Halls, Tombs and Houses: Student Society Architecture at Dartmouth
III. Greek-Letter Societies 1860-1894 | First halls in Hanover
These rooms were not merely temporary apartments, but permanently-occupied suites that involved extensive architectural changes. Several fraternities created impressive double-height meeting halls by renting the second and third floors of the building and ripping out the floor between. Delta Kappa Epsilon did this in about 1854,73 Psi Upsilon did the same at the south end of the Tontine about 1860.74 The fraternities presumably kept libraries, and by the 1880s some even had billiard rooms.
Edwin Bartlett, 1872 describes the Psi Upsilon hall in his time:
I can speak only for my own, quartered in a high and dignified room extending from front to rear of the building and provided with ante-room and "guard-room." Here we gathered to supplement the meager curriculum with debates, "conversations," book reviews, essays and the reading of plays. The old ways are neither possible nor necessary now. Fellowship and hospitality have taken the place of earnestness in self-improvement; but no alumni can look back on their fraternity life with warmer affection than those of that period. How we fed on the wisdom of the great minds a year or so ahead of us! And how we sung, with devilish glee, even so wanton a song as "Then when our little ones come on, We'll brand them all Psi Upsilon," evidently to the encouragement of legacies. And once a year, at the initiation feast, came forth the unwonted cigar to be cautiously burned perhaps near an open window.75
An 1895 magazine article on Dartmouth fraternities stated: "The chapter hall is rendered homelike and serves as a rendezvous for its members at all times, where, with piano and songs, pipes and stories, the hours are passed along."76
Another example of the migration of societies into permanent homes on Main Street was Phi Zeta Mu, which met until 1868 in Chandler Hall, the home of its parent institution north of today's Parkhurst. Psi Upsilon later agreed to let the society use its Tontine hall, and Phi Zeta Mu was able to fit up its own hall in that building in 1872. Vitruvian also occupied the Tontine, and only Alpha Delta Phi seems to have avoided the trend, meeting in quarters on the third floor of Dartmouth Hall for some time.77
The Main Street Fire of 4 January 188778 destroyed the Inn and everything down to what is now Ledyard National Bank. The loss of the Tontine forced six societies to seek new homes.79 Phi Zeta Mu and others rented rooms in the replacement Bridgman and Currier Blocks, which stand today.80 Vitruvian moved down to Whitecomb's Block (today's Ledyard Bank), which the local Odd Fellows also used from 1890-1900.81 Psi Upsilon moved up the street to the Carter Block, now the site of the Lang Building (the Gap). But not all Main Street halls were brick blocks: after the fire Delta Kappa Epsilon moved to "more pretentious and comfortable quarters" on the second and third floors of the wooden Balch House, then used as a commercial building called the Davison Block. It stood on the site of today's Collis Center. Eighteen to twenty members of the society had rooms here,82 which likely made it an exceptional case.
A number of new fraternities originated in the period 1870-90, and they continued to meet in halls along Main Street. Students founded these groups after a pause of more than ten years since the advent of the Chandler organizations, and by now there was little resistance from the faculty.83 Theta Delta Chi of 1869 soon moved into the mansarded brick Dartmouth National Bank building next to the Balch House, on what is now the lawn in front of Collis.84 The Granite Chapter of the Q.T.V. began on 28 May 1881 as the only secret society of the Agricultural College, since state school students were not allowed in Dartmouth clubs. The faculty gave Q.T.V. permission to meet in the mezzanine of Culver Hall, the home of its parent institution that stood between today's South Fayerweather and the Sphinx.85 Phi Delta Theta of 188486 moved into the Tontine and occupied its post-fire replacement. Nationally, the three main fraternities (Alpha Delta Phi, Delta Kappa Epsilon and Psi Upsilon, each of which had outposts at Dartmouth) had about 25 chapters apiece by 1883; the other four main societies had about ten each87 but none at Dartmouth.
What remains of the Main Street halls today? Fire and development have eradicated most signs that student clubs once occupied places on Main Street. Along with the Tontine, the new western Bridgman Block burned in 1906 and left homeless the Pukwana Club, precursor to Sigma Nu; Delta Kappa Epsilon, which had been burned out again in 1900; Phi Sigma Kappa, now Phi Tau; as well as the Odd Fellows. Of the current Main Street buildings, at least the Currier and eastern Bridgman Blocks, and the western Bridgman Block (Co-Op), had halls in them at one time. Few traces are likely to survive since the buildings' owners have changed the rooms extensively over time, renting them to students and businesses.
It was not along Main Street but in the freestanding meeting hall that the secret society's cultivation of menace and mystery expressed itself most strongly. Today the iconography seems burlesque Victorian, but members took their symbols seriously. Fraternity members took blood-oaths; their shields were replete with flames, demons, skulls and mystical symbols. The badge of Dartmouth's Phi Zeta Mu, for example, places three skulls beneath a surveyor's instrument, since the club served the Scientific Department. The air of mystery that surrounds the fraternity came to inform the look of the buildings these organizations built.
