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Hyde Hall

Hyde Hall

Hyde Hall. Date unknown. Studio: F.W. Chandler & Son. Catalog no.: 1479.1.

The Reports of the President written by William DeWitt Hyde from 1885 to 1917 clearly reveal his priorities for the College. For several years it had been clear that campus housing resources were inadequate and in some cases antiquated, but Hyde's principal concern was for buildings that served the curriculum.

The building of Hyde Hall did not come at a happy or optimistic time. The months of planning and fund raising coincided exactly with the months of submarine attacks on American ships. The United States declared war on Germany in April 1917. President Hyde was not well, and his young dean, Kenneth C. M. Sills, was sharing his work. In May of that year, President Hyde withdrew from his duties and on June 29 he died.

As soon as Sills was named acting president, work began on Hyde Hall, although enrollment had already dropped dramatically because of the war in Europe. The decision to name the new hall after President Hyde had been made with his agreement in January of 1917. The March 5, 1918, issue of the Orient includes a photograph of the just-completed building with the remark that "all the bedrooms have heat and light," an interesting commentary on the older halls.

Besides having heat, light, and abundant plumbing, the new dormitory signaled an interesting development of taste in the College. Although it might have been natural to ask the architects, Allen and Collens, to design the new building in the image of the older dormitories, a campus style was by no means established. There is no hint that such a concept existed at the time, and the evidence of Searles, Walker, and Hubbard, indeed of the Chapel, suggests that variety was not unwelcome.

The first notion of organizing the campus by architectural style as well as by placement of buildings came from William J. Curtis, class of 1875, a Trustee of the College and a lawyer. In his reply from New York to Franklin C. Payson, class of 1876, a lawyer in Portland, Curtis agrees the new dormitory is "extremely necessary." In this letter, dated January 30, 1917, he continues:

There are two subjects in this connection which I would like very much to urge, and if possible to secure your co-operation. One is the architect. It seems to me that in all matters of this kind we should have a college architect, one who ranks among the best in the profession, such as McKim, Mead & White, or Cram, or Goodhue or Ferguson, men of that type who are doing the very best artistic work in the country, in order that the standards, type, and artistic value of the buildings shall be uniform and of the highest grade. Second, it seems to me we should now plan not only for the location of this building but for any possible additions in order that the buildings may not be scattered, producing the loose and irregular effect presented by the campuses of a number of colleges, Harvard seems to me to be the worst and Yale second.1

Curtis was reflecting, quite accurately, the progressive architectural thinking enunciated by Montgomery Schuyler in his Architectural Record articles. Between 1909 and 1912 Schuyler had written a series on American campus planning. For Schuyler, architectural style was less important than the thoughtful disposition of buildings according to a plan.2

In the absence of specific documents, it seems that the site and the "conformity with that [exterior treatment] of the present dormitory buildings," as President Hyde said in his 1916-1917 Report, were careful choices. Allen and Collens, a Boston architectural firm, specialized in college buildings. They were busy at Williams College, among others, at the time. They worked well in the Richardsonian Romanesque, Gothic Revival, and Colonial Revival styles.

The contract and specifications, which name Felix Arnold Burton '07 as associate architect, refer to the granite lintels and the brick color of the older buildings. Allen and Collens were faithful to the earlier models in spirit and in economy of means, but they did give the building an individual stamp. The basement level is all brick, unlike the granite bases of the earlier buildings. A soldier course of molded brick terminates this area. Originally there were two doors on the quadrangle side, as well as one on each end. The entrances to Hyde, unlike those to the older three dormitories, are set at ground level. Perhaps the decision for a brick basement was dictated by the placement of these entranceways. In any event, a totally different rhythm was established by the doors and the fenestration above. Rather like ragtime syncopation, the sizes and dispositions of openings in the wall enliven an otherwise sober composition. This introduction of Queen Anne style was also evident in the original one-over-one glazing of the windows. The six-over-six is a very recent (1981) change.

Curtis and Payson raised money for the building of Hyde Hall as alumni, not as trustees. Curtis, in the name of the class of 1875, gave $20,000. He was generous here as he was in numerous ways, often in the name of his class. He gave to the town of Brunswick, his birthplace, the Curtis Memorial Library, which he named for his father. His wife and daughter were instrumental in founding the Society of Bowdoin Women in the early 1920s.

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

1. W. J. Curtis to F. Payson, Jan. 30, 1917. Sp. Coll., Bldgs.: Misc. A-H.

2. "Architecture of American Colleges," Dec. 1909-May 1912. Bowdoin is mentioned (with Brown, Trinity, and Wesleyan) in part 7, Feb. 1911, pp. 144-166.

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