Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


Main Hall

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Institution Name: Lawrence University
Original/Historic Place Name: Main Building or Recitation Hall
Location on Campus: 501 E. College Ave.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1853-1854original construction Williamson, Peter
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: local stone (possibly from the Fox River) masonry
Walls: local stone; masonry; brick (interior)
Roof: fiberglass shingle; metal (dome)
ca. 1854library
ca. 1854chapel
ca. 1854administration
ca. 1854classrooms
ca. 1854residence hall (men)
1854-present (2007)faculty offices (and faculty lounge)
ca. 2004-present (2007)other (John Strange Student Commons)
ca. 2004-present (2007)other (computer laboratory)
ca. 2004-present (2007)academic department building (classics, EALC, English, French, freshman studies, German, history, philosophy, religious studies, Russian, Spanish)

Significance: architecture, culture, education, history, religion
Landmark designation:
National RegisterMain Hall, Lawrence University (1974) and Appleton City Park Historic District (2002)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Main Hall was the second building built on the Lawrence College campus. In 1853, it was one of the largest structures (36,300 square feet) to sit on the banks of the lower Fox River. Architecturally the building is Vernacular Georgian, with Ionic detailing on its front and rear entrances, side porticos, and on the dome. Secondary Italianate architectural characteristics can be identified in the low-pitched roof of the building, wide overhanging eaves, and decorative brackets. The footprint of the building's usable space is rectangular, and the door and window layout create a perfect symmetry and balance to its architecture. The walls are constructed of coursed, carefully selected stone, procured from one of several local limestone quarries. Unsubstantiated legend states that the stone was actually removed from the bed of the Fox River. The interior walls on three of the five stories were further reinforced with 350,000 bricks from regional kilns. Further detailing can be found in the one-piece stone lintels and sills over and under each of the windows and doors. At each corner an alternating pattern of finished stone highlights the building's unique design and draws the eye to the craftsmanship of the era. On the top of the building sits a dome constructed of hand-hewn beams and wood secured from local mills. The dome is where many of the college's most precious traditions are and were carried out.

Funding for the building originally came from the sale of perpetual scholarships, each selling for $100. Like many other colleges at that time, the school used Main Hall in a variety of ways for a variety of purposes. It served the college's needs as a men's dormitory, classrooms, administration and faculty offices, library, and chapel. Rumor has it that the tunnel, which lead up from the Fox River prior to the Civil War are evidence that the building was a stop-over on the underground railroad. For a variety of reasons, including student enrollment, institutional convenience, and safety, the interior of the building was modified over the years to suit institutional needs. In 1938 new restrooms were added, as was a kitchenette, serving room, and additional office space. In 1941 fire escapes were added to the south exterior of the building, and the condition of the interior staircase was updated. In the fifties, alterations were made to the third and fourth floor classrooms. During the sixties the main staircase in the building was again repaired, and the building's ventilation system updated. In the seventies, extensive remodeling took place: the central staircase was removed, an elevator installed to insure universal access to the building, the exterior was re-tucked and pointed, office space was reconfigured into seminar rooms, and landscaping, electrical, plumbing, HVAC, and fire protection were updated. A sundial, which originally came to Lawrence University as a memento from Milwaukee-Downer College, was mounted on the south side of Main Hall in recognition of the joining of the two colleges in 1964. In 1999, a significant effort was made to update and modernize the building for the university's needs, and to revive its historical ambiance. Four of the five floors, plus the porches, dome, and interior spaces, were painted and remodeled under the watchful eye of an architectural preservationist. Currently the building houses several departments, a student commons, a Humanities Computer Laboratory, and faculty offices.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Breunig, Charles. "A Great and Good Work": A History of Lawrence University, 1847-1964. Appleton, WI: Lawrence University Press, 1994.

Historic City Park Neighborhood Association. Appleton City Park Historic District [including properties of Lawrence University]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 2002.

Schumann, Marguerite E. Creation of a Campus--A Chronicle of Lawrence College Buildings and the Men Who Made Them. Appleton, WI: Lawrence University Press, 1957.

Wisconsin State Historical Society. Main Hall, Lawrence University. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1974.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

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Last update: November 2006