Skip Navigation

The Building of South College

Published in Alma Mater II 1955-1956
By Casey Banas


The following is a paper turned in as a routine exercise in an English class by Casey Banas, a Sophomore from Chicago. The instructor, Marion Kingston Stocking, gave it a high grade and suggested that Banas submit it for publication. The pages of ALMA MATER will always be open for undergraduate work of as high quality and alumni interest as the following.

THE Beloit College campus consisted of two buildings, Middle College and North College, during the 1850s. The college fathers decided that a third building, to be used as a Chapel and preparatory school, should be constructed. In 1858 the building was erected at a cost of $5,000, of which $3,000 came from contributions by the citizens of Beloit.

     Plans for the building were sketched by President A. L. Chapin, although most of the architectural work was done by Lucas Bradley of Racine, Wisconsin, who also was the architect of North College and the First Congregational Church of Beloit. The college officials certainly chose an architect of high repute to design their Chapel, as these two quotes from the September, 1938, issue of the WISCONSIN MAGAZINE OF HISTORY and the January 11, 1889 issue of the RACINE JOURNAL bear witness:

     One wonders where this architect Bradley received his professional training since in 1851 Racine was a mere backwoods town. The feeling and appreciation for things architectural had not been cultivated by the man on the street. Yet here was an architect practicing his profession as if he belonged to the immortals like Bulfinch, Latrobe, and Mills.


     As an architect and builder he [Bradley] stood at the head of his profession, and had no superior in the state . . . His reputation was such that public buildings, colleges and asylums in various parts of our states stand to-day [sic] monuments both of his skill and his conscientious qualities.

     After the plans for the building were completed, a contract for cream-colored bricks was made with Birge & Graham of Whitewater, Wisconsin, who acknowledged the agreement in a letter dated August 13, 1858.

     We [Birge & Graham] have concluded to contract with you for 50 thousand bricks, provided we can agree as to prices. We can furnish them as you wish unaform [sic] light color . . . We will deliver . . . 6.25 Dollars for thousand . . . We are anxious to make this contract with you that the Quality of our brick may be better known in your place. For this reason, we offer the above low price.

     The cream-colored type of brick of which the building is made is an unusual kind of brick. The MILWAUKEE JOURNAL of July 28, 1946, tells of the discovery of this type of building material.

     Bricks turned cream because of the action of heat, to which they were subjected, on lime and certain other minerals in the Milwaukee clay deposits which were used. At first, the brickmakers were dismayed by the strange new color – a departure from the usual red manufactured in other localities. But the bricks proved of excellent quality and the cream color drew attention from home builders and others.

FOLLOWING the making of the plans and contract for bricks, construction on the building progressed rapidly as evidenced by three accounts of the work, the first written in September by Joseph Emerson, Professor of Greek, the second in October by William Porter, and the third in November, by a member of the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY staff.

     The new college building is up one story. It is of cream colored bricks from Whitewater . . . The building looks very pleasantly among the green trees.

     The new building is receiving its roof; the walls all up. There had been many a week's detention because of rain and high winds. The building looks well.

     The white brick walls of the new chapel are now completed, and the list shingle had been laid on the roof. Externally, the building is finished; the internal work is progressing.

     The Chapel was finally formally dedicated on Wednesday, April 20, 1859, the first day of the summer term. A new hymn was especially written for the dedication by William M. Rose, Class of 1859. This hymn, which also was used as the processional hymn at the re-dedication of the Edward Dwight Eaton Chapel on December 12, 1954, was first sung by the Congregational Church choir under the direction of James W. Strong. The words of this dedication hymn reflect the philosophy of the college fathers, and that same philosophy still prevails on the Beloit campus today.

'Tis well that we who gather here;
      To seek for wisdom in our youth,
Should in the halls of learning rear
      An altar to the God of truth.

For Thou art truth; in Thee alone
      Is perfect wisdom found, O Lord!
The highest truth that man has known,
      Is drawn from Thine eternal Word.

