1988.

Davidson, Chalmers Gaston. The Plantation World Around Davidson. Davidson, NC: Briarpatch Press, 1982.

An Inventory of Older Buildings in Mecklenburg County and Charlotte. Charlotte, NC: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission, 1975.

Philanthropic Hall [Davidson College]. Historic American Buildings Survey report and photographs. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, n.d.

Turner, Paul. "Some Thoughts on Campus Planning." Planning for Higher Education 16, no. 36 (1987-1988): 27-28.

Turner, Paul Venable. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. New York: Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1984.

Wells, John B., III. Eumenean Hall, Davidson College. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1972.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections
Government Offices
Other: Records of the Mecklenburg County Register of Deeds Office, Charlotte, NC. Records of the Mecklenburg County Tax Office, Charlotte, NC.

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