Architects: Walter R.B. Willcox, Burlington, Vt.
A small red brick building with brown terra cotta trim, Wilder Hall was originally designed for the study of market gardening, floriculture, greenhouse management,and landscape gardening, and is influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style. It remains one of the University's architectural gems. With a distinctive green tile roof broadly overhanging its walls, Wilder displays an obvious symmetry, though without reference to classical style. Designed specifically to house a landscape architecture program, the original plans for the building included classrooms, drafting rooms, and offices. In a show of love for the building, the front entrance was renovated by landscape architecture students in 1993.
Wilder Hall is a 1½ story brick structure with a green tile hip roof, and a front gable central section which is flanked by chimneys in the east slope of the roof. The building’s design incorporates architectural elements of the Mission Revival style and the Arts & Crafts style. Both these styles utilize low pitched hip roofs with deep overhangs and exposed rafters, and recessed doorways, all of which are part of Wilder Hall’s design. Wilder Hall’s tile roof is more in the Mission Revival style than Arts & Crafts, while the building’s terra cotta nameplate above the recessed doorway and sloping terra cotta brackets on the inner sides of the recessed doorway are Arts & Crafts design features. Wilder Hall has a rectangular footprint and a symmetrical main elevation. The building is nine bays wide and three bays deep. In addition to the terra cotta nameplate and brackets, the building’s terra cotta trim includes a water table, a stringcourse and a round medallion in the east elevation gable peak that contains the building’s construction date, 1905. The building’s brick trim includes rectangular brick panels set into the attic story below the roof eaves. The exposed wood rafters have segmental tapering along their length and the small tip of the rafters is ornamented with a simple rounded scroll.
The building’s main entry is in its east elevation, within a central recessed doorway that includes the terra cotta nameplate and sloping brackets mentioned above. The door has six panels, with glazed panels in its upper half. Historic photographs on file at Special Collections and Archives, W.E.B Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst include an undated photograph that shows the original door had two panels in its lower half and 3/4 fixed panes in its upper half. The entry still retains a 4/5 casement or fixed window, with a 3/5 transom, at either side of the door. The door also has a 5/3 transom directly above it. The upper story above the recessed doorway contains three closely spaced 6/1 rounded windows within brick arches. The 1905 medallion is set into the gable peak above the central window and the gable peak is ornamented with several rows of inset brickwork. The gable peak also contains an old-looking metal rod, which is bent into the shape of an inverted V in order to follow the outline of the gable peak. Based on an historic postcard at Special Collections which shows that a Wisteria (or other climbing vine) was once trained across Wilder Hall’s east elevation, this metal rod was probably installed in the early 20th century to support the vine. The vine no longer exists.
The building’s north elevation contains a central door that has two closely spaced 6/1 windows at either side. The upper story of the north elevation has a central hipped dormer that contains a fire escape door and two 6/6 windows. The fire escape is a metal stairway.
The building’s west elevation was not observed in September 2008. Historic photographs at Special Collections show that this elevation was similar to the east elevation, except that the basement level was above ground and the central front gable section contained a slightly recessed doorway to the basement, a three-arch open arcade in the first story, and five arched windows in the gable peak.
Wilder Hall is located along the west side of Stockbridge Street. Access to the west (front) side of the building is provided by a brick walk with stone edging bordered by dense high shrub planting and mown lawn beyond. Two wooden benches flank the entrance. The east (rear) side of the building is accessed by a bituminous concrete walk bordered by a brick terrace. Picnic tables are located on the terrace, which is separated from a nearby parking lot by a stone retaining wall. Vegetation in the area of the building consists of deciduous and flowering trees over mown lawn, high deciduous shrubs at the foundation of the building and evergreen shrubs throughout the site. The site also includes a wooden trellis.
This structure was built as a horticulture building and was named for Marshall Pinckney Wilder, a founder of the New England Horticultural Society and a founder of the State Board of Agriculture. He also was a founder and Trustee of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is considered a pioneer in agricultural education in Massachusetts.
Wilder 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. Wilder Hall is considered to be the first building in the U.S. that was designed for the purpose of housing a landscape architecture program.
The building’s architect, Walter R. B. Willcox, was based in Burlington, Vermont at the time he worked on Wilder Hall. His other buildings in the northeast include the Richmond (Vermont) Congregational Church and Dewey Hall at the University of Vermont. In 1907, Willcox relocated to Seattle, Washington, where he maintained an architectural practice. He later moved to Eugene, Oregon, where he was the Chair of the School of Architecture at the University of Oregon.
Regarding the location of the building, Linda Flint McClelland’s introduction to the 2007 reprint of Frank A. Waugh’s Book of Landscape Gardening suggests (page xxxiii) that Waugh chose the site of Wilder Hall. Waugh was the founding head of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Massachusetts Agricultural College. Additional information on Waugh’s landscape work may be found in his Book of Landscape Gardening (New York: Orange Judd Publishing Company, 1926 / Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2007).
The historic buildings along Stockbridge Road developed in two phases. The first phase included the pre-Massachusetts Agricultural College era construction of Stockbridge House in the 18th century and the early MAC era construction of 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 tree-lined 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.
Historic images show Wilder Hall (1906) set in open lawn with a mixed foundation planting of deciduous and evergreen shrubs. Later photographs show vines on the building’s façade. An oblique aerial photograph from c.1932 shows street trees along Stockbridge Road with open lawn to the west of the building leading to North Pleasant Street. Pedestrian access from the east side was provided by a pedestrian walk perpendicular to Stockbridge Road. Pedestrian access from the west side was provided by a diagonal spur off of the eastern portion of the cross-campus walk (no longer extant) that connected North Pleasant Street to Stockbridge Road. This walk is indicated on historic campus plans from 1908, 1911, and 1933.
In general, the historic character of the landscape was more open than present between the building and North Pleasant Street with no evergreen or deciduous trees planted near the building. The landscape setting of Wilder Hall was most dramatically changed by the construction of the Morrill Science Center between Wilder Hall and North Pleasant Street in five phases between 1959 and 1973.
Wilder Hall is named for Marshall P. Wilder, founder of the New England Horticultural Society and co-founder of both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Agricultural College.