The studies of all earthly things
      Without Thy truth, are blind and vain;
The teachings that thy Spirit brings,
      Alone suffice to make them plain.

To us that higher knowledge give:
      The truth that makes thy children free,
The truth whereon our souls might live,
      The knowledge of ourselves and Thee.

Let thought in wider circles roll;
      Let science reach a farther flight;
Thy wisdom grant to every soul.
      That all the world may walk in light.

     The Chapel actually was located on the second floor of the building. On the lower floor was a preparatory department, or high school. This preparatory school was a necessity to the life of the college, since at that time not one public school in the vicinity could meet the entrance requirements of the College.

     Two winding stairways led up to the Chapel, which was filled with homely pews. Many times on these stairways were heard, during the hush preceding the service, footsteps of a belated student trying to reach his seat before the bell sounded to start the service. Janitor John Pfeffer, who could see a student racing toward the Chapel from his belfry post in Middle College, occasionally mercifully held off the ringing of the bell to allow the student to reach the Chapel in time.

     The platform in the Chapel was situated at the west end, on which sat the faculty members with the President, who sat in the middle of the group in an armchair behind a desk. Services were held twice a day, at 7:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. However, the daily afternoon service was moved back to 4:30 p.m. during winters in order to save kerosene. Actually, there was only one light in the old chapel – a birdcage-like swinging lamp near the desk.

     The President of the College always conducted the afternoon service when he was at home, while the morning service was led by the members of the faculty, who rotated their turns. A Sunday afternoon service of one hour was a weekly feature, and revolved around a sermon or a lecture, usually given by the President.

THE Chapel remained the same physically until the summer of 1872 when the woodwork was made darker, and the ceilings and walls were covered with a new coat of fresco. In February, 1879 plans were made for a new Chapel organ, which arrived on the last day before the old organ had succumbed to its ultimate fate, as described in the April 17, 1879 edition of the ROUND TABLE.

     This week the pesky old thing did give out, and that too, right at the beginning of the evening Te Deum. The organist turned pale, the choir red, the faculty got up and sung, the students generally laughed. The old box would emit contortive squeaks as long as the organist kept the paddle going, and had he not been as badly plighted as the organ, he would have stopped long before he did. It was well for the sanitary condition of the students that its wind gave out. Late that evening the organist held a post mortem examination, and found that the mice inside of the instrument had eaten the strings, wires, sounding boards, etc., of which the thing is made up. There remains now only the outside box, keys and pump-handle.

     Staying within the realm of music, we note that the first written account of a college choir was in the BELOIT COLLEGE MONTHLY of October, 1871, when mention was made that the choir consisted of E. D. Eaton, leader and organist; W. E. Storm, first tenor; W. C. Dewey, second tenor; S. T. Kidder, first bass; and H. C. Olin, second bass. The MONTHLY of February, 1873, noted in an anecdote that the choir members were highly favored, since they could see all those who came in late without turning their heads, whereas the other 150 students had to make a full turn to see the stragglers.

     The subject of another priceless anecdote of the old Chapel concerned heat, or rather, the absence of heat. In the winter of 1872-73 lack of heat in the Chapel greatly discomforted the student body and caused them to submit the following statement to the faculty in the February, 1873 issue of the MONTHLY.

     We, the students of Beloit College, do respectfully submit to the Faculty of said College, that we have not, by due process of law, been tried for, and found guilty of, any crimes or misdemeanors, so that punishment may rightfully be inflicted upon us; and further, that even had we been so tried and found guilty, the Constitution of the United States provides that cruel and unusual punishments shall not be inflicted. With all due respect to the "powers that be," we further submit that it is subjecting us to a cruel, though by no means unusual punishment, to compel us to attend College exercises in a chapel and recitation-rooms where overcoats and mufflers are as necessary as they are outdoors. For a more abundant supply of caloric we do humbly petition, and, if on prayer cannot be granted, we would then petition that morning prayers be suspended and recitations by [sic] made as short as possible when the temperature of the rooms where the exercises are held is so painfully suggestive of Greenland's icy mountains as it has been many times this term. If this reasonable petition be denied, we would cordially invite all our professors to be present every morning at prayers, and also to occupy the coldest corners of the recitation-rooms, that they may know how it is themselves. And that our petitions may receive a careful consideration, we will ever pray.

