Campus Buildings and Their Namesakes

By Stacey Himmelberger

(with assistance from Beth Tegart and Phillip J. Hoying ’09)

Statesmen and Scholars. Entrepreneurs and Visionaries. Writers and Artists. More than 50 buildings on campus serve as lasting tributes to individuals who shaped not only Hamilton’s history, but in many cases the history of our nation.

With the opening this fall of the Charlean and Wayland Blood ­Fitness and Dance Center and the Little Squash Center, we thought we’d take this opportunity to offer a glimpse into the lives of a few of our buildings’ namesakes.

Babbitt Residence Hall

“We start together today, all of us, in the design of a joint experience which we call education…” With these words Samuel F. Babbitt, president of Kirkland College, welcomed the first class of 170 Kirkland women who were gathered in the Chapel. The date was Sept. 15, 1968.

Kirkland's first general assembly meeting
President Babbitt at Kirkland’s first general assembly meeting (1969)

Following several positions in higher education administration, Babbitt came to the Hill in 1965 to be Kirkland’s first (and ultimately only) president. At the time Kirkland was an institution that existed only on paper, its grounds an apple orchard. Babbitt embraced the vision of a college that fostered independence, creativity and self-reliance, and helped build and shape the college for women that operated under his leadership until its merger with Hamilton in 1978, the same year one of its residence halls, formerly known as “B” building, was named in his honor.

After leaving the Hill, Babbitt accepted a position as vice president for program, planning and resources at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In 1983 he became vice president for development at Brown University, retiring in 1993.

Azel Backus House
Azel Backus House

Azel Backus House

One of the oldest buildings on campus, the Backus House was built in 1802 as a boardinghouse for Hamilton-Oneida Academy students. The trustees had intended to continue its use as a lodging for undergraduates, but decided instead to promise the house to Hamilton’s first president, Azel Backus, in order to entice the New England pastor to abandon his pulpit and come to the wilds of central New York in 1812. The tiny building was converted into a presidential “mansion.” There, Backus resided until carried off four years later by typhus contracted while nursing a sick tutor (who, by the way, recovered). He was 52.

 At the first Class & Charter Day in 1950, Willard Thorp ’20 described Backus as a man known for his “witty words and actions, his humanity, his sensibility and his eloquence.” Through the years, the building that once served as his home was used as a faculty dwelling and, later, the Alumni House. In 1984 it was refurbished with a faculty dining room and fittingly named in honor of the College’s first president.

Beinecke Village ribbon cutting
Walter Beinecke (right) and former President Martin Carovano cut the ribbon at the dedication of the Beinecke Student Activities Village (1993).

Beinecke Student
Activities Village

An heir to the S&H Green Stamp fortune, Walter Beinecke, Jr. left school at age 15 to join the Merchant Marine. Although he never resumed his own formal education, his commitment to learning — and especially to Hamilton — ran deep. Appointed a charter trustee in 1960, Beinecke chaired the trustee committee that worked with President Robert McEwen to conceive and create Kirkland College, and later served as its first chairman of the board. The idea was to establish several cooperating undergraduate colleges clustered near Hamilton, each independent, each coordinate with the others, of which the first would be a liberal arts college for women.

Throughout his life Beinecke showed equal devotion to his beloved island of Nantucket, which had fallen into decay after World War II. He purchased much of the town’s waterfront and renovated it building-by-building in order to boost the area’s prestige and stimulate its economy. He also left his mark on Hamilton’s architectural landscape when the bright yellow Beinecke Student Activities Village was completed in 1993, linking the north and south sides of campus. It was named in his honor, commemorating a commitment to learning that is also reflected in Hamilton’s Beinecke Lesser Antilles Collection, which contains some 2,500 rare books, articles, maps and other printed materials he presented to the College. Beinecke died in 2004.

Benedict Hall
Benedict Hall

Benedict Hall of Languages

Henry Harper Benedict, Class of 1869, was once quoted as saying, “The machine is very crude, but there is an idea there that will revolutionize business … We must on no account let it get away.” One of the pioneers in the manufacturing and marketing of the typewriter, Benedict went to work at E. Remington and Sons in nearby Ilion, N.Y., after his Hamilton graduation. This company not only manufactured arms and agricultural implements but also did piece work for inventors who devised new machines. One such invention, in 1873, was for a typewriter designed by Christopher Latham Sholes. Although the Remington company did not make much progress with the manufacture of the new instrument, Benedict realized its potential.

