A drawing of Hubbard Hall was reproduced as the frontispiece of the Report of the President for 1900-1901. President Hyde wrote:
In planning this structure, now in the process of erection, the donor, General Thomas H. Hubbard, and his architect, Henry Vaughan, Esq., of Boston, have spared neither time nor money to secure every material facility for making the library the true center of the institution, a rendezvous for both instructors and undergraduates, a place for study, for investigation, for instruction, and for literary recreation; They have striven to complete the quadrangle with a building that in its character as a memorial would not compare unfavorably with its fellows, and at the same time would supply ample fireproof accommodation for the largest and most valuable collection of books in the State.
President Hyde's enunciation of the library's role in the educational process was a declaration of a clean cut with the past. The classical education with its timeless certainties in which early Bowdoin took pride had given way to a curriculum that recognized an expanding body of knowledge. The new library was the physical embodiment of an educational philosophy that owed much to the sciences and to the influence of the German universities. Other colleges were building additions and redesigning interiors: the Widener Library at Harvard was not built until ten years after Hubbard Hall, but Harvard did enlarge the library in Gore Hall in the meantime. Reserve books for course assignments had been used since 1871, and elective courses became widespread in the 1880s. At Yale by this time two buildings had been joined to the Old Library (today Dwight Hall) of 1842. Columbia College, shortly to become a university, moved its campus during the 1890s, and its new library, Low, was designed by Charles Follen McKim.
McKim and Henry Vaughan had both received honorary degrees at Bowdoin's centennial commencement.1 The choice of Vaughan rather than McKim to design the new library surprised no one. General Hubbard had worked with him, of course, during the building of the Searles Science Building. There are many letters from Hubbard and Vaughan in the Bowdoin College library's Special Collections. Most frequently the donor and the architect were writing to George Little. Little most certainly worked long and hard with President Hyde to evolve the plan for the new library. It fell to him to make plans and to oversee the construction.
Hubbard was no less involved with the project. Thomas Hamlin Hubbard, class of 1857, had been brought up in Hallowell. His father, a physician, was twice governor of Maine. After a distinguished career in the Civil War, General Hubbard returned to the practice of law in New York City. His interest in railroads included numerous business ventures with Collis P. Huntington and led to his friendship with Edward Searles. His donations to his alma mater had first taken form in the bronze tablets for Memorial Hall, then in the new science building, and now in the new library. To judge from his letters, he was as enthusiastic about the educational program the library plans represented as he was about the construction of a relatively monumental building. His concern with detail was as great as his wish that the building not be stinted by lack of money.
The site of the building had been chosen as early as 1896, in President Hyde's Report: "The southern portion of the campus is the only suitable site for a new library building, since future growth may cause that structure to eventually form a quadrangle." The gift was announced in 1900, and for the next fifteen months plans were drawn, revised, changed, and discussed. The building was sent to bid in May 1901, begun that autumn, and dedicated almost two years later. The low bid was $217,699; the reported final cost was $300,000.
The site President Hyde had in mind was well south of the completed building; Hubbard wrote George Little in 1901 on this point.2 The choice of an area farther north (which, in any event, had to be filled and graded), made the quadrangle almost complete, while there remained land on the southern edge for future use.
Vaughan and Little were also preoccupied with the expense of the building. Numerous suggestions for saving money were made; eliminating one story was tried. Hubbard appears to have had difficulty convincing the others that he was willing to pay to make the building sufficiently commodious and aesthetically pleasing. In his own words the building "need not have embellishment that is merely for show; but it should have appropriate ornament."3 The one-story elevation with steep roof quite simply did not look agreeable to Hubbard.
Vaughan returned to his original scheme, a T-shaped building with a basement and two full stories surmounted by a steeply pitched roof. The long (176 feet) northern facade is punctuated in the center by a square tower 100 feet tall, while the stacks extend behind. The new library was quite unlike Searles Science Building, and no other structure designed by Vaughan is comparable. Distinct aspects of this design are familiar Vaughan forms: he frequently used the square tower, often, as here, with crenel-lations, in churches and chapels, although invariably with pointed-arched openings. The steep pitch of the roof was an idea Vaughan borrowed from English country churches and used to great effect, often with a square tower, in his picturesque, asymmetrical American churches. But for education buildings he eschewed the picturesque, using instead the symmetry seen on this campus, in a Methuen, Massachusetts, high school, and in the Upper School building at St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire.
Vaughan described the style in 1901 in a letter to George Little.
The architecture of the new Library is 17th century Gothic. It was the last age of Gothic in England and was followed by the Renaissance. Many of the College buildings of Oxford and Cambridge are in this composite style, as you might call it.4
And composite it is. Note the classically balustraded oriels that project so handsomely on the east and west beside the tower. The Gothic gables above the windows are crowned by baroque curved pediments. The finials of the gables keep wry company with the bosses and crockets that adorn the tower along with one lone gargoyle. The mixture, however, is comfortable. It was Vaughan's special talent to balance mass and surface successfully. The specific stylistic heritage of the building and its details is of less importance than the success of the ensemble.
Vaughan must have known that a visual relationship with McKim's Walker Art Building would only enhance his building. He chose a similar brick (called Harvard brick in the documents), Indiana limestone, and local granite, the same components as those used to build the art building.
In Searles, Vaughan had been forced to give up stone trim around the windows. Here, on Hubbard, he used it around windows, in corner quoins, on the tower's pier buttresses, and in details, creating a richly-colored surface and contrasting the texture of brick with the carved stone surfaces and the slate roof.
That Vaughan was successful in dealing with simple volumes is amply demonstrated in the stack area. In President Hyde's words:
The architect has given a pleasing unity to the five long rows of necessarily narrow windows, by capping them with two large symmetrical gables; while in the rear he has converted the several platforms required for a prosaic part of library administration, the dusting of books, into balconies with beautiful wrought iron work.5
While the exterior of the stack area unfolds with stylistic consistency from the quadrangle facades, the interior of the stacks is more structurally revealing than the rest of the interior. The glass floors (a late nineteenth-century invention to enhance light), the metal shelving, and the six large piers testify to the mechanics of the building. In the reading and office areas, structure (including several impressive barrel vaults) was carefully concealed as a matter of course.
As the building phase drew to a close, Hubbard, Vaughan, and Little were still engrossed in details of woodwork, furniture, lighting, and exterior finishing. A motto was chosen for the principal entrance-"Here seek converse with the wise of all the ages"-and cut into a handsome ribbon fold. The observant visitor will find a shield bearing the Bowdoin sun, another with the coat of arms, and Mr. and Mrs. Hubbard's monograms on two more. The sundials on the east and west ends were also part of the original scheme.
The College took sixty years to outgrow a library designed to serve the needs of an indefinite future. When the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library was completed in 1965, the former main library room of Hubbard Hall, to the left of the large lower hall, was turned into the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum. Thomas Hubbard would have been pleased, for he was president of the Peary Arctic Club from 1908 until his death in 1915.
Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.
1. As had Thomas Hamlin Hubbard; William Northend, who had been instrumental in securing the gift of the Walker Art Building; George Thomas Little, class of 1877 and librarian from 1883 to 1915; and Little's classmate Robert E. Peary, among others.