A Sense of Place
Before Morse-Ingersoll Hall materialized in 1930, Beloit citizens had beaten a well-worn path across campus at Emerson and College Streets as they made a shortcut to town from neighborhoods on the north end. In the late 1920s, with plans for a new humanities and social sciences building underway, this footpath could have been blocked by an imposing building if not for a graceful architectural solution. Chicago-based architects Granger and Bollenbacher designed the now 85-year-old Morse-Ingersoll Recitation Hall with a large central arch to encourage the traversing to continue.
An account of the time in College Archives reflects: “I know of no college building anywhere that has been built with such careful adaptation to the terrain, careful thought about the fact that it was to face two streets, and imaginative concern about one other circumstance: that for nearly a century the people of northeast Beloit had been in the habit of taking a diagonal path across the campus to town. Hence the arch, a public way through a college building, embodying the idea that Beloit College is a part of its community.” (The double-spaced typewritten page is believed to have been written by Helen Drew Richardson, wife of Professor Robert “Dickie” Richardson.)
A gift from Charles Morse, Jr. and his wife Charlotte Ingersoll Morse (class of 1899) made the construction of what was then Beloit’s main classroom building possible. The couple gave the college more than $100,000 toward the project and named it to honor their parents: Charles Morse, Sr., an industrialist, and Chalmers Ingersoll, a prominent editor. Both had helped to shape the city of Beloit.
When M-I first opened for classes in 1931, The Alumnus magazine called the solid brick structure with its Bedford stone trim and slate roof “thoroughly fireproof.” It contained 11 classrooms, 17 offices, and a second-story “Victrola room” for the language departments. The building featured a modern ventilation system, and its corridors, halls, and classrooms were designed to maximize natural light. On the second floor, skylights captured attic light and directed it into classrooms. The campus bookstore, psychology lab, and locker rooms for students to hang their coats and hats were all located in the lower level. The lecture hall we now call Richardson Auditorium had no name then, but it was intended to be used by Professor Dickie Richardson to give his “famous Monday morning history lectures.”
At a ceremony almost exactly 85 years ago, in November of 1930, then-College President Irving Maurer (at left with papers) invited donor and college trustee Charles Morse to lay the cornerstone to the Morse-Ingersoll Recitation Hall. Before it was permanently sealed, they placed a box inside containing a collection of items, a time capsule still waiting there for future generations.
An Ode to Morse-Ingersoll
The last stanza of a poem by Professor of History Robert “Dickie” Richardson, who taught at Beloit from 1901-1947, was written to honor the building’s dedication in 1931:
But far the best thing in this building – It’s true!
Is the fact that it’s made with a hole right through –
A tube whence emerges a glow like rare knowledge,
When the sunshine reflects from the bricks of North College:
And we sense that the new doth the ancient enfold,
And what’s freshly minted is still the old Gold.
A Friendly Room
What’s now called the Fireplace Lounge on the second floor of M-I was an intentional part of the original design, though it was repurposed into faculty offices during a later renovation, then restored in the same space. It still exists today, where it is in daily use for gatherings, classes, and study space. In 1930, this pine-paneled lounge was described as an “informal seminar room” to be used for student organizations having contact with faculty, departmental clubs, and as a place for faculty to teach informally.
“Here is a room which embodies those vital, friendly, stimulating contacts between faculty and students which have been so famous a tradition at Beloit,” exclaimed M-I’s dedication program.
A few notable elements have been added to the original Morse-Ingersoll Hall structure over the years.
In the 1940s, a marble fountain was placed on the southwest exterior wall to honor Loyll Emanuel Plinske, an alumnus who died in a 1941 plane crash while in pilot training for the U.S. Air Corps.
The low wall and plaza around the back of M-I, as well as the bell that once resided in the cupola of Middle College, were not part of the original plan. They were gifts from the class of 1950, installed in the summer of 1950.
In 1996, the college went ahead with a large two-story addition at the south end of M-I’s east wing. To emulate the original design, this addition includes a deep, walk-through arch. A large staircase, faculty and staff offices, mechanicals, and storage fill this space today.
Like any building that’s been around for decades, Morse-Ingersoll Hall has its share of secrets, its hidden spaces, its ghost stories.
Underneath Richardson Auditorium, a crawl space still harbors a large stump, the remnant of a giant tree apparently felled in the late 1920s when the site was cleared for construction.
The colorful, printed maps at the front of most M-I classrooms were removed to make way for renovations and technology updates. These classic pull-down maps revealed layers of even older maps hanging behind them, their soft pastel colors outlining antiquated political borders. Rather than discard these maps, many were rescued and mounted on hallway walls to be viewed like an art collection.
A 1996 college history titled Sweet Mad Youth of Old Beloit, written by Dave Mason’49, includes an account of a death in the building. “Another ghostly personality no doubt still haunting the lower levels of M-I was ‘Clem,’ a jovial elderly custodian who liked to dress up for campus events by adding a garish multi-colored necktie to his uniform of the day. His body was discovered one night in the lonely basement boiler room under the Richardson Auditorium, a space he regarded as his private lair when not tending to custodial duties.”