Here is a shot of the North side of Alumni Hall taken in 1895 and featured in the 1896 Gale. Seems to have been taken before South Street was paved! If you look past the trees on the right side of photo, you will see the area where Seymour Hall will eventually be built.
Pictured is a large classroom on the top floor of one of the wings of Alumni Hall, some time after 1960. Notice the crumbling wall on the right. The upkeep and renovations required to keep Alumni Hall going have been an ongoing issue since the first renovations in the 1930s. As early as 1929, students were noticing how old Alumni Hall was, as an editorial in The Knox Student said “As we look at Alumni Hall today, and wonder when we’ll be getting new buildings, perhaps we do not realize the true significance of the old red landmark.” A 1949 memo to Trustees stated that “[$16,615.34] is obviously a considerable amount to spend on a building as old as Alumni Hall.” These issues only worsened as time went on and costs were climbing, which probably explains the bit of broken wall in the classroom. These issues, as well as expanded classroom space in other buildings on campus, eventually led to the decision to “mothball” Alumni Hall.
In 1977, it was apparent action needed to be taken regarding the ailing Alumni Hall. Its closing seemed imminent, and one of the main controversies about that decision was the elimination of the campus chapel. The interdenominational chapel was located in the upper west wing of Alumni Hall. It held some formal services and group meetings, but was also open as an area for personal religious practice. The chapel was opened in 1972 as the first religious space on campus since services were discontinued at Beecher Chapel in the 1950’s.
Students were worried about the closing of Alumni Hall because there would be nowhere to meet for prayer, as the chapel was the only designated religious space on campus. The wider community became involved in the discussion about the chapel. The Galesburg Post issued an editorial in November 1977, stating that “The Galesburg Post has been urging Knox College to use the central interior of Alumni Hall for a chapel available to all faiths, and for student assemblies, with other space in the 1890 building made available for rental to community organizations.”
The Galesburg Post also reported how members of the Newman Club, the Catholic group on campus, were “forced to meet in the Gizmo as nickels and dimes clinked in the machines as they held their mass.”
The chapel was closed with the rest of the building by 1980, and although community groups feared a religious presence might disappear from the College, there are still faith groups active on the campus today.
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!
Members and friends of Gnothautii got together on a Wednesday morning to lay the mottled red granite stone, which bears a simple inscription: “Gnothautii. Founded 1848.” They filled an empty space within the stone — what we’d now call a time capsule — with several items. Among them: an account of Gnothautii’s founding, its constitution and by-laws, a list of members from the founding, a list of present officers, and newspapers.
The cornerstone was laid by Knox Professor Milton Comstock, an 1851 Knox grad and one of Gnothautii’s original founders. He taught mathematics, philosophy, and astronomy, and he also was a noted horticulturalist. Comstock was part of “The Great Triumvirate,” a name given to three distinguished scholars (Comstock, Albert Hurd, and George Churchill) who formed the core of the Knox faculty in the second half of the 19th century.
Comstock delivered remarks, and he was followed by J. A. McKenzie, a Gnothautii and a lawyer in Knox County. McKenzie made his speech without using notes.
Here’s a photo of “The Great Triumvirate.”