Contrary to its nominal purpose, one of the goals of the secret society is usually to make its existence known to the public, to be the subject of public speculation. Though buildings required more resources than a rented hall, they gave the advantages of being both more permanent and more prominent. Secret societies build meeting halls as much to proclaim their existence as to have a simple place to gather.88 But very few American college societies had their own buildings before the Civil War. Historians seem to regard Delta Kappa Epsilon's 1853 occupation of a cabin at Kenyon College of Gambier, Ohio as the first freestanding fraternity hall in the country.89 The first substantial society building seems to be the Skull & Bones tomb at Yale of 1856, the first of what are now two joined pavilions90 (Figs. 5a, 5b). Harvard's societies, even its eighteenth-century ones, had no such buildings of their own at this time.
In 1860 the Kappa Kappa Kappa society erected a hall in Hanover on College Street,91 the first freestanding hall in town and one of the earliest dedicated society buildings in the country92 (Fig. 6). The group had created a plan for the building in 1857; the hall stood adjacent the later Wilson Hall and was demolished at some time in the 1960s. The hall was a single-story clapboard building of about 38 feet deep by 28 feet wide, according to Sanborn maps. The building resembled a simple flat-roofed box, a massing that lent it an aura almost as tomblike as it was houselike. Thus it resembles the original pre-addition block of the Skull & Bones tomb. The building clearly contains a single volume, with perhaps an entrance vestibule or guard room. A single fireplace heated the hall. Three tall windows punctuated the side walls, and a similar pair of windows flanked a central door in the front facade. The occupants rarely opened the shutters, intensifying the air of mystery about the place. The large windows fit the building's style and were a bid for a character more institutional than domestic, calling out the fact that this was not a home. Ornamental brackets supported the deep cornice projection of the slightly Italianate building and cast deep shadows, a sharp contrast with the traditional pitched roofs of the homes that stood elsewhere on the street.
Ashton Willard wrote:
Since the secret society movement in American colleges has gained sufficient strength to provide something more than temporary and shifting quarters for its members, a number of buildings of "Society Halls," as they are called, have been designed and erected which have a character all their own. I say "character all their own," but I should limit this by saying that they have a sort of kinship with funereal and sepulchral architecture The original designers of these structures wished to have them declare their purpose distinctly and to proclaim to everyone in unmistakable terms that they were intended to veil something from the vulgar gaze; and not only from the vulgar gaze, but the gaze of every one except of an exclusive and selected few, who alone were to be permitted to cross the threshold.92a
At first no programmatic difference existed between buildings of the class societies of Yale and the fraternities at Dartmouth. The buildings were simply meeting rooms, following the pattern of Masonic temples with their lodge rooms and guard rooms. The same existed at Kenyon where four later fraternities followed the example of Delta Kappa Epsilon, building halls in the woods and occupying simultaneous dormitory accommodations at the college.
But within a decade societies nationwide began injecting a new purpose into the old mold. The Alpha Delta Phi House of 1872 is the single Dartmouth example of this change (Fig. 7). A remarkable and largely forgotten building in Dartmouth's history, it was a brick hall that represented the grandest expression in Hanover of the boxy and mysterious hall model, but with a new component: the residence. The building cost the society $4,000.93 For almost thirty years no other College society could afford to build its own building, with the next fraternity building made of brick not arriving until fifty years later. Like the contemporary and rather churchlike Delta Kappa Epsilon Temple at Colgate (1877), a residence and meeting hall (Fig. 8), the Dartmouth building neither favors the domestic over the secret nor separates the two functions of ordinary living and secret meeting. Even though the organization had added the new program of living quarters, the form of the building disguises the fact.
Elsewhere societies would go to great lengths to continue the hall tradition--even after acquiring a separate structure for residential living. For example 1888 "Cloister" that H. Edwards Ficken designed as the house of Book and Snake, founded in 1863 as a Sheffield Scientific society at Yale (Figs. 9a, 9b), was separate from the Ionic temple where the group met (1901, Louis R. Metcalfe) (Fib. 9c).94 Since they were three-year fraternities, the Sheffield societies required residential facilities,95 yet they often followed the example of the class society by building an evocative meeting hall entirely separate. When Brite & Bacon designed the ca. 1906 Colony for the Berzelius Society, founded 1848,96 they used Harvard brick in a Renaissance design.97 But the society's hall of 1910 is a blank cubic stone building, designed by Don Barber. Even when an architect combined the two features in one building, he occasionally used typological conventions to render them visually distinct, as in the 1913 St. Anthony's, the combined hall and house of Delta Psi that Charles C. Haight designed98 (Fig. 10).
Why was a sense of mystery important? These Greek-letter organizations were debating societies, so why did they not occupy parliamentary halls, or Greek temples that were monuments to oratory? Perhaps it was their slightly underground status. Perhaps it was the character of the particular revival styles in vogue when the societies built their buildings. Or perhaps it was a means of expressing the secrecy and exclusiveness that the organizations emphasized over their predecessors. At Dartmouth the Alpha Delta Phi House marks the end of an era for the Greek-letter fraternity, as later fraternities abandoned the secretive mode. Though some fraternities would continue to occupy Main Street and other halls until the first decade of the twentieth century, especially when they were in their fledgling years, from now on all new fraternity buildings would incorporate bedrooms and follow domestic models more suited to a family house in town than a deadly-serious secret men's club. The hall tradition would be left to the senior societies.