     Girl friends of the Beloit students (until 1895 Beloit was an all male college) brought about another Chapel problem. The ROUND TABLE ran a strong editorial on this situation on May 6, 1892.

     A strange infatuation has seized upon the students since the Sunday vesper services began. On every Sunday afternoon students come from all directions, not alone, nor yet in company with their mates, but with fair and blushing maidens leaning on their arms. When they reach the chapel they can not think for a moment of sitting in their ordinary seats, nor of parting for a few moments from their winsome companions, but they must betake themselves to the seats specially reserved for guests. The consequence is that the body of the house which ought to be filled with students is left half vacant while the other parts of the house are crowded. The faculty in asking the students to take their regular seats on Sunday evening have only requested a reasonable thing. Guests are always welcome at our chapel services whether on week day or Sabbath. But the services are primarily for the students, and the students should be in their proper places and not scattered all over the House. This leaves the remainder of the house free for the ushers to seat comfortably all visitors who choose to come. We can hardly restrain a smile when we see such a host of students making a rush to bring their "best girl" to vespers.

     Student pranks always find their way onto a college campus, and the old Chapel fell prey to several jokers. Perhaps the classic joke of Beloit College is the incident related in the BELOIT ALUMNUS of January, 1917, by George L. Collie of the Class of 1881.

     One June night, about the year 1879, a number of students took the annual campus hay crop, which had been raked up into cocks and carried it all up and piled it into the chapel. It took a good part of the night, but the students went home chuckling to think what consternation would ensue at the chapel hour next morning. When the students arrived there at the accustomed hour, there was not a wisp of hay in the building. John Pfeffer, the janitor, had arrived there early in the morning and thrown the hay all out through the windows. After chapel he came out and thus spoke to a knot of boys outside, who were wondering how it all happened. "Boys you vas like some of dose old disciples on the Lake by Galilee; you vorked all night and got nothings."

     The ROUND TABLE Of October, 1876 gives an account of an incident in front of the Chapel, which perhaps was the taking of the first picture of Beloit College.

     At the close of chapel exercises, not long since, a little man with a comical look stuck up a three-legged box with a glass eye, in front of the Chapel, and announced that in five minutes he could cage the whole College in his little box.

     There are still living today, some 26 men who, as Beloit College students between 1880 and 1892, attended chapel services in old "South College." In addition, of course, there are many Academy alumni who were "prep" students under "Papa" Burr, principal of the Academy from 1884 to 1919.

IN 1892 the Edward Dwight Eaton Chapel was built on College Street and the preparatory school, or Academy, was moved to Scoville Hall, which was built in 1890. The old Chapel thus became vacant, but not for very long since Mrs. Joseph Emerson, wife of Beloit's professor of Greek, advocated use of the building as an Art Hall. At the time Beloit College had no Art Department, but Mrs. Emerson then started the department by donating to the College a small bust of Victor Hugo, her art collections, which included thousands of photographs, her art library and casts plus many other objects of artistic value. On Wednesday, May 24, 1893, the building was dedicated as the first Art Hall of Beloit College. That particular date was chosen because it marked the forty-fifth anniversary of the coming to Beloit College of professors Bushnell and Emerson. At the dedication proceedings portraits of these two educators were unveiled for the first time. At the formal dedication exercises sixty invited guests listened to speeches by President Eaton, Professor Emerson and Mrs. Emerson.

