Table of Contents
Constructed: 1885 and 1939
Architects: William Brocklesby, Hartford, Conn. 1939 renovations: Louis Warren Ross, Boston, Mass.
Design and construction
The current South College is a three-story brick structure reminiscent of the Gothic Revival, though lacking the elaborate exterior details usually associated with that style. Its features include a prominent verticality, steeply-pitched dormers, and varying roofline. The building is organized into two wings of rowhouses standing at right angles to each other and connected by a corner tower.
South College was built on the footprint of Old South College, one of the first five buildings that prominently lined the ridge on the west side of the early campus. Originally containing twenty three double rooms, rented at $5 per term, along with a couple of classrooms, Old South was destroyed by fire in 1885. As reported in the Index, the yearbook, for 1887:
The South Dormitory was burned about one o'clock Wednesday morning, February 4th, 1885. The fire originated in room No. 26 in the north-east corner of the fourth story, and, in spite of active efforts by the students to extinguish the flames, the building was soon entirely destroyed. The geological and natural history specimens in the Massachusetts and Stearns' cabinets were more or less damaged by removal and disarrangement, but were otherwise uninjured.
The fate of this earlier building led architect Ross to use the most advanced fire-proofing methods at his disposal. Fire-conscious design features contribute to the unique character of the building, in which each section is serviced by its own entranceway and staircase.
South College is a brick Chateauesque structure whose L-shape configuration is comprised of a 2½ story south wing, a 2½-story east wing, and a 4½-story tower at the building’s southeast corner where the L-shape wings connect. The building has a granite foundation, brick walls and an asphalt shingle roof. South College is 16 bays wide on its east elevation and 17 bays wide on its south elevation.
Each section has a different type of roof, with the tower having a Mansard roof, the south wing having an end gable roof and the east wing having a hip roof. Despite this difference, all sections of the building have similar wall dormers at their attic stories.
Because of the slope of the land, the building’s north and west elevations have an exposed basement, which gives the south wing an apparent height of 3½ stories on its north elevation.
Historic photographs on file at Special Collections and Archives, W.E.B Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst show that the east elevation is the part of South College that has undergone the most changes since the building was constructed in 1885-86. The most substantial of these alterations involves (1) the replacement and relocation of the east elevation’s original first story windows, which were set approximately five feet higher in the elevation than the level of the current windows and (2) the installation of two covered entry porches where none originally existed. Based on a pre-alteration photograph dated 1918, and post-alteration photographs that are not dated but include students wearing contemporary clothing, it appears that the building’s current windows, and the building’s first iteration of covered entry porches, were installed at some point in time between 1918 and about 1940. Several of these photographs clearly show different color infill brick where the original windows had been located. These changes are presumed to be part of the renovation and fireproofing project that was undertaken by architect Louis Warren Ross in 1939.
Historic photographs also show that the flat roof covered entry porches which had been installed at some point between 1918 and about 1940 have themselves been replaced with the current front gable covered entry porches. Historic photographs show other changes to the overall building over time, such as the removal of heavy corbelled chimney caps and the removal of the tip of the tower’s peaked roof at some point in time before 1915; the complete removal of at least one chimney from the south elevation; the removal of the ironwork cresting from the platform atop of the tower’s roof; and the installation of the large first story window and the central second story window in the tower’s south elevation, all of which took place at unknown dates.
South College’s main entry is in its east elevation, within the pair of post-1940 covered porches. The entries feature double-leaf doors that have 3/3 fixed panes in the upper half and two panels in the lower half of each leaf. The top of each leaf also contains a 3/1 transom as part of the door. The east elevation’s windows generally consist of single, paired and triple 4/2 windows, while the tower has a combination of 4/2 windows and 12/12 windows. The east elevation’s northernmost four bays project forward and have a hip roof.
The south elevation has three sets of uncovered double-leaf doors of the same size and appearance as the east elevation’s doors. The windows in this elevation are primarily single 4/2 windows, while the tower has a combination of 4/2 windows and 12/12 windows. The tower also has an unusually wide 2/1 window in its first story on this elevation. The south elevation also contains two idiosyncratic windows above the central doorway, which is signed as entry “D” in the stone lintel above the door. These two windows are set at the half-story level, which indicates that they may provide natural light for stair landings. The lower of the two windows is a narrow 2/5 casement window, while the higher window is a small square 2/2 fixed or casement window.
On both the east and south elevations, the building has two distinctly different style of dormers, which consist of front gable wall dormers that contain paired 4/2 windows, and narrow hip roof dormers that contain 8/1 windows. On the east elevation, one narrow hip roof dormer contains a 16/1 window.
The north elevation’s main entry is through three doorways that are sheltered by elaborate front gable porch hoods with brackets. These porch hoods appear to be original to the building’s 1886 construction. Of the three entries, the middle entry’s door was visible in September 2008. It consists of a double-leaf door with 2/3 fixed panes in the upper half and a single panel in the lower half of each leaf.
The north elevation primarily has single 4/2 windows in its basement, first story and second story. The 4/2 basement windows are shorter than what is in the upper stories. This elevation also has two sets of paired 2/2 windows, and four 9/9 windows, near its east end. The dormer treatment on this elevation is different than what is used on the south elevation, where the dormers are primarily wall dormers. On the north elevation, six of the seven dormers are large hip roof dormers with widely spaced 4/2 windows, while the seventh dormer is a small shed roof dormer with a 6/1 window. Similar to the south elevation, the north elevation has two idiosyncratic windows. These windows, which are located near the central part of the north elevation, consist of a 3/1 casement in the second story and a 2/4 casement in the third story.