Benedict and two partners bought the rights to the typewriter and organized a firm to sell the “practical writing machine.” The name Remington was retained, and in 1902 the Remington Typewriter Co. was formed with Benedict as president until his retirement in 1913. Benedict, who served as a Hamilton trustee from 1897 until his death in 1935, provided funds for the Hall of Languages, built in 1897, and for the purchase of the Chapel organ.

Blood Fitness and Dance Center

From the windows of the spacious atrium that houses treadmills, elliptical machines and a three-story climbing wall, fitness enthusiasts can enjoy a panoramic view of Hamilton’s football field, which holds special memories for the building’s namesake.

Blood Fitness and Dance Center Dedication
Charlean (center) and Wayland Blood ’53 (left) visited Hamilton this summer to tour the new fitness and dance facility that bears their name. Joining them were son David ’81, his wife Alison (right) and their daughters Alyssa and Alexis.

Opened this fall in the former Saunders Hall of Chemistry, the Charlean and Wayland Blood Fitness and Dance Center (see page 5) salutes a true Hamilton football family. Wayland F. “Bill” Blood ’53, for whom the building is named along with his wife Charlean, came to Hamilton in the footsteps of his father Wayland P. Blood ’14, a former member of the Continental gridiron force. Bill played varsity for four years, lettering in the sport. During his senior season, the team posted a 4-2-1 record — the best in more than a decade.

After earning his M.B.A. and spending five years with Gulf Oil Corp., Bill joined Ford Motor Co. During his 33-year career, he served as vice president and treasurer of its financial services group, Ford Credit Co. Remembered in The Hamiltonian for “wearing a well-patched Block ‘H’ sweater,” Bill sent his son David W. Blood ’81 to the Hill to carry on the Blood/Hamilton football legacy. Today Dave has returned the favor. A managing partner with the London-based investment firm Generation Investment Management, he and his wife Alison provided major funding for the renovation of the new fitness center, named in his father’s honor.

Bristol Center
Bristol Center

Bristol Center

No family’s history more closely parallels Hamilton College’s than that of the Bristols. Joel Bristol was one of the first settlers to answer the call of the Reverend Samuel Kirkland to establish the Hamilton-Oneida ­Academy. In addition to contributing one British Pound Sterling, 300 feet of timber and 20 days of labor, Bristol served on Hamilton’s first board of trustees and sent his son George to be educated on the Hill. George Bristol was a member of Hamilton’s first graduating class in 1815 and the first of seven generations of Bristols to attend the College.

William McLaren Bristol
William McLaren Bristol

Among the Bristol alumni was William McLaren Bristol. Five years after graduating from Hamilton in 1882, Bristol and his friend John Ripley Myers, Class of 1887, invested $5,000 into the failing Clinton Pharmaceutical Co., located down the hill from the College. Essentially a physician’s supply house, the business steadily expanded under their leadership. The company’s first nationally recognized product was dubbed a “poor man’s spa”: a laxative mineral salt called Sal Hepatica that, when dissolved in water, reproduced the taste and effects of the natural mineral waters of Bohemia. Another success was Ipana, the first toothpaste to include a disinfectant to prevent bleeding gums. The demand for these products propelled Bristol-Myers from a regional into a national company and eventually the international giant now known as Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Constructed in 1965, the Bristol Center was dedicated in William McLaren Bristol’s honor, thanks to the generosity of his sons Lee H. Bristol ’14 and William M. Bristol, Jr. ’17, and grandson William M. Bristol, III ’43.

Harlow Bundy, Class of 1877
Among the members of the Class of 1877 gathered on the steps of Root Hall at their 35th reunion in 1912 was Harlow Bundy (back row, second from left).

