Sunday, February 14, 2010

Alumni Hall

What is now known as Alumni Hall, the office of financial aid and admissions, is the oldest original building on the Alfred University campus. It was the forth building to be erected for the Alfred Academy, the original name for what has become Alfred University (Herrick). Chapel Hall was built in 1851 in the Greek Revival style, which was a very popular in America and Europe for businesses, wealthy residential homes, and churches. The Greek Revival was important to this time period because of the associations it had with religion and the strong ties citizens held to religion in their every day lives.
As evident in a diary recovered from a past student, Vernon Marion Babbit, students would attend chapel before classes in the morning and a prayer meeting at night. The chapel was a non-denominational Christian church that held services of Protestant origins. Attending chapel was not required by the school, nor did it have any academic advantages other than self fulfillment. Students wanted to improve themselves, and one way they believed that could be accomplished was by going to church services. Many faculty also participated in church lectures, including then University president Jonathan Allen (Babbit). Christianity had strong influences on this community, partially because the town was founded by Seventh Day Baptist settlers, but also because most of America was still strongly religious at this period.
In the years following, findings in science and anthropology, as well as the spread of different ethnicities to the United States competed with religion as a source of knowledge. These findings started out in urban area's and eventually spread to more destitute areas of population. To think about religion in terms of most American's every day lives, it has stark differences to that of Babbits account, especially when speaking of college age Americans. More than once a week did he write in his journal "I pray god give me the strength to follow him more closely" or "I pray god give me the strength". I've grown up in a christian family but I would never attend church every day before my classes, especially if it meant getting up earlier. Though my account is personal and does not reflect all those who live in America, studies have shown that this is a trend that significantly affected American culture and politics. According to a Newsweek Poll, "the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent" (Meacham). This helps explain why controversies such as debate over abortion, prayer in schools, gay marriage, and the appearance of "god" on money and in political documents are at all time high argument levels. Clearly there are some conservatives voting in religious favor, but the fact that it is even a controversy now shows that our sights have changed.
As religion decreased in importance at the university the chapel was used as a lecture hall, library, gymnasium, movie theatre, and laboratory, and in 1927 it was renamed Alumni Hall (Herrick). In 1901 the Gothic Chapel opened for the study of theology. It contented classrooms and a chapel. This building is now the university chapel which caters to non-denominational christian worship as did Alumni Hall; however, it is clearly much smaller and has less room for students to attend. In the 1970's Alumni Hall was declared a fire hazard and closed. However, it was also placed on the National and State Historic Register a few years after. In 1986 it was re-opened after being gutted and restored with a steel structure replacing the old wood frame and by adding the offices as we know them today.
Through this structure we can see the change in values that occurred over time at Alfred University as well as throughout America. At its opening it was a highly regarded religious building. Though the exterior structure has maintained the Greek Revival style, the building no longer resinates the cultural significance of that style. This is a commonality that occurs in a lot of antiquated architecture. Buildings with historical significance are preserved for their beauty, but as the ideals of society change, the building purposes change with them.

Babbit, Vernon Marion. Vernon Marion Babbit's Diary. New York: Alfred University. Alfred University Archives. 2009. Alfred University. 11 February 2010
Herrick Memorial Library. "University History" Alfred University Archives. 10 feb. 2010.
Meacham, Jon. The End of Christian America. Newsweek. 4 April 2009.

1 comment:

  1. That was very well written and researched and focused. I'm kind of glad you ended at such a broad topic as well, with the changing of society in relationship to architecture and aesthetics. The only thing is that I feel this focuses over the Alumni Hall a bit in the fact that most of it revolves around religious changes and The Gothic Chapel, only a bit though which I'm sure is just a happenstance of the focus that you gave this post.