Lance Factor, George Appleton Lawrence Distinguished Service Professor of Philosophy, discusses the significance of literary societies in the building of Alumni Hall.
For those who did not experience Alumni Hall, it’s hard to imagine what a typical classroom looked like when the sides of the building used as classrooms currently look like this. This photo dates near the end of Alumni Hall’s tenure as an academic building, the 1970s. At this time, the foreign language department, the art department, the philosophy department, and a few other humanities classes had called these classroom spaces home.
As seen in recent construction update shots, the center hall of Alumni Hall is a large area with a stage and space for seats — an auditorium. It was originally intended to be a chapel, but over its tenure thus far, it has also been an auditorium, a theatre, and a library.
The original Knox College library was housed in Old Main, while Alumni Hall’s center hall was serving as a chapel. After Beecher Chapel was acquired by the school and the need for a larger library was realized, the books were moved to Alumni Hall in 1909.
This wasn’t the first time a library was in Alumni Hall. Both literary societies, Adelphi and Gnothautii, had separate libraries on their sides, starting sometime around 1892. Once the College’s library was moved to Alumni Hall, the literary societies combined their books and contributed to the centralized collection.
The library featured not only books, but two large tapestries from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. They framed the stage, as seen in the photo below.
Flooring was laid down from the lobby to the stage to level out the slope intended for auditorium seating. Two staircases were installed to reach from the bottom floor to the top balcony where Dr. Elder, the librarian, had an office and additional stacks were housed.
The center hall of Alumni Hall remained this way until the completion of Seymour Library, which still houses Knox’s collection of books and library materials, in 1928.
As seen in the photo above, books lined the back walls of the lower level, and tables, chairs, and even statues decorated the area. It wasn’t intended to look makeshift, although it was a temporary solution. From the convincing looks of it, it probably fooled a few students between 1909 and 1928 who would’ve never known it was an auditorium space.
Knox College students Laura Pochodylo ’14 and Kayleigh O’Brien ’16 share some of the history of Alumni Hall as they lead a group of Knox students through the building. Check out the story and photos in The Knox Student!
First, a quick reminder that Alumni Hall originally was built as three structures: Gnothautii in the east wing, Alumni Hall in the middle, and Adelphi in the west wing. Three cornerstones were laid in separate ceremonies. We’ve already mentioned one of these, when President Benjamin Harrison came to Knox for the Alumni Hall cornerstone ceremony.
Today, we look back at the laying of the Adelphi stone. There was no U.S. president at this ceremony, but still, it wasn’t exactly low-key. There was a large procession of people that included Knox President Newton Bateman and other dignitaries riding in a four-wheeled carriage, soldiers from Battery D, the Marine Band, and men from the Adelphi literary society. The newspaper Coup d’Etat described the scene this way: “The procession moved around the Courthouse Square and on reaching the Seminary [modern-day Whiting Hall], the boys fell back to give the place to the L.M.I. girls who, having been previously invited, attended in full. There were sixty of them.” L.M.I. — Ladies’ Mutual Improvement Society — was a women’s literary society on campus.
Once the procession reached the Knox campus, buglers played, a prayer was recited, and an Adelphi quartet crooned a welcome song. The Adelphi president introduced George Appleton Lawrence, an 1875 Knox grad who became a respected lawyer, financier, and Knox trustee for more than 40 years. “An auspicious day has dawned for the old Adelphi,” he said. Then he grabbed a trowel, placed it in the mortar, and adjusted a tin box with various mementos, including the Adelphi Constitution, a list of members’ names, and the Adelphi bell.
Other highlights of the ceremony included a 10-round cannon salute, remarks from 1885 Knox graduate H. Mark Gilbert, a performance of the Adelphi song, and, finally, a whole lot of cheering. There were three cheers for Knox, three for the L.M.I., three for Gnothautii, and three for Adelphi.