Bundy Residence Halls

When Harlow E. Bundy, Class of 1877, walked into his brother’s workshop in Auburn, N.Y., one summer day in 1889, little did he know he would leave with an idea that would evolve into one of the world’s most successful business ventures. Willard Bundy, a jeweler and inventor, showed his younger brother one of his latest projects, a time-recording clock. Later that same evening Harlow proposed that they go into business together to manufacture and market a device that could record a worker’s arrival and departure time on a paper tape. The Bundy Time Recording Co. was born.

Bundy East and West Halls
Bundy East and West Halls

In 1900 the company merged with another budding time-recorder manufacturer and became the International Time Recording Company of New York. Harlow continued as general head of operations, and Willard invented and designed new products. In 1911 a consolidation with two other companies resulted in the formation of the Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co. In 1924 the company was renamed International Business Machines (IBM).

Harlow Bundy had distinguished himself as the father of the time-recorder business and a pioneer who played a role in founding one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the world. However he did not live to share in the great experience of IBM’s explosive growth. In 1915 he retired from the company, a wealthy man, but in poor health. He died a year later. The Bundy Residence Halls (East and West), along with a dining facility, were built in 1970 and named in his honor.

Field House
Margaret Bundy Scott Field House

Margaret Bundy
Scott Field House

In 1959, while visiting the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, Calif., Mollie Scott happened to notice a sketch of the Hamilton campus hanging in the lobby. She mentioned to the hotel’s proprietor, the late Stephen Royce ’14, that her father had attended Hamilton. Soon thereafter she was introduced to President Robert McEwen, who was in California on his annual West Coast trip, and that marked the start of a long relationship.

Scott was the daughter of Harlow E. Bundy, Class of 1877 (see Bundy Residence Halls). One year prior to his death, Bundy moved in 1915 with his family to California. Scott was to reside on the West Coast for most of her life. Although she had often heard her father fondly recall his College days, she had no personal acquaintance with Hamilton until that chance encounter cemented a close relationship with her father’s alma mater that would last until her death in 1984. She created an endowed professorship, fellowships and a scholarship fund in addition to funding a renovation of Kirkland Residence Hall, where her father had resided during his freshman year. Shortly after her death, the Margaret Bundy Scott Field House was named in her honor and memory.

Buttrick Hall
Buttrick Hall

Buttrick Hall

Perhaps the building on campus that has undergone the most name changes — and “facelifts” — is Buttrick Hall. Completed in 1813 as a dining hall and kitchen (derisively nicknamed the “Banqueting Hall”), the building appeared much as it does today, save for a red stucco coating. After proving not to be a successful auxiliary enterprise, the College closed the facility in 1820. Miscellaneous occupants, including a cobbler and carpenter, set up shop in the building before 1834, when Horatio Gates Buttrick became superintendent of buildings and moved into the house with his family. In 1837, Oren Root, a young graduate of the Class of 1833, married the oldest of seven Buttrick girls. In 1850 he returned to the Hill as professor of mathematics, astronomy, mineralogy and geology, bringing with him his outstanding collection of minerals that were housed in the Commons refectory. The building became known as the Cabinet, complete with a recitation room, exhibit space and a room for the study of botany.

For the next 20 years the Cabinet was a scientific oasis in a staunchly classical college. Shortage of funds, however, kept the building in a state of disrepair until 1883 when James Knox, Class of 1830, gave funds for a major remodeling. The walls in front were raised to provide a second story, the whole capped by ornate wooden gables. Windows replaced the two front entrances and a larger central door opened on to the exhibit halls. Knox Hall, as it became known, retained its appearance for 40 years.

In 1925 the new Science Building opened and the museum was transported. The trustees soon decided to restore the exterior of the old Commons building to its original lines. The wooden superstructure, dormer windows, gables and central door were all cut away. By the end of 1926, renovations were complete and the interior refitted to house the offices of the College administration. Small rooms on the second floor were fashioned into a single hall with an arched ceiling where the trustees met. The trustees named the building Buttrick Hall after the 19th-century superintendent and grandfather of Elihu Root, who was born in one of its second-floor bedrooms.

