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Winthrop Hall

Winthrop Hall
1822
SAMUEL MELCHER III

Winthrop Hall, circa 1876. Studio: Warren's Portraits. Catalog no. 1491.1.

The Governing Boards had already determined to build a "new college" when fire struck the "old college," as Maine Hall was called, in March of 1822. Despite the financial drain of work on two structures at once, the new building, which was to become Winthrop, was begun as planned in April, although it was not completed until August of 1823. Melcher's accounting for Winthrop came to $9,553.16, a mere $173.16 over his contract.

In the meantime, Samuel Melcher III rebuilt Maine Hall—so named in April in anticipation of the new building—for about $6,200, and it was ready for use in the fall of 1822.

Winthrop is critically important because it is the only extant reflection of the first Maine Hall, and because it became the prototype for future Bowdoin dormitory buildings. The similarity of the two end doors of Winthrop to the entrance of Massachusetts Hall is noteworthy. In both structures the doors are tall and slender, capped by a semicircular fanlight. The wooden moldings on Massachusetts Hall emphasize the flat plane of the principal facade, but the design on Winthrop Hall is quite different. Melcher set the door into the depth of the brick, thus visually penetrating this larger building.

Melcher had another design strategy for enlivening the two ends: the three windows rising above the doors are tripartite, establishing a strong central focus that is reinforced by the use of keystones in the door's arch and on the three successive lintels.

The doorways, keystones, and outward splayed lintels on the single windows impart a certain linear delicacy to Winthrop Hall. This effect, in combination with the verticality of the four-story elevation, identifies this as a late Federal structure.

Among the first students to occupy Winthrop (then called North or New College) was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, class of 1825. He wrote on October 12, 1823:

My Dear Sister,
. . . The room we occupy at present, is situated in the North Eastern corner of the North College—but I forget myself!—from such a description, you, who have never seen the colleges, can form no idea of its situation. . . . the bedroom window looks towards the village and Professor Cleaveland's,—the two other windows afford a delightful prospect,—no less so than the charm of an extensive woodland scenery of—pine trees, . . . But within!—How shall I describe it! yellow floor! Green fireplace Mantel and window-seats, blueish white,—and three great doors, mahogany color.1

On October 26, he wrote another sister, Anne, asking her for a "set of card racks to decorate my chimney piece" and a "pair of green curtains 4 feet 7 inches long and 3' 3" wide."2 Such specific references, especially to color, are seldom found. Henry "chummed" with his brother Stephen in No. 27 on the third floor of the new building for their last two years. The addition of Winthrop made a dramatic change in the number of students who could live under close college supervision. Nathaniel Hawthorne, also class of 1825, was one of a small minority who lived off campus.

The two ends of the building were separated by a brick fire wall. Within each end were four floors, each containing four suites. In 1825, two years after New College was occupied, space in the south end of the first floor was converted to a freshman recitation room; later a lecture room with "proper seats" was created.

Winthrop did not receive its name until 1847, when the Governing Boards voted that: "the name of Winthrop Hall be conferred on the North College building in honour of the former Governor of Massachusetts." Pressure to affix a proper name after twenty-five years came with the completion of a third dormitory, to be known as Appleton Hall.

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

1. H. W. Longfellow to E. Longfellow, Oct. 12, 1823, in vol. 1 (1814-1836) of H. Andrew, ed., The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press, 1966), pp. 51-52.

2. H. W. Longfellow to A. Longfellow, Oct. 26, 1823, Letters, pp. 55-56.

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