Table of Contents
Architects: Louis Warren Ross
Design and construction
Central Residential Area. All nine buildings were designed and constructed between 1940 and 1963, and sited according to a Beaux-Arts formal plan.
Seven of these buildings (Butterfield, Brooks, Van Meter, Greenough, Chadbourne, Baker, and New Africa) were uniformly designed in Georgian Revival style. Wheeler and Brett, which are both sited at the bottom of the hill and constructed last, are less ornate structures and have subtle Art-Deco details. All buildings continue to serve as dormitories in 2008.
The main planning axis of the Central Residential Area is perpendicular to the ridgeline of Clark Hill and extends northeast to southwest. The axis is defined by the center of Van Meter and Baker Houses, with the remaining dormitories sited to the north and south. The bilateral symmetry and duplication of building footprints and appearance only deviates with the location of Butterfield House and the design of Brett House. The spatial relationship of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the central block and cupola of Van Meter House. The steep grade of the overall site was graded to create narrow terraces between the individual structures.
Brooks House was completed in 1949, one year following its mirror structure Mills House (New Africa) House. Although both buildings are designed in the Georgian Revival Style, Brooks House has a more simplified exterior design and most notably eliminated the mansard roof and dormers in favor of a full story and gable roof. The rectangular building is 5-stories tall and 13 bays wide by 3 bays deep. One central cross gable distinguishes the central 3 bays, which project slightly from the main building volume and visually divides the façade into three blocks.
Similar to New Africa House, Brooks has a common-bond brick veneer with a molded brick projection to define the first floor level. The façade includes a window pattern of primarily double-hung sash. The first, third and fourth levels all have 8/12 sash, while the second floor is distinguished with larger 12/12. The fifth floor has 8/8 sash. Circular radial panel windows are located at the attic level of all four gable ends. Copper downspouts and collector heads are located at the north and south edges of the east and west facades.
The building entrance occurs at the central bay of the west elevation and features a decorative wood doorcase framed by two pilasters and a rusticated surround. The woodwork continues to the floor above with a decorative window case with subtle swan’s neck jambs. The window head is surmounted by a wood pediment with copper flashing.
The building site is located along the east side of Infirmary Way and accessed via a bituminous concrete vehicular drive. Infirmary Way is bordered by a wide bituminous concrete sidewalk. A concrete retaining wall holds back the grade change between the sidewalk and the entrance to the building and is accessed by a bituminous concrete path. Vegetation surrounding the building includes deciduous trees over mown lawn, evergreen trees, high deciduous shrubs, and low deciduous shrub foundation plantings. Site furnishings include bike racks and pole lights.
By 1933, the University of Massachusetts, then known as the Massachusetts State College, was facing a severe shortage in student housing. Between 1929 and 1933 at the onset of the Great Depression, student enrollment had grown by more than 40 percent, from 862 to 1,220 students, quite unlike periods during earlier depressions when student enrollment had declined. No new dormitories for men had been added to the campus since 1868 and the one campus dormitory for women, Abigail Adams House, was completely filled, which prompted the College to stop enrolling additional women in 1932.
In response to this housing shortage, the College began construction of a dormitory complex at the southeast corner of North Pleasant Street and Eastman Lane, which ultimately consisted of ten neo-Georgian buildings now known as the Northeast Residential Area. The first building of this complex was Thatcher House, which was constructed in 1935 to the design of architect Louis Warren Ross, who was a member of the College’s class of 1917. Ross’s later works for the school include the Student Union, which was constructed in 1956. Ross also designed Johnson House in 1959, which was the last structure of the quadrangle to be completed.
Despite documents entitled “Final Report of the Campus Planning Committee,” the group operated in one form or another as the primary planning unit on campus for the next 15 years, until 1948. The committee continued to focus on where buildings and facilities would be best sited relative to the campus missions.
An oblique aerial photograph from 1954 shows an open landscape to the east of Mills House (New Africa House) and Brooks House with lawn leading to the façades. This area has since been occupied by buildings, including Wheeler House and Brett Hall. The character of the landscape to the east of the buildings remains intact, with deciduous and evergreen trees over lawn. New low foundation planting has been added to the buildings since their construction and new formalized head-in parking has been added along Infirmary Way.
Naming of the building
Brooks House was named for professor William Penn Brooks (1863-1939). Two years after graduating from Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1875, William Penn Brooks accepted an invitation from the Japanese government — and his mentor, William Smith Clark — to help establish the Sapporo Agricultural School. Spending over a decade in Hokkaido, Brooks helped to introduce western scientific agricultural practices and the outlines of a program in agricultural education, and he built a solid foundation for the School. After his return to the states in 1888, he earned a doctorate at the University of Halle, Germany, and then accepted a position at his alma mater, becoming a leading figure at the Massachusetts Experiment Station until his retirement in 1921.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
- See also the Papers of William Penn Brooks, Special Collections and University Archives, UMass Amherst (RG 3/1 B76)