Skip to main content
Bowdoin College homepage

Researching Bowdoin’s Campus and Buildings

The natural starting point for study of Bowdoin College's campus and architecture is Patricia McGraw Anderson's The Architecture of Bowdoin College (Brunswick, 1988). Anderson provides the architectural history of campus buildings, memorials and gateways within the broader context of almost 200 years of College development and growth. College records were a principal source for this work and Anderson's endnotes are a useful overview of primary sources in Special Collections & Archives pertaining to College buildings. Selected portions of Anderson's text, with additional images of College buildings, are available online at the Image Gallery.

William Shipman's The Early Architecture of Bowdoin College and Brunswick, Maine (Brunswick, 1985) and Bryant F. Tolles, Jr.'s Architecture & Academe: College Buildings in New England before 1860 (Hanover and London, 2011) are also useful resources. Other publications that offer context and insights relative to Bowdoin's physical campus are Charles Calhoun's bicentennial history A Small College in Maine (Brunswick, 1994) and Louis C. Hatch's The History of Bowdoin College (Portland, 1927). While Hatch's work is dated in many respects, he does provide an interesting and quite detailed discourse on the campus and buildings of the time (Hatch, pp. 393-460), as does Alpheus S. Packard in his and Nehemiah Cleaveland's History of Bowdoin College, pp. 92-97 (Boston, 1882).

Also of interest is Gerard Brault's A Checklist of Portraits of Bowdoin's Campus before the Civil War (Typescript, 1960) that lists, with considerable descriptive detail, available paintings and illustrations of the campus. Two other sources that describe Bowdoin's architecture are Montgomery Schuyler's "Architecture of American Colleges" from The Architectural Record (Vol XXIX. No.2. February, 1911) and the 1976 National Register of Historic Places application that lists details of Bowdoin buildings included in The Federal Street Historic District in Brunswick (see subject files, Office of the V.P. for Finance and Administration, 1.15); although architectural details mentioned in these two sources are likely to have been covered in Anderson's later work cited above, they are part of a body of literature the existence of which highlights the architectural significance and aesthetic appeal of the Bowdoin College campus.

The majority of primary sources pertaining to Bowdoin's buildings and campus are located and preserved in the Library's George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives. Records of interest are found both in the College Archives and in collections of personal papers. The Special Collections & Archives website includes finding aids with series descriptions and container listings for the majority of College records and manuscript collections. Specific links are included below where appropriate.

College Archives Holdings

Within the Archives, the records for administrative offices and academic departments on campus are organized into record series that, in most cases, mirror the College administrative organization and hierarchy at the time the records were created. Most pertinent records for the study of buildings and campus are found in the following series: College Buildings, 1794- (1.13), Governing Boards, 1974- (1.1) and the Office of the President, 1802- (1.2).

College Buildings, 1794- (1.13)

Although variable from building to building in depth and content, the materials grouped under College Buildings are a rich resource and a useful starting point for any study in this arena. There are three records series of particular interest: Subject Files; Architectural Plans and Drawings; and Campus Maps, Plans and Views. The subject files are alphabetically arranged by building and include a wide array of materials compiled from diverse sources. The materials include architectural specifications, clippings, correspondence, dedications, information on finances and fundraising, memos, minutes, and reports. For example, the file on Hubbard Hall, the "new" library completed in 1903, includes newspaper clippings, correspondence (principally from the architect Henry Vaughan to librarian Henry Little regarding progress and details of the building), and the 1903 presentation and dedication addresses by Thomas H. Hubbard and Reverend Edwin Parker. While the subject files provide uneven coverage of the histories of most buildings, the content of the files almost always suggests other research strategies. The Archives holds several hundred architectural plans and drawings that represent various stages of work on thirteen College buildings (the Office of Facilities Management maintains the bulk of the architectural plans). The majority of the plans in the Archives—these include artists' renderings, elevations, floor plans, heating and ventilation specifications etc.—are for the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library (1965, 1983, 2001) and Coles Tower (1964). There are also plans for several nineteenth and turn-of-the century buildings including the Boody-Johnson House (1849), the Chapel (1855), the first Gymnasium (1886), Henry Vaughan's elevations and floor plans for Hubbard Hall and twenty-one of Abel C. Martin's hand-colored architectural drawings of specifications for the renovation of Massachusetts Hall to include the Cleaveland Cabinet Museum (1872). Finally for the College Buildings series, the available campus maps, plans and views provide a partial, but nevertheless fascinating, visual picture of the campus over time. At different points on this spectrum are a tinted lithograph of E. Butler's drawing of the west view of the College (circa 1839) and McKim Mead & White's campus plan from 1959.

