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SAMUEL MELCHER AND SONS
Early in his tenure President Allen had turned his mind to planning for the development of the young campus. In 1825, after the establishment of the medical school, the building of Winthrop Hall, and the first rebuilding of Maine Hall, Allen wrote a letter to Trustee Reuel Williams in which he discussed the College's need for a chapel. Williams, who received an honorary degree from Bowdoin in 1855, served in the Maine Senate from 1826 to 1828 and in the United States Senate from 1837 to 1843. Allen enclosed a sketch plan of the campus which includes the site for "a future college."1
In another letter to Williams, Allen referred to:
a plan adopted by the Boards some years ago, [in which] there are ultimately to be three colleges in a line (two of which are built), and the chapel is to be at the south end of the line of colleges, a few rods to the west, fronting the Massachusetts Hall on the north.2
During the first ten years of what was to become an almost twenty-year discussion of building needs, Allen's symmetrical but spatially limited scheme gave way to an outright row plan that prevailed for over forty years.
The intention is described in the 1835 report by President Allen to the Visiting Committee:
[Let us] . . . alter the . . . three college plan to include four or five ... on the eastern line . . . that all the land in front may ultimately be open to the street... 300 feet south of Maine Hall, leaving room for a central chapel with a space of 100 feet on either side of it. The uniformity of the arrangement would be grateful to the eye, and the security against fire is not to be overlooked.3
The idea of planning sites for buildings and landscaping was implicit in the placement of the earliest buildings. There are boards votes to retain the services of a surveyor on one occasion and to follow "No. 2 plan" prepared by Alexander Parris on another.4 The plan by the young Parris is lost, although it may have directed itself more to the landscape than to buildings.
Many of the pre-revolutionary colleges provided plans—building orientations seems a more apt phrase—that inspired the new colleges of the next several decades. The old Brick Row of Yale facing the New Haven Green is certainly close to the scheme evolved at Bowdoin. Brunswick, like New Haven before it, had competed to become home to a newly-chartered college. Did not this open face to the town in the early years of the nineteenth century demonstrate for each institution a similar relationship?
One of the first signs of the vigor of Leonard Woods, Bowdoin's fourth president, was a printed solicitation from him, dated December 1841, designed to raise $50,000 for buildings, grounds, equipment, and faculty positions. The appeal was addressed to "Alumni of the College, and to all the friends of learning and religion."5 Four-year pledges were sought by the committee, which was composed of the "executive government," that is, the president and faculty. By September 7, 1842, the boards voted to proceed on the new college hall the following year for a sum not to exceed ten thousand dollars.
On December 1, 1842, a contract was concluded between "Samuel Mel-cher 2nd, Richard T. D. Melcher, Robert D. Melcher and William H. Mel-cher, Housewright, and Carpenters, commonly styled Samuel Melcher & sons . . . and the President and Trustees of Bowdoin College, acting by Leonard Woods, Joseph McKeen and Ebenezer Everett, their committee."6 This document is rich in information about schedules, materials, design, bonding, and architectural intention. The schedule of payments indicates planned progress: materials would be assembled during the winter, and brick work would be completed by July i, 1843, with the implied finish date in time for fall classes. For $8,550 Samuel Melcher and Sons contracted to complete their sixth project for the College according to a plan designed by them twenty years earlier for Winthrop Hall.
The contract makes repeated reference to Maine Hall, including interior finish work that had not been satisfactory. The intention was to bring coherence to the three halls. No balustrade was planned, but the shingled roof was repeated (today it is metal). The balustrades on Maine and Winthrop Halls had proved a nuisance. Students climbed the fire wall parapet to retrieve balls caught in them, and they were difficult to maintain.
Appleton is distinguished from its predecessors by the form of the two end entranceways. The broad elliptically-arched Maine Hall portal has been replaced by a forthright Greek Revival straight three-part stone molding. The broader members and deeper recess confer greater substantiality on the door; its importance is further stressed by the procession of stairs, all but one exterior to the door. Thus the opening itself is placed higher on the facade and is, correspondingly, more impressive.
The fall of 1843 brought 150 students. The completion of the new hall provided dormitory space for nearly everyone, thus accomplishing a goal of American colleges of the time, the self-contained scholarly community where student behavior could be monitored. Referred to briefly as South College, the new building was named in 1847 for Bowdoin's second president, the Reverend Jesse Appleton.
Text From: Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 1988). ©Bowdoin College.