Fillius Events Barn

As a businessman and community leader, Milton F. Fillius, Jr. ’44 played a key role in shifting San Diego’s dependence on a postwar military-based economy by promoting efforts to attract new businesses to the city. His forthrightness and powers of persuasion earned him high praise from business and civic leaders alike. But it was after his retirement in 1983 as president of the Vita-Pakt Citrus Products Co. that he devoted himself to his three true loves — philanthropy, jazz and Hamilton.

Milt Fillius ’44, Milt Hinton and Joe Williams
Milt Fillius ’44 (left) with jazz musicians Milt Hinton and Joe Williams at Commencement in 1991.

A trustee of the College from 1982 until his death 20 years later, Fillius served for many years as chairman of the Drown Foundation where he helped distribute funds to numerous charitable institutions, including Hamilton. In addition to the Drown Prize Scholarship and the Drown Loan Fund, which support some 100 students each year, the foundation was instrumental in 1995 in creating Hamilton’s Jazz Archive, a collection that today boasts more than 250 videotaped interviews with jazz musicians, arrangers, writers and critics.

A lover of jazz — particularly mainstream jazz and swing — Fillius lent impetus to a series of annual concerts on campus, bringing to the Hill such jazz legends as Joe Williams, Milt Hinton, Marian McPartland and George Shearing. These world-class musicians fittingly took to the stage in the Fillius Events Barn, named in his honor in 1993.

Kirkland Cottage
Kirkland Cottage

Kirkland Cottage

Hamilton College began with one man’s dream to create a school where children of the Oneida Indians and children of white settlers could learn together. That vision of Samuel Kirkland, a Presbyterian missionary to the Oneidas, led to a plan presented in 1793 to President George Washington, who “express­ed approbation,” and to Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, who agreed to be a trustee of the new school, to which he also lent his name.

A 17 x 24-foot clapboard cottage, consisting of a large family room with an ample fireplace and three sleeping rooms above, was erected at the foot of College Hill in the spring of 1792 and served as the Kirkland family home. On July 1, 1794, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, inspector general of the Continental Army, accompanied Kirkland from the house up the hill to lay the cornerstone of the Hamilton-Oneida Academy. Among the delegation of Oneidas to attend the colorful ceremony was Kirkland’s friend Chief Skenandoa.

The school operated for two decades. Although never fully realizing Kirkland’s original purpose, it instead served primarily children of white settlers streaming into central New York from New England. The academy was transformed into Hamilton College a few years after Kirkland’s death.

The cottage, which today bears his name, was relocated several times throughout the years and served various purposes, including that of a carpenter’s shop. In 1875 Edward “Old Greek” North, who taught classics at Hamilton for half a century, spearheaded an effort to acquire the house for the College and raised the $140 for its purchase. The building was moved to a spot near the College Cemetery where it fell into further disrepair until 1925 when Elihu Root saw to another relocation — this time to the heart of campus. It was entirely repaired, furnished and occasionally opened to the public. Four years later, the Pentagon student honor society began holding its initiations and other meetings in the building, and, since 1975, members of each entering class have been invited to the cottage to sign the College roster as a symbol of matriculation at Hamilton.

Little Squash Center

Squash became a part of Hamilton’s athletic tradition in the 1940s with the construction of the Alumni Gymnasium. In 1980 the sport earned intercollegiate varsity status. Both the men’s and women’s teams enjoyed noteworthy success throughout the years; however, a setback came in 1993 when the U.S. adopted the international standard for squash, widening the court from 18.5 feet to 21 feet. As a result, all matches had to be played “away” and the College began losing promising squash players to other institutions.

Jeff and Claudia Little
Jeff and Claudia Little

George F. “Jeff” Little ’71 saw this as a problem — especially after his son Brad ’04 came to the Hill and joined the varsity squash team — and, as he has done throughout the years for his alma mater, stepped up to address the situation. Thanks to a gift from Little and his wife Claudia, this fall the College opened 10 regulation-size squash courts, two of which provide exhibition gallery seating.

Little is president and chief operating officer of George Little Management, LLC, the largest producer and marketer of tradeshows for consumer goods in North America — a company started by his grandfather. A trustee of the College since 1993, he has chaired the Annual Fund and consecutive capital campaign efforts for the College: The New Century Campaign, which raised $108 million from 1996-2001, and the current Excelsior campaign, scheduled to conclude in 2008 with a goal of $175 million.

