Saying Goodbye to "Old" South College
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
This fall, UMass Amherst will break ground on the new South College Academic Facility, slated to open in 2016.
Standing in the same spot South College appears today (south of Machmer Hall and west of the W.E.B. Du Bois library), this state-of-the-art facility will be the new main headquarters for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts, housing the Dean's Office, the HFA Advising Center, and four departments: Art History; English; Philosophy; and Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies.
Photo Gallery: the forgotten spaces of "Old" South College.
But the new facility won't take the place of historic South College. This building project is unique in that it will renovate and expand on the existing structure, retaining the Chateauesque facade while incorporating a more modern aesthetic to the South and West sides of the building. This hybrid approach is fitting, considering the building's history. In fact, "Old" South College was considered new not that long ago.
South College, as it appears today, was built in 1885-87 as a replacement facility for the original South College, one of the founding structures of the then Massachusetts Agricultural College, which burned in 1885. The rapidity and quality of its re-birth following the fire is testimony to the importance of this building within the history of the institution. Renovated extensively in 1902 and again in 1939, when an extensive safety upgrade created the present plan, South College has been transformed over time from a residence to a mixed use academic and administrative structure. Although some of the original architectural detail – especially the peaked cupola at the corner tower – has been lost over time, South College remains a charming presence at the heart of what is now a burgeoning 21st century campus.
The original (1867) building, by Severance of Boston, was a dormitory for 47 students in 23 double rooms, and was gutted by fire in 1885 (caused by an explosion of a kerosene burner in an egg incubator!). The replacement configuration had 20 double rooms for students, while the southwest wing became the Biology Department with classrooms and specimen collections. The mansard-roofed tower was for used meteorological observation and its functionality was modeled after the Central Park Observatory (the towers are quite different in terms of appearance). Use of the building evolved from to become an administrative building in 1902 with a classroom on the basement floor. The student radio station, WMUA, once had studios in the tower, and several deans (including HFA's current dean, Julie Hayes), provost, and presidents—from Goodell to Mather—have had offices there.
The HFA Dean's Office, which has been based in South College for the last number of years, is temporarily displaced wheile construction is underway (you can find us in Dickinson Hall, on the hill between South College and the Recreation Center). We look forward to our new home, but cherish decades of memory and history in "Old" South College, much of which can be seen on its walls, in its halls, and around its many corners. A photo gallery, (work by Vlai Ly, English '14), showing the physical history of the building can be found here.