Celebrating Preservation: Historic Buildings of Carleton College

By Barbara Evans

A casual walk through Carleton College reveals an eclectic architecture that tells a story of the history of the campus as seen by its various presidents reflecting their philosophies about how the campus should look and function.  Changes and progress continue today.  This is only a very brief introduction to the historic buildings found on campus.  World War II significantly divided the architecture of the college.  Prewar buildings were designed in one or another historic style.  Postwar buildings were designed in modern styles of their day without references to the past.

It is the first three buildings built plus Skinner Chapel that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The first two buildings, Willis Hall (1872, Alden and Howe of Minneapolis architects) and Goodsell Observatory (1887, J.Walter Stevens [Harvey Ellis] architects) will be described in great detail in “Focus on Preservation” features this month.  Scoville Memorial Library was built in 1896.  Architects for this Richardsonian Romanesque structure were Patton and Fisher of Chicago.  Members of that firm also designed nine buildings during President Cowling’s tenure:  the Music Hall, (1914), Burton (1915), Skinner Memorial Chapel (1916), Nourse Hall (1917), Leighton Hall (1920), Davis Hall (1923), Evans Hall (1927), Laird Stadium (1927), and Severence Hall (1928).  Scoville has just undergone a beautiful restoration.  Scoville’s substantial look is achieved by using separate masses instead of one cubic look.  Scoville’s rock-faced masonry may seem random on first glance, but each stone was planned in advance.  Stones were cut on site at the quarry and measured to fit precisely at their destination on campus.  James W. Scoville was a Chicago banker who had paid for libraries in Oak Park, Illinois and at Beloit College.  Step inside this admissions building to look at the beautiful interior.  Scoville was added to the National Register in 1982.  Skinner Memorial Chapel commands the entrance to the college with its front door facing the town, not the college. It also was added to the Historic register in 1982.  Its model is the small parish church, but its Gothic style looks more like a cathedral with is soaring tower, varying roof levels, and side extensions. In place of the brick and stone of the other buildings, its all-stone exterior accents its religious significance and central location.  Step inside to admire the stained glass windows.  There’s much more to tell about this building at another time.

More recently the five buildings of Minoru Yamaski built between 1961 and 1966 (when his daughters attended Carleton) create great interest for their modern contrast to those early buildings.  Take a walk on campus to really see these and other buildings.  While you’re there, don’t forget to pause at the acclaimed Japanese Garden, designed by David Slawson in 1976, to listen quietly.

This column relies heavily on Carleton College’s architecture website for details about their campus (apps.carleton.edu/campus/architecture).  Read it to find specific details and descriptive photos as well as a map and even a chronology of the buildings built, architects, and specific notes.