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Dartmouth College Library Bulletin

Notes from the Special Collections



Anyone visiting the Dartmouth campus the week following Commencement 1997 would have seen a demolition crew inside Webster Hall removing the stage, the balcony seating, the balcony itself, and all of the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical fixtures. Just to the north of the building, in the area between the apse of Webster and the southeast wing of Baker Library, another crew was busily excavating a large pit nearly as large as the space available. Seventeen months after the start of this project, the building will be reopened as Dartmouth's newest library: The Diana M. and Bruce V. 1978 Rauner Library in Webster Hall. While retaining its original name and outside appearance, the interior of the building will be markedly changed and its use will be substantially different.

Webster Hall was originally planned as a memorial for Alumni of the College. The first record of such a plan was in the report of the Trustee committee on buildings which, on 8 June 1894, reported that property had been secured upon which the College could construct the new buildings needed for growth.[1] Without wasting time, President Tucker sent out a four-page printed brochure on 12 June, appealing to all Alumni to fund a memorial hall for Alumni.[2] The general design of the building was approved that same year with the plans of architect Charles A. Rich 1875 accepted at the Trustees' meeting in May of 1901.[3]

The centennial of Daniel Webster's graduation in the Class of 1801 was a time of great celebration at the College. Speeches, concerts, and a series of special programs occurred over a period of several days in September. On 25 September the cornerstone of Webster Hall was laid, to much fanfare and acclaim. Frank Sherman Streeter 1874, chair of the Trustees' building committee, stated:

Laying the cornerstone of Webster Hall, 1901.

We are now beginning the erection of a new structure which is to serve a double purpose. In this building will be carried on the active administration of the College. On the main floor will be found the offices of the president, treasurer, dean, trustees, and faculty. Here will be the working center of the College life. The upper floor will be used exclusively for academic occasions. In a stately hall will be gathered and preserved all that will keep fresh in the general mind the romantic beginnings of the College, her splendid history, and the fine achievements of her more illustrious sons in the work of the world.[4]

Webster Hall under construction, 1907.

Construction of the edifice was begun shortly thereafter. What had been started with much fanfare was brought to a sudden halt with the disastrous fire of 18 February 1904 that destroyed Dartmouth Hall. As a key building in the College complex, it was mandatory that it be quickly rebuilt, and all available funds were co-opted for this need.

It was not until the very generous offer of Stephen Crosby 1849 to provide $50,000 for the completion of Webster Hall that work was recommenced.[5] In the following year, the Trustees approved a final plan for the construction not to exceed $105,000. Two months after this approval, the final cost was capped at $116,000 with an additional appropriation in 1907 of $5,000 for seating.[6] The great bronze doors that grace the center of the south fa�ade were given in 1907 by John Weyman Jones 1841 as a memorial to his class.[7]

The Dartmouth, in the issue of 29 March 1907, provided a lengthy description of the new building:

Interior of Webster Hall, ca. 1907.

The steel frame of the structure rests on foundations of pink Lebanon granite. The brick work is laid in Flemish bond with black headers placed indiscriminately, -in the so-called Harvard style. . . . Indiana limestone with terra cotta cornices is used for trimmings. The front is additionally ornamented by four Corinthian limestone columns. The length of the main building, including the semi-circular apse, is 128 feet, and the width is 90 feet from transept to transept. The ground plan of the building is in the form of a Greek cross . . .. The front vestibule will have a marble floor and white enameled panel wainscoting. . . . The ceiling will be finished in heavily coffered panels of ornamented plaster, and the walls in white woodwork and decorated plaster.[8]

Webster Hall was dedicated on Dartmouth Night in 1907. As a part of the ceremony, President Tucker outlined the history and development of the building and declared it a fitting memorial. His speech was followed by others as well as by music, poetry, and the peal of bells.[9]

In the decades following the dedication, many events were held in the building. Lectures by notable American and world figures-some mainstream, others controversial-were given to students, faculty, and townspeople. Concerts by orchestras and soloists-Marian Anderson sang in 1937-were held. Theatrical performances by student groups as well as professional troupes were given. Great Issues speakers challenged many classes in the building. In what is perhaps unique to New Hampshire, presidential candidates met and debated here.

