Spaces like the tiny Rowell Room — a concealed, second-floor chapel within Eaton Chapel — exist largely unnoticed on Beloit’s 176-year-old campus, a mashup of historic and contemporary buildings with nooks, crannies, and oddities, some hiding in plain sight. Caves, boulders, bell towers, echo chambers, and artifacts displayed with scant detail are among the mysterious items we spotted when we started snooping around.
In this photo essay, we examine some of the hidden spaces and baffling places we found on Beloit’s campus. We are grateful to the alumni, faculty, and staff whose close observations of the campus’s endearing quirkiness helped us with this story.
Eaton Chapel Bell Tower
Anyone who’s spent time at Beloit will recall the clanging of the Eaton Chapel bells, which strike every 15 minutes, 24 hours a day. The pealing creates a familiar Beloit soundtrack, but few people have seen the four bells atop the tower in their open-air belfry. An access ladder behind a locked door leads to stairs that climb to the tower, a brick and stone room in the treetops.
While some “church bells” are only recorded sounds, Beloit’s chapel bells are authentic and date between 1882-1892. The largest bell sits at the room’s center, weighing more than 2,100 pounds, while one medium-sized bell and two smaller ones are situated in the corners. The bells chime their individual notes in turn, marking every quarter hour, then producing a melody in unison before the big bell counts the time.
Many years ago, student pranks included stealing the bell’s clapper, and several 19th-century students wrote odes to the bells, including to John Pfeffer, the college’s illustrious first janitor, who hand rang the bells with legendary accuracy for 40 years until they were electrified in 1905.
About a decade ago, Amara Pugens’13, then a student worker in the College Archives (she’s now the digital archivist for the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.) helped document the bell tower’s interior as part of a work study assignment called “Nooks and Crannies of Campus.” Thanks to her sleuthing, and to the work of students who continued the project after she graduated, the historic graffiti and bell inscriptions inside the tower, and many other campus idiosyncrasies, are preserved for posterity.
Recent graduates may know about a strange phenomenon, sometimes called “the echo chamber,” that amplifies the voice of a person who stands at the center of an outdoor seating area in the science center’s south garden. On the ground is a storm drain that may or may not be contributing to the effect. Step just a few inches left or right of center, and the microphone effect magically turns off.
The weirdest part? Only the speaker can hear the amplification.
Along Eaton Chapel’s north balcony, a rectangular room is preserved in amber behind two locked doors. This space, with its light-colored paneling, two altars, matching cross and candlesticks, sculpture of praying hands, and wall-to-wall red carpeting, looks like a movie set for a 1950s church service. The only thing amiss is a sousaphone lying in the middle of the floor.
The room honors Wilfrid Asa Rowell, a teacher, member of the class of 1899, former college chaplain, and long-serving trustee. Dedicated in 1959, three years after his death, the room was used for small gatherings, meditation, and reading. Over time, it fell out of use and became a storage space for instruments before the music department decamped for the Hendricks Center. (Someone forgot the sousaphone.)
The Rowell Room is a reminder that Eaton Chapel was a place of Christian worship back when the college had an early religious affiliation with the Congregational Church. One of the room’s two altars originally stood in the main chapel apse.
“Supplication,” a cherry wood sculpture of hands outstretched in prayer, was created by an artist named Anton Grauel and donated anonymously for the room. Under a coating of dust, it still stands sentinel at the front of the room.
“The wood carving is a most dramatic piece of sculpture, which adds substantially to the tone and sense of reverence of the Rowell Room,” sixth College President Miller Upton said in a 1962 Round Table article.
The Neese Theatre’s main lobby features three sculpted terracotta tiles mounted onto a brick wall next to a sign that says: “Scoville Hall, 1889-1974.” This cryptic plaque doesn’t mention Scoville Hall’s storied past, nor does it explain that the tiles were part of the now-razed building’s façade, whose massive presence visually dominated the hilltop on Bushnell Street for nearly a century.
Scoville was built for the Beloit Academy, the college’s early prep school. Later, it was home to the World War I-era Student Army Training Corps, with one floor serving as an infirmary during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Ultimately, Scoville was the base for Beloit’s music and drama programs. It contained a second-floor stage, and its basement was the site of the first WBCR radio broadcast in 1948.
Wealthy Chicagoan James W. Scoville, a former trustee, provided funds for the building. Archivist emeritus Fred Burwell’86 wrote about the building in his “Fridays with Fred” series, noting that the budget for the rambling Romanesque Revival building was $25,000. The college spent $24,993 and used the remaining seven dollars to plant a flagpole on the building’s lawn.
Today, a massive brick apartment complex looms where the hall once stood. With no affiliation to the college, it still bears the original donor’s name: Scoville Center Apartments.
Polished Stone Slab
A large, polished slab of stone filled with fossils hangs within an incongruous antique wooden frame in the science center’s first floor geology lab.
On one side, the frame features the carved-out words: “Where Wast Thou?” Flip it over, and the other side says, “The Foundations.”