Millicent McIntosh
Millicent McIntosh lends a hand during Kirkland’s construction (1967).

McIntosh Residence Hall

Millicent C. McIntosh, president of Barnard College from 1946-62 and head of the all-girls’ Brearley School from 1930-46, spent her life championing the importance of women combining a successful career with a rewarding personal life. “It is the great problem of the college graduate to find in her personal life the fullest expression of her powers,” she once told The New York Herald Tribune. “This may or may not lie in a career … what is important is for each individual to order her life so that she becomes a happy, creative person … This is equally true of men.”

 Upon her retirement from Barnard, McIntosh accepted the chairmanship of a committee on the Hill charged with examining the question of how Kirkland College would best serve the intellectual and personal needs of women. Under her leadership, the new institution set out to prepare them to be “intellectually alert and to handle with superior capability the multiple and overlapping phases of their lives — as an individual active in society, as a wife, mother, career professional … a woman who can continue her role as learner into adult life beyond college — a woman able to discriminate between unchanging values and ever-changing circumstances.”

McIntosh died in 2001 at the age of 102. A residence hall on the Kirkland campus was named in her honor in 1969.

Christian Henry Frederic Peters
Christian Henry Frederic Peters

Peters ­Observatory

Christian Henry Frederic Peters came to Hamilton in 1858 to head the observatory, bringing to the faculty its first Ph.D. and a colorful past. As reported in Walter Pilkington’s history of the College: “In 1848 he fought with Garibaldi in the revolt against the king of Naples. When the uprising failed, he fled to Malta. On his return to Sicily the following year, the fall of Palermo sent him fleeing to France and thence to Constantinople. The sultan was about to send him on a scientific expedition to Syria and Palestine when the Crimean War intervened. Peters then came to the United States where he worked for a time at the Dudley Observatory in Albany.”

Recognized worldwide for his discovery of asteroids, he was known on campus more for his exploits than for his teaching. “Although several of his students did indeed specialize in astronomy and attained high positions in the field,” Pilkington noted, “most of them remembered only the occasions on which young ladies from the female seminaries in the village came to the observatory to look at the stars through the telescope — with the boys climbing over the roof and hanging their hats on the great equatorial to blot out the stars until Peters, brandishing a pistol, chased them away.”

Just prior to his death in 1890, Peters became involved in a then-celebrated lawsuit. He had planned to create a catalogue of stars and enlisted the help of Charles A. Borst, a former student. Borst spent several years completing the project and sought equal, if not more, credit for the work. Peters filed a lawsuit, and the case was tried in the State Supreme Court in Utica with none other than Elihu Root acting for Peters. The judge ruled in Peters’ favor; however, Borst appealed, and Peters died before a new trial could be scheduled.

After his death, the observatory fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1918. The Peters Observatory was built in 1975 and named in his honor.

Elihu Root House
Elihu Root House

Elihu Root House

Secretary of War, Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, Elihu Root, Class of 1864, is arguably Hamilton’s most distinguished alumnus. After earning a reputation as one of the most respected corporate lawyers of his time, Root was named Secretary of War in 1899 by President McKinley. Root described the appointment as “the greatest of all our clients, the government of our country.” ­During his five-year tenure, he reorganized the Army, expanded West Point and established the Army War College.

His keen interest and concern for international affairs sparked his work as an advocate for the new territories acquired after the Spanish-American War. He worked on a plan to turn Cuba over to the Cubans, wrote a democratic charter for the Philippines and eliminated tariffs on goods imported to the U.S. from Puerto Rico.

Root returned to private practice for only a year before President Theodore Roosevelt called on him again — this time to serve as secretary of state. Dedicated to the cause of international arbitration, Root maintained the “open-door policy” in the Far East. On an unprecedented diplomatic tour of Latin America in 1906, he persuaded those governments to participate in the Hague Peace Conference. He negotiated a “gentlemen’s agreement” with Japan to address issues of emigration and worked with Great Britain in resolving disputes over the Alaska/Canada border.