     Perhaps the most important art exhibit procured by the College for display in the Art Hall was the group of Greek casts, purchased from the Greek government at a cost of $5,000. The casts consisted of 112 replicas of antique Greek sculpture, selected by eminent archaeologists, and put in molds from which these were first impressions. They provided examples of Greek sculpture from its most primitive beginnings.

     The story behind the purchase of these Greek casts provides much anecdotal material. Instrumental in bringing the collection to Beloit College was Mrs. Emerson, who first saw the casts on display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Determined to purchase the casts for the College, she and her husband sent letters to friends of the College to raise money for the purchase.

     However, the Greek government considered the idea of donating the casts to Chicago's Art Institute. A cable by the Greek consulate, Charles L. Hutchinson, to Athens told the Greek government of Beloit's interest in the collection, and then he was given permission to sell the casts to Beloit. The Emersons were given a deadline by which to raise the necessary money, and almost failed to do so.

     One backer of the College, Lucius G. Fisher, whose father was a trustee of the College, did not have money to contribute to the cause, but rather donated to Beloit five lots at Jeffrey Avenue near 74th Street in Chicago, so that Beloit might use these lots to gain the money. He let the College have these lots on the condition that the Greek collection would be named in honor of his father. The College was unable to gain any revenue from the lots and also could not raise the $5,000 from any other source. The deadline day came around, and the very despondent Emersons were ready to throw in the towel. Then Fisher, like an angel sent down from heaven, came to the rescue. He took back his five lots and donated the money to make the purchase. The deadline date happened to be Fisher's fiftieth birthday. The Emersons, who were completely flabbergasted by the sudden turn of events, reached the consul's office only one hour before the deadline bearing the good news, then went to a florist and ordered 50 roses as a birthday present for Fisher.

     On June 20, 1894, the fiftieth anniversary of Beloit College, Fisher presented the Greek casts to the trustees of the College. From then on the casts were known as the Fisher Collections of Antique Greek Sculpture. At the presentation of the collection, Joseph Emerson expressed the College's sentiments in getting the casts.

     The gift is such a gift as no other college has or can have – a collection of representation of the most important extant remains of ancient Greek plastic art, selected and prepared with loving care by Greece herself as her choicest contribution to the great array of the best products of all nations in the great World's Exposition. And the College – now on her fiftieth birthday – bears a priceless garland. Those precious memorials of the beginnings of Greek art and of all our civilization have a new and great value as the memorial of such a father [L. G. Fisher, Sr.] of the College. Rich beyond account as these relics are as a record of ancient, and an instructor and inspirer of modern art, they shine also in the good will which gave them, and they will be an inspiration as well as a thanksgiving.

BUT before the casts could be set in the Art Hall, the building had to be somewhat altered. The stairways had to be changed to allow room to bring in the casts, which had to be disassembled into sections. Also, hardwood floors were laid on the first floor.

     Mrs. Emerson, who constantly spurred on progress in the Art Department, crusaded for a bigger Art Hall, and, in September, 1908, plans were drawn up for a two-story addition to the building on its north side. This plan was never carried out because the college officials wished to wait. Trustee Edward P. Bacon of Milwaukee spoke for the Board of Trustees and told Mrs. Emerson that he favored using the Art Hall as it stood until an adequate Art Hall could be built on a different site. Mrs. Emerson's dream became reality in 1930 when the Theodore Lyman Wright Art Hall was built.

THE building once again was without a purpose, but not for very long, for, on November 18, 1930, the social committee of the Associated Students brought up a plan to use the building as a student union. This idea apparently was not received very well, and was not approved. But, in January, 1931, a suggestion was made to convert the old Art Hall into a student-faculty lounge. plans were formulated to make it a place for card-playing, reading and dancing. The fraternities and sororities on campus agreed to pay for the necessary articles, which came to a cost of $1,700. This plan received the green light from the administration, for the students raised $200 by April 22 of the same year. The College made an agreement that they would begin to convert the building into a lounge after the students raised $500. The necessary money was raised, and, on June 7, 1931, the lounge was formally opened. At that time further plans were made for the installation of four pool and ping-pong tables in the basement.

