Tag Archives: early wesleyan history

Harriman Hall: A Wesleyan Architectural History, Part Two

Observatory Hal in an undated photo vs. where PAC/Harriman stands today

Observatory Hall in an undated photo vs. where PAC/Harriman stands today; PAC seems to be set further away from Brownstone Row and a little further from Andrus Field

By 1927, when Harriman Hall was built, Van Vleck Observatory Hall had already gone up, housing what is still Connecticut’s largest telescope. The construction occurred largely due to donations from Henry Ingraham Harriman ’95 (that’s 1895) in memory of his father, Daniel G. Harriman ’54, who spent the first two years of his college career in the hall that had previously occupied the site. Along with Olin Library, which was completed around the same time, Harriman Hall was the first building on campus to be finished in “Harvard” brick rather than the brownstone of Van Vleck and Clark. An alumni newsletter connected this choice to admiration of a certain other New England institution: “It will be built of brick and marble, like the Library, rather than of brownstone, like Clark Hall; and the wood pilasters and roof coping will be painted white like that of the Library, and like the new buildings of the Harvard School of Business.” The Olin history website, however, has a more prosaic take on this choice of materials; they write that by 1925, all the local brownstone quarries had apparently been exhausted or closed.

There is little information left on what life in Harriman Hall was like. The interior sounds swaggy—it was trimmed in oak with maple floors in the rooms—and I wonder why it’s all gone now. Only the infamous marble bathrooms on the fourth floor of PAC remain. In opposition to Observatory Hall, which was one of the most inexpensive dorms to live in, Harriman Hall was considered expensive and luxurious, with an electric light in every closet.

Harriman Hall: A Wesleyan Architectural History, Part One

Wesleyan University Library, Special Collections & Archives

As our minds turn back to all matters campus-y, many of us, especially in History, Sociology, Gov, and CSS, will no doubt be getting reacquainted with good ol’ PAC. Have you ever looked up at the letters “Harriman Hall” chiseled into the side of the building, or the cornerstone set into the wall on the first floor, and wondered about its past life—including its brief stint as a women’s residence hall, even though its name sounds like “Hairy Man Hall”? PAC’s history hearkens back to a time when academic and residential life at Wesleyan were more intertwined, an era that has gotten even further away from us as COL moved out of the Butts this year. The building is now 85 years old, and the site on which it sits has an even more richly storied history, beginning in an era that pre-dated Wesleyan.

From 1833 until 1927, the same basic site was home to a (to put it politely) “austere” building known as Boarding Hall. Being generally in favor of historical preservation, I usually think of old buildings as beautiful. The old Observatory Hall drives this home to me: that the old buildings we see now are there because they stood out and were beautiful.