Governing Boards, 1974- (1.1)

The records of Bowdoin's Governing Boards are quite comprehensive and provide extensive documentation of proposals, finances, donations and decisions regarding College buildings and campus planning. In the nineteenth century, plans and concerns relating to the physical development of the campus were usually channeled from president to Visiting Committee to the Governing Boards; by 1899 a formal Committee of the Boards, the Buildings and Grounds Committee, was in existence. Series of the Governing Board of particular note are: Records of the Board of Overseers, 1794-1996; Records of the Board of Trustees, 1794-; Votes of the Board of Overseers, 1794-1996, and the Board of Trustees, 1794-; and Reports of the Visiting Committee, 1826-1966. Much of the material in these series overlaps in content because of the reporting structure of the Boards. The Visiting Committee, for example, was a joint committee of the Overseers and Trustees that visited the College and reported back to each Board their recommendations concerning "policies and improvements." These recommendations were then voted on by the Boards (votes of the Trustees usually required the approval of the Overseers). The Visiting Committee records include both the annual report of the Committee to the Boards and multiple reports presented to the Committee by faculty and administration. The records of the Boards include minutes, committee reports and votes; while there is no comprehensive index to the Board minutes, each volume does include an alphabetical index (subdivided by meeting date) through 1995. There is also a useful summary of votes for 1794-1897; this summary provides a convenient means, at least for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, of identifying specific subject related Board votes. As an example, the first vote (approved July 20th, 1795) that considered building for the new College was for a "brick building of the following dimensions, viz 100 feet long, fourty feet wide, four stories high, with a Cellar under the whole." Between 1794 and the opening of the College in 1802 there were a total of 10 votes relating to the construction and financing of Massachusetts Hall and the building of a house for the president. For context surrounding votes, it is necessary to review the minutes of the meetings where votes were taken as well as associated Visiting Committee reports. The Visiting Committee Reports are a rich source full of commentary on (among other things) the state of the campus and buildings and recommendations for future campus planning; reports from College personnel to the Visiting Committee might include a discourse by the president or a faculty member on the need for expanded facilities, or the treasurer might address expenses associated with College facilities. A rather smug example from August 1861 gives the flavor of the mid-century Visiting Committee reports: "The new Medical College building is fast approaching completion. Besides furnishing complete accommodations for the Medical School and much needed additional facilities for the College, it will be altogether a handsome ornamental addition to our group of buildings. It is believed to cost less by some thousands of dollars than an edifice of inferior size recently erected in Massachusetts for similar purposes."

Office of the President, 1802- (1.2)

The administrative records of successive Bowdoin presidents are another essential group of records for the study of College buildings. Pertinent records may be grouped together in specific series or located within subject or correspondence files. For example, The Chapel Papers (1828-1862) is a series in the records of Bowdoin's fourth president Leonard Woods (1839-1866). Woods administered the College during an early period of campus expansion that included construction of the Chapel (1855), Adams Hall (1861) and Appleton Hall (1843). The Chapel Papers include letters to Woods from the architect Richard Upjohn regarding the design and costs of the Chapel. William DeWitt Hyde's administration (1885-1917) was also one of vigorous campus development. As Anderson notes, "The Walker Art Building, the Mary Frances Searles Science Building and Hubbard Hall-all built in the decade between 1892 and 1902-conferred shape and symmetry on the College yard, which became a quadrangle with impressive buildings on all four sides." Hyde also instituted the first annual report of the president starting in 1892. Such reports, Hyde's in particular, often include information on proposed building and construction. The 1891/2 report, for example, provided descriptive details of The Walker Art Building (1894); the 1892/3 report included architectural plans and details of Searles Science Building (1894) and the 1895/96 report included the same for the heating plant. There are many more examples of substantial record groupings relevant to the physical campus in various presidents' administrative records, including information on Coles Tower and Hawthorne-Longfellow Library in the records of James Stacy Coles (president 1952-1967) and materials concerning the multidisciplinary science center (Stanley F. Druckenmiller Hall, 1997) and Hatch Science Library (1991) in the records of Robert Hazard Edwards (president 1990-2001).

The records series outlined above (College Buildings, Governing Boards, and Office of the President) form the core of current College Archives materials relevant to campus architecture and planning. However, there are several other series worth highlighting as follows: The Office of the Treasurer, 1794-1951 (1.8) and the Vice President for Finance and Administration, 1952- (1.15). The Treasurer's records has a series on College lands that includes a detailed 1898 "Report to the Treasurer Describing Land of the College in Brunswick, Maine," with an associated large scale plan; and the Vice President for Finance and Administrations' records include many pertinent subject files. Also, records of the Senior Center Program, 1964-1979 (3.8), include information on facility planning, as do the records of the Campus Center [Smith Union] Planning Committee, 1992-1995 (1.27). Finally, Blythe Edwards' records from the Office of the Vice President for Planning and Development, 1990-2000 (1.14.6) comprise reports, correspondence and other materials concerning the design and renovation of physical spaces on campus.

