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LibraryGeorge J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives


Hawthorne-Longfellow Library
addition by Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott

Hawthorne-Longfellow Library, 1984. Studio: Wheeler Photographs, Inc. Catalog n.: 2125.1

When Hubbard Hall was built as a library in 1903, the College felt sure it would be adequate for the foreseeable future. Although finding shelf space for new books took resourcefulness and was ever a subject for complaint, it was not until after World War II that the situation again became acute. In 1953 shelving for 25,000 volumes was built in the Chapel basement. The need for an addition was first articulated in 1958 in a simple ground plan drawing that transformed the original T-shaped building into an H, thought by some to be in tribute to General Hubbard.

The faculty library committee and the boards' library committee were both of long standing. The faculty committee was particularly active and made proposals from time to time, but progress by neither body was swift. Then, in January 1960, the Boards authorized an ad hoc library committee consisting of one Trustee, two Overseers, two faculty members, and the librarian. By July the committee was in consultation with an architect; in August, a library consultant was involved; and by March 1961, the decision was made to build a new, separate structure.

In the period before the Civil War, funds for the Chapel were raised piecemeal over a ten-year period. Often construction had to be halted. Hubbard Hall, at the turn of the century, was built expeditiously by the generosity of a single donor. But by the early 1960s the day of the single-donor building was over. Funds were raised by capital campaigns and from foundation and government grants.

President Sills's Sesquicentennial Fund, which raised over $3.75 million between 1947 and 1952, was Bowdoin's first comprehensive capital fund-raising drive. In his 1956-1957 Report, President Coles laid the groundwork for the modern perennial development effort, and in 1962 he began a special capital campaign with a goal often million dollars. It was with money from this campaign and with the aid of a federal grant under the Higher Education Facilities Act that the new library was built. In fact, groundbreaking was delayed until the United States Senate voted on this measure. Almost four hundred thousand of the two and one-half million dollar cost of the new library came from this new source. The swiftness of change in higher education and the growing complexity of its economics are made apparent by a remark of President Sills in his Report of 1948-1949:

I happen to be strongly opposed to federal aid for higher institutions of learning. I am not so anxious about the possibility of federal control, but I do believe that the strength of education in this country has come from the variety of institutions of higher learning and from the competition that has thereby resulted.

In the ten years between the end of the Sesquicentennial Fund and the beginning of Coles's Capital Campaign, government funding for education had grown enormously, and significant tax incentives to private giving, yet another form of federal subsidy, were about to be enacted. During President Coles's Capital Campaign a new source of funding, the matching grant, was introduced. The Ford Foundation matched new donations 1:3.

Three considerations determined the site of the new library. One was proximity to Hubbard Hall, the second was nearness to the proposed Senior Center (now Coles Tower), and the third was the possible obscurity of building in the shadow of Hubbard Hall.

The ad hoc committee turned to the college architect, McKim, Mead and White, for some drawings. McKim, Mead and White underwent changes in the partnership between August 1960 and March 1961, and the firm became Steinman, Corrigill, Cain and White. By the time of the completion of the library, the firm was Steinman, Cain and White, and by 1971 it was Walker O. Cain and Associates. They designed the Casco Bank and Trust Company Building in Portland in 1970 and the Maine State Museum in Augusta in 1971.

Architect John Faron suggested that the firm should work with a library consultant. Keyes Metcalf, librarian emeritus of Harvard University, who had done some consulting on the modernization of Hubbard in 1953, returned to Bowdoin in i960 to urge the erection of a separate structure that would be, in the words of the ad hoc committee's report, "functional and attractive, but not monumental." Metcalf also argued against undue "architectural space," while studying carefully the library's needs for study carrels, shelf space, and processing areas.1

Economy, modernist aesthetics, and an aesthetic of accommodation shaped this building. The architects were skilled at "fitting in" between Gibson and Hubbard Halls. Whereas Hubbard dominates its own space and the whole quadrangle, Hawthorne-Longfellow can only with difficulty be seen as a discrete volume. From the quadrangle the long side, seven bays across, forms the focus of a vista. The three arched ground floor windows are reflective and inviting at the same time.