The west elevation has several different sizes of 4/2 windows, some of which are paired. One of the three wall dormers has 2/1 transoms above each of its 4/2 windows. On this elevation, different color infill brick still shows where the original windows were once located.
Six of the second story windows on the west elevation and two windows adjacent to the fire escape on the north elevation have been blocked.
South College’s ornamentation is subtle and mostly evident in its brickwork, which includes dentil and dog-tooth brick courses in the cornice, and herringbone brickwork in the gable peaks of the wall dormers on the building’s south and east elevations, including the wall dormers in the tower.
Information provided by Joseph S. Larson, University of Massachusetts Professor Emeritus of Natural Resources Conservation, indicates that the building’s foundation is Pelham granite, the stone trim is Longmeadow sandstone and the bricks are from Montague City.
Landscape – Visual/Design Assessment
South College is located to the south of Machmer Hall on a site that slopes from east to west. On the east side of the building a concrete walk runs between the building and a lawn area that is shaded by deciduous trees. A wooden ramp connects the walk to the entrance of the building. Beyond the lawn area is a concrete plaza. On the south side of the building a bituminous drive with grass slope planted with evergreen shrubs and trees slopes up to the building. The southeast corner of the building has a mulched area with deciduous tree surrounded by a wrought iron fence. On the west side of the building another bituminous concrete drive with lawn slopes up to the building. On the north side, the bituminous drive leads to a loading dock and parking area. Lawn with deciduous trees comprises the vegetation off the northeast corner of the building.
This structure was built in 1885-1886 to replace the original South College building on the site, which had been built in 1866- 1867 and was destroyed by fire in early 1885. The destroyed building had served as a dormitory for male students and also contained classrooms, reading rooms and a natural history collection. The Massachusetts legislature quickly appropriated funds to replace the building and new construction was begun on the footprint of the old building during the summer of 1885. The new building, known as South College, was completed in time for the 1886-1887 school year. Like its predecessor, the new South College building was multi-purpose, containing dormitory rooms, classrooms, meeting rooms and museum space. The new building was designed with an L-shape plan, with dormitory rooms in its south range and educational rooms in its east range. The architect for the 1885-1886 rebuilding was William Brocklesby, who was based in Hartford, Connecticut. Brockelsby designed a number of buildings in Massachusetts, including the Forbes Library in Northampton, Trinity Episcopal Church in Lenox, the First Congregational Church of Great Barrington, and several commissions for Smith College and Mt. Holyoke College.
The building underwent remodeling and fireproofing in 1939. The architect for this work was Louis Warren Ross, who also designed the Neo-Georgian buildings of the campus’s Northeast Residential Area between 1935 and 1959.
The original (1867) building, by Severance of Boston, was a dormitory for 47 students in 23 double rooms, and was gutted by fire in February 1885, caused by an explosion of a kerosene burner in an egg incubator. The 1885 configuration had 20 double rooms for students. The southwest wing became the Biology Department with classrooms and specimen collections. The mansard-roofed tower was for meteorological observation and was modeled after the Central Park Observatory in New York in terms of function (the towers are quite different in terms of appearance). Use of the building evolved from to become an administrative building in 1902 with a classroom on the basement floor. The student radio station, WMUA, had studios in the tower, several Deans, provost, and presidents, from Goodell to Mather have had offices here. (Norton 1975).
The buildings to the west of the Campus Pond were historically organized along two circulation routes, neither of which is extant. The eastern façade of buildings closest to the pond, including the Chapel and Memorial Hall, were organized along Olmsted Road/Ellis Drive overlooking an open space indicated as Front Slope on a 1901 campus plan and the Campus Pond. Olmsted Road/Ellis Drive was an historic tree-lined street that curved along the west side of the campus pond, connecting to North Pleasant Street at both its northern and southern ends.
The western façade of the buildings faced an extension of Lincoln Avenue (no longer extant). Historically, the northern terminus of the Lincoln Avenue axis was occupied by North College (no longer extant), which stood on the approximate site of Machmer Hall (1957). The southern axis of Lincoln Avenue was obstructed by the construction of Whitmore Hall in 1967. Historic buildings along the west side of Lincoln Avenue include South College, Munson Hall, Munson Hall Annex, Hicks Physical Education Building, Hicks Physical Education Cage, Goddell Building, and Machmer Hall. Historically, Lincoln Avenue was tree-lined and featured some open lots interspersed with athletic fields.
South College was constructed in 1885 with a semi-circular approach walk from Lincoln Avenue to the front (eastern) side of the building. With the construction of the Du Bois Library (1971) the historic approach to the building was replaced with new pedestrian circulation patterns. Vegetation historically associated with the building consisted of deciduous trees over mown lawn, with a few large shrubs lining the access walk (no longer extant). The landscape is presently dominated by bituminous concrete walks and service drives.
- From Three Architectural Tours: Selected Buildings on the Campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, 2000)
- From the Massachusetts Historical Commission, UMass Amherst Building Survey reports (2009).
- For additional information, consult the University Archives (RG 36/101).