Other College Records

Other more general resources among College records are the College Catalogue, which has included a descriptive section on College buildings since 1897, as well as occasional engravings of the campus (from 1862), campus maps (from 1929) and lists of various Visiting and Building and Grounds Committee members. Also, publications such as the alumni magazine (various titles) and the Bowdoin Orient occasionally have articles and opinion relative to the College campus. And finally, the multi-volume Documentary History Scrapbooks, 1802-1962 (6.1.19), a chronological compilation of newspaper articles about the College assembled by librarian George T. Little, often contain information on buildings-especially concerning donations and dedications.

Photograph/Image Collection

Another important College Archives resource is the photograph/image collection. Images of the College are cataloged in a database and are retrievable through a fairly sophisticated search engine. There are over 2000 unique photographs of College buildings and campus views represented, including a good selection of nineteenth century photographs. Many of these images are available online at the Image Gallery.

Manuscript Collection Holdings

In addition to the resources in the College Archives outlined above, Special Collections & Archives houses several collections of personal papers with important content for the study of College buildings.

The Samuel Melcher Account Books, 1801-1880 (M128) are of particular interest. Alpheus Spring Packard (Bowdoin 1816, faculty 1824-1881) said of Melcher, who was a locally respected housewright: "It was fortunate for both College and town that they had at command the services of Mr. Samuel Melcher, a man of genius and taste…He was a man of ambition and enterprise, once walking to Boston for the purpose of observing new styles in the metropolis and intervening towns." Melcher contracted to build many of the early College Buildings, including Massachusetts Hall (1802), the first presidents house (1803), Maine Hall (1808), Winthrop Hall (1823), and Appleton Hall (1843). Melcher and his sons were also hired to complete the interior woodwork of Bowdoin's new chapel (1855); and Melcher's son, Richard, was responsible for the remodeling of the upper floors of Massachusetts Hall to incorporate the Cleaveland Cabinet museum (1872). The Melcher collection contains 27 volumes of ledgers and account books of Melcher and his sons, (many covering the periods of Bowdoin building) that provide insights into the costs and the process of building.

Collections of personal papers of individuals who made substantial donations to the College for building purposes are often useful sources. Generous donors such as Thomas H. Hubbard, who was responsible for the funding of Hubbard Hall (1903), Hubbard Grandstand (1904) and the Civil War memorial plaque in Memorial Hall (1882), and for inspiring a donor for the Mary Frances Searles Science Building (1894), commonly had a vital interest in the College and in the outcome of their donation. The Hubbard Family Papers, 1789-1934 (M95), include a sizeable volume of Thomas Hubbard's business correspondence (1857-1914) in which his Bowdoin interests figure prominently. Another example of a donor related collection is the papers of the Walker sisters (Mary Sophia and Harriet Sarah), who gave funds for the Walker Art Building as a memorial to their uncle, Theopilus Wheeler Walker. This small collection (1850-1894, M184) includes correspondence among the sisters the College and the architectural firm McKim, Mead and White; the Walker sisters were involved in both the choice of architects and the design of the building.

Other important sources to check are the personal papers of College presidents such as Leonard Woods (1818-1964, M190) and William De Witt Hyde (1823-1975, M96). There is considerable overlap, particularly for the nineteenth and early twentieth century presidents, between their "personal" papers and the College records of that president's administration. This is especially the case with correspondence-discussion of College concerns and business is often found in these manuscript collections.

Current and other active records pertaining to Bowdoin campus buildings and planning exist in many offices across campus. Some of these "active" records also hold historic significance and are earmarked for eventual transfer to the Archives. The Office of Facilities Management maintains a large volume of architectural plans (a term used loosely here to cover different types of drawing such as elevations, floor plans, heating/ventilation, site plans, conceptual renderings etc.) for buildings across campus showing various phases of construction and renovation. The majority of these are for building projects undertaken over the last fifty years, but there are also plans from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In addition, where they exist, Facilities maintains the specification books for each building—these detail every aspect of construction, including the materials used and recommended manufacturers—as well as the submittals (bids) for some. Other records useful for historic research include deeds for current College land and properties maintained by the Office of the Vice-President for Finance and Administration, and campus photographs held by the Office of Communications; these photographs include images of the campus from recent decades not well represented in the Archives.