Residential Quadrangle (1897-1912)

The Residential Quadrangle (1897-1912)

Francis R.Allen, Allen and Vance

Vassar’s move to individual residence halls with the construction of Strong Hall, built in 1893 partly from funds donated by Trustee John D. Rockefeller and named after his eldest child, Elizabeth Rockefeller Strong, was an immediate success. By 1895, applicants for enrollment again exceeded residential accommodations, prompting the trustees to agree the following year to construct a second residence hall. The architect of Strong, Francis R. Allen, was hired to design the new building, a decision meant to ensure architectural continuity.

Strong Hall, the first student residence outside of Main Building, opened in 1893.

Strong Hall, the first student residence outside of Main Building, opened in 1893.

This time only college funds were used, and it was thus decided to name the building in honor John H. Raymond, Vassar’s second president—its president when it opened in 1865 and the man largely responsible for the college’s academic foundation. Planning for Rockefeller Hall, an outright gift from Rockefeller, was under way, and the two buildings were built at the same time.

Raymond Hall's opening for the 1897-98 academic year increased the popularity of the individual “halls,” as the quad dormitories were called. The new element of choice was reflected in a poem in the Vassar Miscellany for May, 1898: “Now shall we go to Raymond House,/Or live in Strong again?/I'm very sorry for those girls/That have to be in Main.” Student residences began the Vassar tradition of residential variety. In 1933, for example, Raymond differentiated itself with its cooperative living plan, in which students received fee deductions for performing housework, until the plan’s discontinuation in 1942-43.  And, with the advent of coeducation and coeducational residences in 1969, Strong House remained an all-woman hall.

With the construction of Raymond and Rockefeller Hall, the college had created half of what became the residential quadrangle, and it was planning for the other half. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., whose famous father had consulted briefly on the original layout of the college grounds, suggested an “echelon formation,” with paths that widened towards the campus’s north end, to promote a sense of open space.  But Allen and the architects of Rockefeller Hall, York and Sawyer, opted instead for two unbroken, parallel lines of buildings on the bias, and it was to this plan the rest of the quad was completed.

 The quad residences, 'halls' when built, became known as 'houses' in the early 1930s.

The quad residences, 'halls' when built, became known as 'houses' in the early 1930s.

In late 1900, The Vassar Miscellany announced the construction of a third quad hall “similar to Strong and Raymond,” to be built the next year from a design by Allen’s firm, Allen and Vance. Again funded by the college and named for Dr. Edward Lathrop, a charter trustee, Lathrop Hall opened in 1901.

The fourth and final of the initial quad residence halls, Davison Hall, also designed by Allen and Vance, was built almost immediately after Lathrop. John D. Rockefeller gave $110,000 for its construction in spring of 1901, and the building was opened on March 10, 1902. Rockefeller chose to name the new house in honor of his mother, Eliza Davison. The building was closed the entire 2008-09 academic year for renovations under the auspices of the firm S/L/A/M Collaborative. The interior was completely redone and the building made more energy efficient while its historic exterior was maintained.

Davison, Raymond, Lathrop, and their predecessor Strong, traditionally indentified—counterclockwise from the southwest corner of the quad—by the phrase Dear Robert Louis Stevenson, were instrumental in Vassar’s development. By the late 19th century, schools housed in a single building were out of fashion, and the residence halls brought the college into the modern era, while allowing the college to greatly increase its enrollment.  Two slightly newer residence halls—each more innovative that the original four—Jewett Hall (originally, North Hall) in 1907 and Olivia Josselyn Hall in 1912—completed Vassar’s main residential complex.

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Daniels, Elizabeth. Main to Mudd and More. Poughkeepsie: Vassar College, 1996.

Van Lengen, Karen and Reilly, Lisa. The Campus Guide: Vassar College. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.

The Vassar Miscellany                                                 

TF 2014