By the late 1930s, there was agitation to replace Webster Hall's auditorium with a 'new' Webster Hall. The Dartmouth, in 1939, reported that 'The present Webster Hall is small and dated. It is not adequate to cater to the needs of modern Dartmouth.'[10] Later issues of the newspaper in the same year reported that plans for a new structure might be delayed by the war in Europe and that the costs might be near a million dollars for a new building.[11] A new stage was installed in Webster in 1941, but the main change in the use of the building occurred in 1944 with the burning of the Nugget Theater. The College made Webster Hall available to the theater as a venue for movies with a projection booth and poured-concrete exit stairs on the east and west sides of the building added.[12]

The College was aware for many years that additional resources and space were needed for the Library. In 1964, the Trustees Planning Committee charged the Libraries Study Council with the preparation of a report and recommendations on the future of the libraries at Dartmouth. A Faculty Subcommittee on Library Resources was established by the Council, and its report of 1 May 1966 contains several recommendations of interest. Recommendation III noted that any space available on the 'library quadrangle,' the block bounded by Main, Elm, College, and Wentworth Streets, should be dedicated to library service. Recommendation XI stated that future growth of Special Collections would probably mandate a separate building and that the building should be located in the library quadrangle.[13]

While Webster Hall was not explicitly mentioned in these recommendations, concern for the physical structure and its use was evident in the next decade. The crumbling fa�ade was repaired in 1970 with temporary staging placed in front of the building to prevent falling debris from hitting students. The Dartmouth commented: 'Long regarded as the College's "white elephant," Webster has been used only rarely since the construction of Hopkins Center.'[14] Discussion of the use of Webster continued through the decade. The Facilities Planning Board authorized a study of the future use of the building, including a student center as one option, in 1976 and Vice President Frank Smallwood wrote at length about the possible uses for Webster shortly thereafter. President Kemeny was quoted in The Dartmouth as stating that 'Having it used only ten times a year as an auditorium is a waste of one of the most central buildings on campus.'[15]

In 1978, a committee was established, with then Associate Professor of History James Wright as chair, to study the future uses of Webster. At the outset it was clear that its best use was not as an auditorium and that it might be converted into classrooms and lecture rooms. Two years later, it was announced that the renovations of the building, first proposed in 1962, were again delayed. One plan, suggested in 1977, for a center for the social sciences, was shelved as a result of the generous gift that enabled the construction of the Rockefeller Center.[16]

In 1989, the Trustees authorized a feasibility study for the renovation of Webster Hall into a special collections library. This study was undertaken by the architectural firm of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates of Philadelphia in 1990. The report was completed in the spring of 1990 and provided a working plan, cost estimates, and proposed designs for the structure.[17] Subsequent reports and studies during the year refined these designs. Two years later, while funds were being raised, Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, in conjunction with the Boston architectural firm of Shepley Bulfinch Richardson and Abbott, produced a revised report and more refined plans.[18] The design development phase of the project was completed in 1993 and the project was set aside while funds were being raised.

Funding for the project was secured in 1996 and designs, plans, and specifications were reviewed and refined. Jackson Construction Company of Dedham, Massachusetts, was engaged as the construction manager for this very complex project. As was noted above, work began in June of 1997, and the planned completion date is the fall of 1998. What follows is a description of the renovations and additions to the complex that will result in a state-of-the-art special collections library within a splendid turn-of-the-century edifice.

