The cornerstones of Syracuse University

A school archivist traces SU's history back to the five original campus buildings.

Syracuse University’s campus is rich with history and in particular its buildings. Mary O’Brien has been the reference archivist at Syracuse University for 38 years. O’Brien explains what the university’s founders originally had planned for SU and how the campus got its unique architecture.

The Original Vision

The Hall of Languages was actually not supposed to be one of a kind. It was going to be the first of many halls, the Hall of Science, the Hall of Math, and so on. The Hall of Languages was going to only hold language classes like Italian, Greek, and French.

Photo: Syracuse University Archives

See a display highlighting SU's first four campus buildings in Crouse College's main hallway through December.

However, when a severe depression struck the United States the plan for the having many halls was scraped. The university had to make due with just the Hall of Languages for more than 10 years.

O’Brien said while there is a good possibility the other halls would be modeled after the Hall of Languages there was no concrete architecture plans made.

“I don’t know all the way back if they were able to built all those halls maybe they would have had identical looking buildings for the Hall of Languages, the Hall of History and everything,” she said.

A Plan For Architecture

One of SU’s selling points is its unique architecture. O’Brien said the university is very proud of the lack of cohesive architecture.

However, former professor and architect Archimedes Russell planned Tolley Humanities, Holden Observatory, and John Crouse College. “Yes, there is a little bit of sameness in the sense of these Massive, Victorian buildings. But that was the style and even so they are different,” O'Brien said.

There was a push in the late 1920s and early 1930s for the campus architecture to be more of the same. You can see this in the architecture of the Maxwell School and Hendricks Chapel.

However, when the Great Depression struck the nation there was no money to build buildings anymore so the plan stopped with those two structures. 

Fun Facts About Campus

Hall of Languages: The art director for The Addams Family television series was alumnus Edward Ilou. Ilou used the Hall of Languages as his inspiration for the Addams Family’s home.

Holden Observatory: Holden has been on the move. Workers used 12 girders and 80 wheels to move the 320-ton Holden Observatory from its original spot where Eggers Hall is currently to its current location.

John Crouse College of Fine Arts: Members of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity played the Crouse chimes for almost a century. The students that ring the bells today call themselves the Chimemasters.

Tolley Humanities Building: The building was built to house the library collection of the German historian Leopold von Ranke, purchased for the university.

The “Lost Building:” In 1909 when Archbold Gymnasium was built the men moved out and the building was called the "Women's Gymnasium" or the "Old Gym."

If you want to learn more about the history of Syracuse University, check out the archive web site.

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