Table of Contents
Architects: James H. Ritchie
Design and construction
French Hall is a two-story Georgian Revival brick structure with a hip roof and a slightly-projecting central section that has a roofline pediment with modillions. The building has a rectangular footprint, and a small one-story rear ell at its northeast corner. French Hall has a slate roof, stone and wood trim, and a granite foundation.
The main block is eleven bays wide and three bays deep. The building has a stone stringcourse and a stone-trimmed watertable. The main entry is in the west elevation, at the top of a seven-step stairway in the projecting central section. The door is recessed within a large, classical, stone doorframe which has a segmental pediment that is supported by scrolled brackets. The doorframe has a narrow 1/3 window on either side. A three-part window with a central 8/8 sash flanked by 2/2 sash is set in the second story, directly above the doorframe. The roofline pediment contains a round window with a muntin pattern that has a square central pane surrounded by four semicircular panes.
On either side of the west elevation’s projecting central section, the first story has a triple window consisting of three 6/9 sash windows with 3/1 transoms; a spaced pair of narrow 1/3 windows at the center of the wing; and another triple window consisting of three 6/9 sash windows with 3/1 transoms. On either side of this elevation’s central section, the second story has a triple window consisting of three 9/9 sash windows; a paired set of 6/9 sash windows with 3/2 transoms at the center of the wing; and another triple window consisting of three 9/9 sash windows. The paired 6/9 windows on the second story at the center of the wings are set slightly lower that the triple windows. Stone panels are set into the brickwork above the first story’s triple windows.
The main block’s three-bay wide north and south elevations have the same fenestration: the first story contains a central triple window consisting of three 6/9 sash windows with 3/1 transoms, which is flanked by paired 6/9 sash windows with 3/1 transoms. The second story of the north and south elevations have the same paired and triple windows as the first story, with the exception that the windows are 9/9 sash with no transoms.
The hip roof rear ell’s north elevation has three evenly spaced 6/6 sash windows with 3/1 transoms. The ell’s south elevation originally had the same fenestration as on the north elevation, but the central window on the south elevation has been blocked with brick.
The main block’s eight-bay wide east elevation has a more complicated and irregular fenestration pattern than the other elevations. Reading from south to north, this elevation’s first story contains: a single door at the top of a metal exit stairway and a single 6/9 window with a 3/1 transom, which are in a bay that appears to have once had a triple 6/9 window with 3/1 transoms; four evenly spaced paired 6/9 windows with 3/1 transoms; a single 6/9 window with a 3/1 transom; one set of paired 6/9 windows with 3/1 transoms; and another a single 6/9 window with a 3/1 transom. The second story fenestration is the same as the first story’s, with three exceptions: (1) the second story’s single, paired and triple windows are 9/9 and have no transoms, (2) the second story’s southernmost bay still has a triple window, whereas the first story beneath the triple window has been altered to have an exit door and a single window and (3) the second story’s northernmost bay contains a nine-pane exit door, with a 3/1 transom, which provides access to a fire escape. The attic story contains a central hip roof dormer with 1/1 sash windows. A slightly larger hip roof dormer with 6/6 windows is located to either side of the central dormer. The north and south ends of the roof above the east elevation each contain a single square-shaped ventilation stack that has slate sides and a standing-seam hip roof metal cap.
The ell’s east elevation has no windows. Instead, the east elevation of the ell’s basement story has a greenhouse link structure attached to it, with a separate door into the basement at the south side of the greenhouse link.
Historic photographs available online at Special Collections and Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst, indicate that French Hall was constructed in stages between 1909 and 1918. An undated early 20th century photograph shows that the building’s west elevation on Stockbridge Road consisted of only the northern three bays of the current building. The west elevation’s central doorway and the balancing three bays to the south of the doorway were added at some point in time between 1909 and 1918. Photographs dated 1918 show French Hall in its current, larger, configuration.
At the turn of the twentieth century, UMass-Amherst remained focused on its core missions: agriculture, education, military preparation, and industrial support. The student population did not grow substantially during these years and individual freshman classes still remained less than a thousand persons strong. Nonetheless, the administration focused during the decade on building upgrades and new construction in order to support expanding curricula. Classroom/laboratory buildings with faculty offices including Clark and French halls, new agricultural buildings such as the Clark and French greenhouses, and the photography laboratory were all commissioned and/or constructed during the decade. The administration also realized that the expanding physical plant was encumbering land with buildings and literally decreasing available agricultural land usable as experimental plots. To counteract this trend, the administration began a program of land acquisition in the 1890s which continued with increasing vigor through the 1920s. In the period from 1900-1910, 128 acres, some with associated farm buildings and one with a cranberry bog, were bought.
This structure was built as the commercial floriculture and market gardening building and was named for Henry French, first President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College. French Hall was one of a number of research and instructional buildings that were planned under the leadership of Massachusetts Agricultural College President Goodell, who sought to improve the College’s facilities. The building was constructed in two phases, the first phase was started in 1909 and the second was started in 1913. A few photos in the University Archives depict French in its first phase.
During the First World War, French Hall was temporarily used as barracks for the student Army Training Corps.
The historic buildings along Stockbridge Road developed in two phases. The first phase included the construction of Homestead House, Stockbridge House, and the Durfee Plant House (no longer extant) in 1867. The second phase of development occurred from 1906-1909 and included Wilder Hall, Clark Hall, Clark Hall Greenhouse, French Hall Greenhouse, and French Hall. In 1955 the Durfee Range was added to replace the historic 1867 Durfee Plant House. Historically, Stockbridge Street was a treelined street with a scale conducive to the integration of residential-style houses with small academic buildings. The loss of the once prominent street tree planting along Stockbridge Street has changed the character of the landscape associated with all of the buildings. New construction along the street and within the sites associates with the historic buildings has changed the scale of the area. New parking lots and associated vehicular access routes have also diminished the integrity of many of the building’s landscapes.
French Hall Greenhouse was constructed in 1908 shortly after Clark Hall and Clark Hall Greenhouse. The Greenhouses were followed by French Hall immediately to the west in 1909. Pedestrian access to the building was provided by a walk from Stockbridge Road (extant). Historic photographs show deciduous and evergreen foundation plantings and a planting bed in the lawn between Stockbridge Road and the building. A 1918 historic photograph shows crushed stone access drive leading to the southeast corner of the building, which is indicated on campus maps as late as 1955. By 1959 a parking area was added to the south of the buildings, which remains today, reduced in size. Both the size of the new parking lot and the setting for French Hall were impacted by the construction of the Franklin Dining Hall in 1965. The setting of French Hall and French Hall Greenhouse was also impacted by the construction of University Health Center (1962, addition 1973) and Brett House (1963) to the east.
Naming of the building
Named in honor of Henry Flagg French, First President of the Massachusetts Agricultural College.
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
- See also the papers of Henry Flagg French