     More improvements came about in the lounge in the fall of 1931. The floor was finished in a medium shade of cream, and figured wallpaper, also of a cream color, adorned the walls. The draperies were green and blue, and the moldings and stairs were of dark brown. On the walls were mirrors and oil paintings. Two davenports and several upholstered chairs, as well as many regular chairs, provided ample facilities for relaxation. A large oak table, two smaller tables and a piano completed the furnishings. The lighting fixtures were wheelshaped and made of brass. There were also two table lamps, one of which had a parchment shade decorated with campus scenes. The lounge received a $100 R.C.A. Victor radio on February 24, 1932. The radio was paid for by PanHellenic profits, inter-fraternity tea dance profits, contributions by the four sororities and the profits from a dance sponsored by the W.S.G.A. (Women's Self Government Association). Unfortunately, the student body began to misuse the lounge by throwing cigarette butts on the floor and by ruining the furniture. The lounge was then closed except for three evenings per week beginning May, 1932.

DURING the national depression of the 30s the college was troubled by the low enrollment and decided to furnish free bus service for students from Rockford who wanted to attend Beloit. Thus, in the fall of 1933 the old Chapel became headquarters for the commuting students and was known as the Rockford lounge. Lockers were provided for the commuters on the lower floor, and the upper floor was used as a lounge to which the students could go between classes. At one time 50 to 60 students from Rockford – more than 10 per cent of the student body at that time – attended Beloit via the services of the two college buses.

     The building was officially named "South College" in the late 1930s at the suggestion of an alumnus who felt that "Middle College" and "North College" needed to be balanced. Although this naming of the building was an official act of the Board of Trustees, it has never "caught on" for popular use, and terminology has followed function through its years as an art hall and student union.

     During the school year 1938-39 the building was taken over for administrative offices while extensive reconstruction of old Middle College was being carried out. It was at about this time also that the two winding staircases were removed, toilets installed, and a wider staircase built at the north end of the entrance corridor. At this time also, one central door was cut through and the two narrow doors leading from the entrance to the main first floor room were plastered up. Housed in the building on the first floor were the business office, president's, vice president's and registrar's offices; on the second floor were the new student and alumni office. The deans occupied rooms on the second floor of the library.

PLANS to use the building as a Student Union once again were brought up and this time were approved. After the building had been converted for use as a union, it was formally dedicated as the Student Union on Saturday afternoon, April 12, 1941, when President Irving Maurer christened it by breaking a bottle of Coca-Cola over the corner of the building. The president of the Associated Students, John Biester, who currently is professor of chemistry at Beloit, also played a major role in the dedication ceremonies. The decorations on the walls were done entirely by students in art classes. Among the wares served to the student body were bottled Cokes, cigarettes, coffee, malted milks, doughnuts, sandwiches and ice cream dixies. Cards were available with a deposit of a dime, and a nickelodeon furnished music. The Union was open approximately six hours a day, Monday through Saturday, and also was open four nights of the week for three hours each. The Union was then remodeled over the summer of 1941. An entirely new roof was put on, all the trim was painted, and the arched second floor window was removed and a large square window replaced it.

     When the building became the Union, the bookstore was moved into the building from the basement of North College. The actual Union and bookstore occupy the first floor, while the second floor has been used as a dance studio by Orchesis, the women's ballet group of Beloit College. Occasionally small dances have been held on the second floor following athletic events.

     The basement, affectionately known as "The Pit," also was used up until 1953 for small dances. "The Pit" also has been used as a classroom on occasions, giving professor and students an opportunity to have a very informal class discussion while sipping a cup of coffee or soft drink.

     Blueprints for a new Student Union calling for the rebuilding of Smith Gymnasium into a new Union were drawn in October, 1955, and construction is expected to begin soon. Thus, the cream-colored building to the south of Middle College will be empty again.