Geology faculty believe the slab dates to the earliest days of the department.
The puzzling messages stem from the origins of the frame. Professor Emeritus of Geology Hank Woodard repurposed the piece from what had once been the Eaton Chapel hymn board, enlisting a religious relic to serve the study of geology.
In 2020, faced with Covid and zero chance of piling students into a van for a geology field trip, Jay Zambito got creative. The geology professor collaborated with Archivist Emeritus Fred Burwell’86 to put together a field trip that turned the campus into a geologic field site. And it worked so well, he continues to offer the trip in his course called Evolution of the Earth. Students learn about Beloit and geology by examining 37 sites of geologic note on and near campus.
One stop highlights an eight-ton granite boulder that has stood its ground between Pearsons Hall and Eaton Chapel for 116 years. It brandishes a plaque that says “Rostra Beloitensia 1906” — Latin for “the Beloit rostrum.” The 1906 class gift was given as a speakers’ platform at a time when students were active in oratorical contests and frequently delivered speeches after football games.
Zambito explains that a glacier would have moved a boulder like this to the Midwest, and this one ended up in a farmer’s field near campus. The farmer, an alumnus, agreed to transport it to campus for the class gift. Since farmers don’t want large rocks in their fields, and students sought a solid platform for speeches, it worked out perfectly. Zambito chuckles about the boulder and how it got to Beloit: “It was a win-win for everyone,” he says.
Historic Costume Collection
Up the wide staircase from the Neese Theatre’s Costume Shop is a warehouse-like room brimming with costumes. This magical place is loaded with ascots, feathered hats, lacy dresses, and silky gowns.
Most of the racks hold the theatre’s working collection for use onstage, but toward the back of the room, stacks of neatly numbered brown boxes hold treasures — approximately 500 pieces of vintage and historic clothing. Most are women’s garments from the late 1840s through the 1950s, donated by Beloit alumni and community members.
The Neese Theatre Historic Costume Collection includes hats, bodices, shoes, beaded dresses from the 1920s, and more. The collection is a significant resource for students to use as they create period costumes and study costume history and design. Costume Shop Manager Shelbi Wilkin is working on organizing the collection to make it more accessible.
“Students can examine garments from various historic eras and analyze the design, craftsmanship, and intricate details that photos and paintings do not give us access to,” says Wilkin. A small group of students, hired to manage the collection, learn to properly store, maintain, and catalog it, Wilkin adds.
Frat Mascot Forever
A red and black dragon lurks on the sidewalk in front of Phi Kappa Psi’s fraternity house. Painted on the concrete, this creature is a remnant from an earlier time when the lovely brick student residence at 810 College Street was the Beta Theta Pi house, the college’s oldest fraternity.
In fact, the mascot, known as “Wooglin,” was placed there to mark the centennial of Beloit’s Beta chapter, from 1860 to 1960. The fraternity disbanded at Beloit in the 1980s, and the house has since served as a residence for many different student groups.
But the dragon never fades away, thanks in part to its faithful Beta brothers, such as Matt Quinlivan’86 shown in 2016. They visit campus occasionally to freshen the paint, keeping the Beta spirit alive.
Logan Museum Cave
A cave beneath the Logan Museum of Anthropology, once a favorite stop for local school kids on field trips, has fascinated generations of alumni, too. This subterranean exhibit was built from a cistern in 1930 to display the casts of a rare pair of bison sculptures in the context of their origins. The casts, made from original clay figures sculpted around 14,000 years ago in what’s known as the Magdalenian period, were found in a cave in southern France. Beloit was one of only two museums in the United States to receive casts of this Paleolithic art.
In the 1940s, vandals got into the cave and broke the bison casts. By 1954, the figures had been repaired, and the cave reopened with an expansion that included other Paleolithic features, such as replicated cave paintings and models of Neanderthal hunters — purportedly created from Penney’s mannequins. Moisture problems plagued the exhibit, prompting the cave’s closing several times, and the exhibit closed permanently in 1992. The bison casts, now in poor condition, were moved into museum storage.
As beguiling as it is, the cave will most likely never open to the public again because it lacks fire exits, is inaccessible, and presents an out-of-date Eurocentric focus on the past. But the cave still welcomes visitors now and then: Professor of Anthropology Shannon Fie says she often shows it to students in her introductory class as they discuss representations of the Paleolithic period, also known as the Old Stone Age.
Most of the doors in historic Pearsons Hall are updated to the utilitarian types found in just about any office building. But inside the building’s small first-floor meeting rooms, the original Georgia pine woodwork and closets with five-panel doors still stand. (Pearsons was designed by Daniel Burnham of the famed 19th-century Chicago architecture firm Burnham and Root. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Buildings.)
Pearsons’ vintage doors have fancy iron knobs that prominently feature the letters “PHS” surrounded by curlicues. Two of these letters clearly stand for “Pearsons Hall,” but what about the prominent letter S?
When the cornerstone was laid in 1892, the impressive structure beginning to take shape would be Beloit’s new science center, officially named Pearsons Hall of Science.