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.”