In 1909 Root began a single term as a U.S. senator. He declined candidacy for reelection and a nomination by the Republican Party for the U.S. presidency. He served as the first president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace from 1910-25 when he helped create the Hague Academy of International Law in the Netherlands. In 1914 he was president of the New York State Constitutional ­Convention and during World War I headed a mission to Russia and later served as an advisor in establishing the Covenant of the League of Nations. He was recognized with the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize.

Root’s ties to Hamilton began long before he matriculated. He was born and raised on the Hill as the son of Nancy Buttrick and Oren Root, Class of 1833, a long-time professor of mathematics known fondly as “Cube.” His brother, Oren Root Jr., Class of 1856, followed in their father’s footsteps as a professor of mathematics and was appropriately nicknamed “Square.” Elihu Root’s contributions on the national and international scene never lessened his commitment to his alma mater. He served as chairman of the Hamilton board of trustees for more than 25 years and spent most of his time on campus after retiring from public service. He died in 1937. The Roots’ family ties to Hamilton extend to dozens of alumni, including Elihu’s sons, grandsons and great-grandchildren.

In 1893 Elihu Root purchased a house on campus as a family summer residence. Built in 1817 for Theodore Strong, Hamilton’s first professor of mathematics, the structure had served as the home of College presidents and faculty members. The building was occupied after 1937 by Root’s daughter Edith Root Grant and her husband Ulysses S. Grant III, grandson of the president. A National Historic Landmark, it was acquired by the College in 1979 and now houses the Admission and Financial Aid offices.

Hans Schambach ’43 and Joe Anderson ’44
Hans Schambach ’43 (left) and Joe Anderson ’44 at a 1986 press conference announcing plans for the music and performing arts complex.

Schambach Center

The story of Hans H. Schambach ’43 and the building that bears his name is the ultimate tale of remembering one’s roots. Schambach was born in Germany and came to the States at the age of 14 to live with his uncle and aunt in Clinton. They were Walter and Anna (known as “Frau”) Schmitt, the custodian and cook at the Alpha Delta Phi house on College Hill. In 1939 Schambach began working his way through Hamilton only to be interrupted two years later when the country entered World War II. His status as a German citizen led to his classification as an enemy alien, and he was subsequently interned for two years at a camp run by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Bismarck, N.D.

In 1947 Schambach established a business dealing in and fabricating precious metals, primarily for the jewelry industry. On one of his visits to the Hill, he met Jack Boynton ’51, an Alpha Delt whose father was treasurer and a major stockholder in Handy and Harman, a supplier of precious metals in New York City. A line of credit obtained from that firm, thanks to his introduction to the elder Boynton, helped Schambach advance his own business. His company, Hamilton Cast Corp., was named after the College. In 1972 he merged it with Atlantic Oil Corp. and became chairman of its board, serving until his retirement in 1982.

Ever supportive of Hamilton, Schambach joined the board of trustees in 1980. Believing that a college education was available to him only because of a scholarship he received, he established in 1983 a fund that today offers one of the most prestigious scholarship awards to entering students. Five years later, the Schambach Center for Music and the Performing Arts opened, and was fittingly named for him. Throughout the years, Schambach had pursued a love of music by assembling one of the finest private collections of Italian and French stringed instruments, including two rare Stradivarius violins.

“It is fantastic to see this completed,” he told the Syracuse Post-Standard in an article featuring the building’s dedication. “It is the great American dream — getting here as an immigrant boy and reaching a point where I could help.”

Silvia Saunders
Silvia Saunders

Saunders House

Known to generations of Hamiltonians for her warm hospitality, Silvia Saunders was born in 1901 and raised on the Hill with her parents Louise and Arthur Percy Saunders, longtime professor of chemistry and dean. The Saunders family created in their home on Griffin Road a social center on the edge of campus where for many decades cultural conversation and musical interest flourished.