The exterior of the building will be changed but little. One significant change will be the removal of the two poured-concrete stairs on the east and west sides and the replacement of the windows that were removed to install exit doors at those steps. The other exceptionally important change to the exterior is the addition of a ground-level entrance, just to the west of the steps on the south fa�ade, that will allow individuals with mobility challenges a barrier-free entry. Other changes will be less visible but very important. All of the exterior windows will be reglazed with low-e, ultraviolet light-shielded glass. This will not only improve energy savings, but will also serve to protect the rare and valuable materials within the collections from damaging light. Additional insulation and a new roof will also improve energy efficiency as well as assist in stabilizing temperature and climate within the building. Finally, the fabric of the building will be cleaned and regrouted as necessary.

One of the very important aspects of this project is that the shelving and storage capacity of the library will be greatly increased. In its current quarters, Special Collections is full, and many materials are now housed in the Storage Library. With the completion of construction of Rauner Library, materials in Special Collections, including materials currently in the Storage Library, will be in one location. This can be accomplished in large measure by the construction of underground stacks between the southeast wing of Baker Library and the apse of Webster. These stacks, obviously watertight and secure, will be equipped with mobile shelving that permits 30% more storage than fixed shelving. The stacks will be connected to Baker through the current Map Room, which will allow for the movement of materials by staff from one library to the other. When the project is finished and the landscaping of the site completed, the underground stacks will not be visible; they are completely below grade.

The lower level of Rauner Library in Webster Hall will provide for two vital components of the library: mechanical equipment and staff work areas. The mechanical areas are designed to hold all of the equipment necessary for the physical functions of the building. These include four large air-handling units-the largest of which is the size of a semi trailer-that will maintain temperature and humidity levels to very close tolerances and provide triple filtration for all the air in the building. Additional equipment includes an emergency generator, pumps for the elevators, and controls for the fire suppression system. Staff work areas will include curatorial offices, work spaces for all members of the department, a darkroom, and a small conservation workshop.

Entering into the building from the Green, the visitor will walk into the foyer. This area will be restored to its original design with two critical changes. The west stairway will be rebuilt to fire code standards and, next to this new stairwell, will be an elevator to provide access to all levels of the building and immediate access to the ground-level, barrier-free entrance. The auditorium will be transformed into a reading room that will include seating for researchers, computer terminals for access to online information, and the department's reference collection. In the past, much of this reference collection was not readily accessible to patrons. The new reading room will be lined with bookshelves filled with the reference collection as well as with copies of The Dartmouth, the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine, and the Aegis. At the north end of this room, and extending out from the apse and the proscenium arch, will be a spectacular four-level glass-enclosed rare book stacks. One of the major challenges in the project was to stabilize the foundation of Webster and underpin it to support the tremendous weight of these stacks when filled with books.

Under the existing balconies will be a series of rooms designed to make the collections more accessible to Dartmouth students and other researchers. Two seminar rooms, each designed to accommodate a class the size of a First-Year Seminar, will permit faculty to hold classes within the library and to utilize the resources of the collection with ease. Prior to this time, it was necessary to hold the class in the Treasure Room, a prospect that was inconvenient for both the instructor and other researchers. One of these seminar rooms has been designed as a 'smart classroom,' with all of the electronic accoutrements required to meet the current Dartmouth standard for such rooms. This type of classroom will permit the use of computer displays, sound and video play, and remote viewing of tapes.

Two other rooms under the balconies will be of use to students and other researchers. The first is a quiet study room that is designed to permit students working on small group projects to work together without disrupting other researchers in the reading room. This room can also be used by researchers working on long-term projects who need space to spread out materials and leave them without fear of having them disturbed. The second small room has been designated a study aids room. Here the researcher will find tools needed to provide for close examination of books, photographs, and manuscripts. Included in the equipment for the room are a binocular microscope, ultraviolet and infra-red light sources, light table, and equipment for playing sound recordings.

