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Pearsons Hall / Jeffris-Wood Campus Center

Cornerstone: May 12, 1892
Dedication: January 13, 1893
Architect: Daniel H. Burnham
Named: for D.K. Pearsons, the largest individual benefactor in Beloit's history. Named also for Pierpont J.E. Wood, Wisc. attorney, former chairman of Warner Electric Brake and Clutch Co., and his wife Helen Jeffris Wood by their son, Stephen P.J. Wood, a former trustee.
Renovations: In 1931 flooring, plumbing, ventilation, wiring, and equipment was redone, and a skylight was added. In 1935 the departments of biology and botany were redone including the construction of a greenhouse. The building was finally renovated in 1984-85 by architect Edward Ware and re-dedicated on February 2, 1985.
Uses: Science hall from 1893-1967. Now used for meeting rooms, dining facilities, study lounges, student service offices, mail room, radio station, student government, and publication offices.

 

The Beloit College Digital Collections contains many scanned photos and documents from the archives' collection on Pearsons Hall, including typed and handwritten letters from Daniel H. Burnham and D.K. Pearsons regarding the construction of and funding for the building.

 

Building History

The following has been excerpted from "Beloit College's Pearsons Hall: Jeffris-Wood Campus Center" (1985), a publication produced for the building's 1985 re-dedication .

     Pearsons Hall of Science was erected in 1892-93 in honor of Dr. D. K. Pearsons, of Hinsdale, Illinois, whose gift made the building possible. D. K. Pearsons was a philanthropist with no direct ties to Beloit College. His association began in 1851, when he passed through Beloit -- and made a vow:

Beloit was but a small hamlet then. When we started on for Janesville, one of those big, burly fellows who always get into a new country, climbed into the wagon for a ride.

As we drove along we saw a brick building going up, and I asked the man, "What are they doing here?" "Why, there are some Yankee cranks building a college," he answered. That rather hit me. When they call me a Yankee, I take off my hat and bow; and when they call me an old Puritan, I make three bows. On the way to Janesville, I shook my fist in his face, and said, "Old fellow, I am going West, and in a few years to get rich, and when I do, I am going to help lift up these colleges that these 'Yankee cranks' are building up." I had my eye on Beloit at that time.

     Let the college president in 1889, Edward Dwight Eaton, take up the story from there:

Then suddenly came the bolt from the blue. Dr. D. K. Pearsons of Chicago, who as a boy in Vermont more than half a century before had first heard of Beloit, and who had had a glimpse of the young College in passing through the town nearly forty years ago, now in his seventieth year, after listening to a statement of the College's present situation and after personal investigation, determined to challenge the friends of Beloit to immediate action. In his morning mail on the tenth of May, 1889, the President found this laconic letter:

Pres. Eaton: If I will give your college $100,000, can you raise $100,000 more before July 1st? I mean business.

Truly, D. K. Pearsons

     Three years later construction began under the direction of the distinguished Chicago architectural firm, Burnham and Root.

 

An Architectural Treasure

     Pearsons Hall represents the work of a master firm of architects. In 1980, that architectural significance was recognized with the placement of the building on the National Register of Historic Places. Pearsons Hall also has had great importance in the life of Beloit College. From 1893 until 1967 it was the college's science center. At the time it was built, Pearsons Hall in one dramatic step transformed the character of the college from a classical academy into a modern institution of higher learning. The restoration of Pearsons Hall and its dedication as the Jeffris-Wood Campus Center in 1985 will have a comparable impact on the life of the institution.

     Pearsons Hall of Science is one of only three Burnham and Root structures still standing in the state of Wisconsin. Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912), a nationally recognized Chicago architect, was known for his civic planning for office buildings and for many other commissions. He was an organizer of remarkable executive ability, the Chief of Construction of the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition of 1893, and the planner of Chicago's dramatic lakefront. Earlier, with his partner John Wellborn Root (1850-1891), the firm of Burnham and Root (1873-1891) created such landmark Chicago office buildings as the Rookery and the Monadnock and Reliance Buildings.

     Pearsons Hall of Science, designed in 1891-1892, is a free adaption of the Romanesque Revival style, as practiced by Henry Hobson Richardson and others. The original plans, signed by Burnham, are now in the possession of Beloit College. The design also presumably owed much to Root. According to one account, "Plans were in the hand of Chief Architect Root at the time of his death." The cornerstone of Pearsons Hall of Science was laid on May 12, 1892, and the building was opened and dedicated on January 13, 1893.

 

In the Spirit of D. K. Pearsons

     With the construction in 1967 of the Chamberlin Hall of Science (also designed by a distinguished Chicago architect -- Harry Weese), Pearsons Hall lost its primary reason for existence, and gradually was abandoned and allowed to fall into disrepair. Fortunately, within the Beloit community there was a recognition of the building's historic and architectural significance, and that recognition led to its designation on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and to a renewed desire to preserve this distinctive structure for future generations. In 1981, a group of planning consultants, Dober and Associates, Inc., reviewing campus facility needs for the rest of the twentieth century, saw in Pearsons Hall the ideal site for a much-needed student and campus center. The biggest single obstacle would be the cost -- $3 million!

     Fortunately, in the spirit of D. K. Pearsons, there were far-sighted benefactors to be found -- individuals who recognized both the building's beauty and its potential uses for the college and the community.

     The campus center is named to honor the memory of Pierpont J. E. Wood, prominent Wisconsin attorney and industrialist and former chairman of the Warner Electric Brake and Clutch Company, and his wife, Helen Jeffris Wood, of Janesville. The naming gift in their honor was contributed by their son, Steven P. J. Wood, former trustee of the college and chairman of the board of Warner Electric Brake and Clutch Company.

     College Board of Trustees Chairman Harry C. Moore took a deep interest in the project, and through his initiative and personal financial support, the needed funds were raised. In recognition of his leadership, the center's main study lounge is named in his honor.

     Two anonymous contributions, one in memory of Mr. Wood's brother, Malcolm J. Wood; a major gift from the Consolidated Papers Foundation; and support from the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company, made the project a reality and provided an endowment to maintain and operate the building.

     Plaques in various areas of the building recognize past significant contributions to the life of the college by life trustees Emily Mead Bell and Thomas Mathers and by alumna and former trustee Marta Sutton Weeks. One such plaque recognizes generous past bequests to Beloit by more than a dozen individuals. The sculpture and original prints displayed in the center are the gift of Alvin J. Huss. Plantings surrounding the building were given to honor English professors David and Marion Stocking following their retirement in 1984 after 66 years of combined teaching service at Beloit.