In some parallel universe, an Amherst College student might wake up in the morning, leave their dorm room in East College, skirt by Stearns Church on their way to class in Walker Hall, then go for a little exercise – perhaps in Barrett gymnasium or Pratt Natatorium. If they twisted an ankle? Off to Milliken Infirmary. After dinner in Hitchcock Hall, some study time in Morgan Library, a refreshing drink from the College Well and a quick trip to visit the fossils in Appleton Cabinet.
This doesn’t sound like Amherst? Let’s take a little tour of some of the bygone buildings of Amherst College.
East College was built in 1857-58 as an additional dormitory. It was across the quad (then known as the College Grove) from Johnson Chapel, in the spot that is now occupied by James and Stearns. Unfortunately, it was built poorly and was already being eyed for destruction by the time that Stearns Church was designed in 1870. In fact, Stearns Church was sited with the assumption that East College would come down and Stearns Church would take its place opposite Johnson Chapel on the quad. East College was ultimately demolished in 1883.
Stearns Church was constructed between 1870 and 1873. It’s purpose was to house the college’s religious services, and in 1870 no one would have anticipated the day when church attendance would be so low as to make the building unnecessary. However, that day came, and in 1948 all of Stearns Church except the steeple was removed to make space for the Mead Art Museum.
Walker Hall was built between 1868 and 1870 on the site that is now Frost Library. It housed the college administration, lecture halls and some of the natural history collections.
Walker Hall burnt down in 1882, destroying many of the early records of the college as well as the natural history materials that were housed there.
It was rebuilt right away and served as the administration building until 1963 when it was demolished to make way for Frost Library and the administrative offices moved to the former library building, Converse Hall. The gothic style architecture of both Walker and Stearns was in disfavor in the mid-twentieth century and many on campus found both buildings quite ugly.
Amherst College has been through a number of infirmaries. First Pratt Health Cottage built in 1897, an innovative building in its time, located northeast of Plimpton House.
When Pratt Health Cottage no longer served the College needs it was sold to members of the town and Milliken Infirmary was built in 1938.
For many years Amherst student found their own dining accommodations and many an Amherst family had a few boarders who took meals with them. By 1892 though, there was a national move towards the dining hall and when the Boltwood House (on the current site of Converse Library) came up for sale the College bought it and converted in into a dining hall. They soon added another in Boyden House (where Kirby theater now stands).
All reports are that the food at both was impressively terrible and the atmosphere not much better. In the 1920s, the fraternities began opening their own dining rooms and the clientele at the college run facilities dropped off dramatically. The college didn’t offer food service again until the construction of Valentine in 1941.
The College Well was built in 1821, along with South College, the first college building. It was located directly behind Johnson Chapel and served many generations of Amherst students. In the early days of the college, student chopped their own firewood, hauled their own water and were responsible for locating their own food and furnishings.
And now, on to the buildings that have merely changed purpose. Such as Barrett Gymnasium, above, the first college gymnasium in the country and a college show piece from its construction in 1860 until the construction of Pratt Gymnasium in 1884, when it was re-purposed.
Pratt Gymnasium in turn became the natural history museum and is now Pratt dormitory.
Pratt Natatorium (a.k.a. pool) was located in the basement of the Pratt Gymnasium addition built in 1905.
Morgan Hall was built as Morgan Library in 1853 and served that purpose until the construction of Converse Library in 1917, which in turn was superseded by Frost Library in 1965.
Last, but certainly not least, is Appleton Cabinet. Built in 1855 as the college natural history museum (or “cabinet” as they liked to call them) it housed Edward Hitchcock’s fossils, and other natural history materials for many decades and drew visitors from all over the world.
This is certainly not an exhaustive list of the Amherst College buildings with past lives, or even the buildings that have expired completely, much more can be found in the Buildings and Grounds Collection. There are also more pictures of East College, Stearns Church and Walker Hall in our blog post on stereographs.
I hope you enjoyed your tour!