The program worked out by committee, consultant, and architect called for eighty thousand square feet, with sixty thousand to be used for library needs immediately. The remaining twenty thousand, divided among three floors and the basement, were for the college administration to use until the space was needed for the library. Hence the building has two principal entrances on the short sides, the one for the library facing east, the one for the college administration facing west.

The red brick with limestone trim, begun with the Walker Art Building and carried out in Hubbard and Gibson Halls, is repeated here. The forms, however, are strikingly different. Instead of walls punctuated by openings, as in the older buildings, the library gives the impression of being a glass box to which are affixed, as punctuation, thin brick panels and ribbons of stone. Where Hubbard Hall depends on a variety of intersecting masses to lend it visual interest, its successor depends on a planar and linear balancing of horizontals and verticals. The three arched bay projections on the north and south sides also read as planes rather than as volumes. The notion of lightness is enhanced by the generously glazed entranceways and is rhythmically repeated in the vertical window strips. The new library is neither a monumental building nor a competitive one. In these respects it has fulfilled its planners' intentions.

Without an individual donor to lend a name to the new library, the Committee to Memorialize Buildings chose Nathaniel Hawthorne-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in honor of the two men of letters of the class of 1825. In addition, they named various sections of the interior for graduating classes, benefactors, faculty members, and other Bowdoin notables.

The interior is visually straightforward and physically comfortable. Richard B. Harwell, the librarian who saw the building to completion, described the interior in the Library Journal tor December 1965.

The chief architectural features of the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library are two reading bays set out to the north and south of the building midway its length; two wells extending from the main floor to the ceiling of the second floor at the circulation area and the card catalog; an informal reading area at the east end of the second floor; and an elaborate special collections suite at the east end of the third floor.2

The idea that architectural features are flourishes rather than fundamentals is repeated with regularity in the negotiations for most of Bowdoin's buildings. This attitude stems from both real and fancied economy; it also reflects a strong current in higher education that first surfaced in the 1870s and then was strengthened after World War II by International Style aesthetics. A philosophical mistrust of collegiate Gothic by academics in the earlier period reflected the strong emergence of science curricula, while the architects themselves later promoted mistrust of buildings that masked structure.

In reality, there are fundamental architectural features in this building, not the least of which is the frankly curtain nature of the brick panels. Ultimately, the pervasive architectural feature is the library's expansion, in which Hawthorne-Longfellow was joined to the Hubbard stacks underground. The decision to build underground rather than to erect a joining building seemed fairly well agreed upon by the time an architect was chosen, although an April 19, 1982, Bowdoin Orient article still mentions the possibility of extending the Hubbard stacks westward toward Hawthorne-Longfellow.

Of the half-dozen architects interviewed, the Boston firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, college architect to Harvard University from 1900 through the 1930s, was retained. The addition they designed, which cost almost as much as Hawthorne-Longfellow had in the first place, was six times as costly as Hubbard Hall.

The work consisted of three parts: 1) conversion of some of the Hubbard Hall stacks, 2) creation of a reading room, and 3) extension of the library underground. The stacks in Hubbard Hall were done first. Some shelf space on five levels was converted into an elevator, stairs, and faculty studies. The sixth, the topmost level, was transformed into a reading and study area named for Albert Abrahamson '26, George Lincoln Skolfield, Jr., Professor of Economics Emeritus, who contributed generously to the library expansion project.

During the academic year 1982-1983 library users entered through the administration's door, for the eastern excavation began at the other entrance. An extension of the existing basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow to the east has provided shelving for government documents, many more reading and study areas, and a reserve book desk. On the surface the architect has punctuated the paved plaza with a pyramidal skylight. A larger skylight in the shape of a gabled rectangle abuts the exterior, rear staircase of Hubbard Hall. The underground path from one building to another is thus expressed on the surface, and daylight is allowed into the basement. The end of the larger skylight is stepped to echo the shapes of the Hubbard Hall steps and granite trim.

Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.

1. Report, Nov. 4, 1961. Sp. Coll., Minutes of the Ad Hoc Library Committee. The ad hoc committee was authorized on Jan. 30, 1960, and its papers are in Sp. Coll., Bowdoin College Library Papers, 1873-1967. Metcalfs comments are in a July 1960 letter to John Faron in that file.

2. "Blended Simplicity for Bowdoin," Library Journal (Dec. 1965), pp. 5192-5194.

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