Ask the Archivist: Denny Hall

Denny Hall

Denny Hall

What's the story behind Denny Hall? 

by Jim Gerencser ’93

Despite the construction of Bosler and Tome halls and a gymnasium in the 1880s, the college's trustees found that continued growth demanded yet another building. The property at the northeast corner of High and West streets was owned by two sisters, Miss Matilda Denny and Mrs. Mary Spring, from Pittsburgh. Their father, Harmar Denny, class of 1813, was a successful lawyer, politician and railroad entrepreneur. Mary and Matilda agreed to sell the property to the college for a mere $100 on the condition that any edifice constructed on the site should serve as a memorial to the Denny family.

Philadelphia architect Thomas P. Lonsdale designed the building, in college president George Reed's words, "of the Elizabethan order of architecture." Hummelstown brownstone, quarried just across the Susquehanna River, graced the façade. Bosler Hall had been similarly adorned a decade earlier, and these two rather romantic red-sandstone structures seemed now to frame the otherwise gray, colonial Dickinson campus.

Upon completion in 1896, Denny Memorial Hall housed eight classrooms, 12 offices for faculty members and college administrators, and large rooms for the college literary societies. Less than eight years later, on March 3, 1904, problems with electrical wiring in the attic started a fire that consumed the entire building in an hour. Vowing that "Denny Hall will rise again," President Reed gave a stirring talk during chapel services the following day, and plans to rebuild began immediately.

Architect Miller I. Kast of Harrisburg designed the new structure, which was about 30 percent larger than its predecessor. A clock and bell tower were added, and stone from the earlier building was reused for the façade. The new Denny Hall was dedicated on June 6, 1905.

Although Bosler Hall was remodeled in 1940, altering the façade from its original red sandstone to the more common gray limestone, I am not aware that any consideration has ever been given to remodeling Denny in a similar manner. It stands apart on the campus today for its unique appearance, which perhaps is one of its most enduring charms.

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Published January 11, 2013