Following her graduation from Radcliffe, Sylvia Saunders embarked on a career in New York City as a commercial artist and later as a photographer. In 1951, after spending several years in New Mexico, she returned to College Hill to take care of her elderly parents and especially help her father with his hybrid peony business, which was known to horticulturalists throughout the world. She maintained the family legacy of opening their home — which she dubbed “the Williams Farmhouse” after Isaac Williams, its early 19th-century builder — for annual Christmas parties, May wine parties and informal gatherings of students and faculty members. She also took an active role in the cultural life of the College, greeting guests at most every theater performance, music concert and art exhibition. In 1977 her contributions were recognized with the Alumni Association’s Bell Ringer Award, and in 1995, one year after her death, the Saunders family home was dedicated in her honor as a student residence.

Soper Hall of Commons
Soper Hall of Commons

Soper Hall of Commons

Opened in 1903, Commons served for many years as Hamilton’s sole dining hall (despite lingering false rumors, because of its Gothic style complete with pointed windows and buttresses, that it was intended as a place of worship). Funds for construction came from three brothers, among them Alexander Coburn Soper, Class of 1867. Following his graduation from Hamilton, Soper moved from his native Rome, N.Y., to Chicago where he soon went to work for the Park & Soper Lumber Co., in which his father was a partner. In 1870, just one year before the Great Chicago Fire, the younger Soper organized a new company, Pond & Soper, to operate a planing mill. In 1883 he re-joined family members to form the Soper Lumber Co. The business grew to large proportions, their trade reaching from Massachusetts to Colorado. At the turn of the century, the Sopers joined with another timber-oriented family from Pennsylvania, the Wheelers, to form the Soper-Wheeler Co., which was moved to California where it operates today.

The Soper family — 15 of whose members attended Hamilton — has been extremely generous to the College throughout the years. Alexander Soper served on the board of trustees for 33 years until his death in 1930. The building was rededicated in honor of the Soper family after extensive modification and renovation in 1999.

Alexander Woollcott, Class of 1909
Alexander Woollcott, Class of 1909

Alexander Woollcott House

Famously known as the “Town Crier” of the radio airwaves, Alexander Woollcott, Class of 1909, was blessed with a gift for words. Author, critic and actor, he earned a national reputation as a raconteur and man-about-town. His career began at The New York Times, where in 1914 he became drama critic. His frank and outspoken criticism of some plays caused him to be barred from all the Shubert-controlled theaters. After a two-year stint in the Army reporting for The Stars and Stripes, Woollcott returned to the Times and subsequently worked for the New York Herald and then the New York World. For a while he was a regular contributor to The New Yorker, writing dramatic criticism and for a page called “Shouts and Murmurs.”

A stout man, he was the self-appointed leader of the Algonquin Round Table, a distinguished group of New Yorkers who, in the 1920s, met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel. Woollcott’s acting debut came with the Hamilton Charlatans, of which he was a founder; however, his first and only starring role came in the 1940 production of The Man Who Came to Dinner, a play in which the principal character is generally known to be a caricature of himself.

A trustee of the College from 1935-42, he was instrumental in getting the Hamilton Choir to undertake its first trip away from campus, and for many years he sponsored its concerts in theatres in New York City. After his death in 1943, columnist Walter Lippman commented, “Woollcott had a sharp taste. He had a piercing eye for sham. He had an acid tongue. But he had gusto, he really liked what he praised, and he cared much more for the men and women he liked than he worried about those he did not like.”

In 2000 Hamilton’s Theta Delta Chi fraternity house was rededicated as a student residence hall in honor of its former member.

Information for this article was drawn primarily from previous volumes of the catalogues of Hamilton and Kirkland colleges and the Hamilton Alumni Review; Hamilton College: A History by Walter Pilkington (Hamilton College, 1962); Hamilton College and Her Family Lines by William DeLoss Love II ’45; and documents from the College Archives. Other sources include: The Soper-Wheeler Co.; “A Brief History of Bristol-Myers Squibb History”; “In Search of the Heroes” series on Henry Harper Benedict; “History of Ilion Industry, Village of Ilion, Herkimer County, N.Y.”; Elihu Root Bio­graphy; Barnard College Campus News, Jan. 4, 2001; History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West, 1614-1925 (S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1925); Limited Engagement – Kirkland College 1965-78: An Intimate History of the Rise and Fall of a Coordinate College for Women by Samuel Fisher Babbitt (Xlibris, 2006).


Stacey Himmelberger

Editor, Hamilton Magazine

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