The final public room on this level is the Ticknor Room. Containing the historic fireplace, furniture, and books from the Boston library of George Ticknor 1807 that are now in Baker Library Room 213, the room will be reinstalled in Webster. The furniture and books were bequeathed to the College in 1943 by William Dexter, the great-grandson of Ticknor, and funding for the original installation was provided by bibliophile Thomas W. Streeter 1904.[19] The reinstallation of this room in Rauner Library will be a fitting memorial to an eminent scholar and book collector.

The balconies will be completely transformed. The risers and seats have been removed, and the east and west balconies will be converted into quiet and comfortable reading and study areas, similar in ambiance to the Tower Room in Baker Library. The College is aware of the need for such study space, and the balconies will become a popular study area for students. The south balcony will have on its walls the portraits of the fifteen former presidents of the College.

Transforming Webster Hall, originally conceived of as a memorial to the alumni of the College, into Rauner Special Collections Library in Webster Hall, will provide the College with a major new library facility that will house, as is appropriate, the archives of the institution, manuscripts and printed works of Alumni (many of which are now considered rare books), the rare books collections and other manuscript collections, and the photographic heritage of the College. The new library will provide adequate and proper seating and facilities for members of the Dartmouth community to make use of the rare and valuable collections within Special Collections and will welcome students to continue their scholarly endeavors.

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[1] Dartmouth College Trustees' Records, 5:110-113. Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, DA-1.

[2] A copy of the brochure can be found in President Tucker's papers, Dartmouth College Library, Special Collections, DP-9, file 4e.

[3] Trustees' Records, 5:138-139; and 5:291. See supra, 63-80, for Rich's contribution to the architecture of the College.

[4] The Proceedings of the Webster Centennial, The Commemoration by Dartmouth College of the Services of Daniel Webster to the College and the State, Held upon the Occasion of the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Graduation of Webster, ed. Ernest Martin Hopkins (Hanover: Dartmouth College, 1902), 170. The most comprehensive documentation of the event, aside from the Proceedings, can be found in Marvin D. Bisbee, Scrapbook of the Dartmouth College Webster Centennial, 1901. Bisbee, a member of the Class of 1871, was Librarian of the College from 1886 to 1910. The Dartmouth also described both the plans for the building and the laying of the cornerstone (20 September 1901), 4; and (27 September 1901), 31.

[5] Trustees' Records, 5:374-375. Crosby's offer was accepted by the Trustees on 26 May 1905 with a new agreement (5:379-380) drawn up a month later. The Dartmouth (13 October 1905), 35, 38, announced Crosby's gift and, many months later, noted that the Trustees had approved the restart of construction (1 June 1906), 450.

[6] Trustees' Records, 5:402; 5:416; and 5:429.

[7] Trustees' Records, 5:440.

[8] The Dartmouth (29 March 1907), 393-394.

[9] The Dartmouth (22 October 1907), 73-80.

[10] The Dartmouth (16 June 1939), 3.

[11] The Dartmouth (20 September 1939), 1; and (1 November 1939), 3.

[12] The Dartmouth (18 September 1941), 7, records the plan for the new stage while The Dartmouth Log (4 February 1944), 1, 5, describes the fire at the Nugget and the transformation of Webster into a movie theater.

[13] Dartmouth College, Libraries Study Council, Report (1966). The report of the Faculty Subcommittee on Library Resources is found on pages 40-52 with the cited recommendations on pages 46 and 49.

[14] The Dartmouth (15 October 1970), 1.

[15] The Dartmouth (8 November 1976), 1; (15 November 1976), 4; and (11 January, 1977), 1.

[16] The Dartmouth (2 May 1978), 1; and (2 October 1980), 1.

[17] Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Special Collections in Webster Hall, A Feasibility Study (7 May 1990).

[18] Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, Special Collections in Webster Hall, Revised Report (4 March 1992).

[19] Dartmouth College Library, The George Ticknor Room in Baker Memorial Library at Dartmouth College (Hanover, 1964).

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DCLB--A98--Cronenwett 1.2

Last Updated: 5/3/12