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Vanderhoof Hall, a women's residence hall, c1956. It was part of what is now Morgan Hall.

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  • 2017-02-28
  • Charlie Cowling

Reynolds Hall, Where Are You?

College Archivist Charlie Cowling shares a series of surprising discoveries regarding the history of the names of campus buildings.

Janette ReynoldsWhile going through local history files collected by Eunice Chesnut ’73 (widow of Professor John Chesnut) in her time as historian at the Morgan-Manning House, I found an original photo of Janette Reynolds, Class of 1873. She was a teacher for some years, and then in the 1890s, she attended Melvil Dewey’s library school in Albany, after which she became SUNY Brockport’s first librarian.

I scanned the photo and shared it with Senior Manager of Social and Digital Media Dave Tyler. Not long after he posted it on the College’s Facebook page, he received a message from someone saying they had lived in Reynolds Hall when at Brockport in the early 1960s. Tyler relayed this message to me, asking about the location of this “Reynolds Hall.” I was unsure at first myself, but then a little research revealed that the Lower Quad of dormitories now known as MacVicar, McFarlane, McLean, and Thompson had once had other names, and one of them had indeed been named Reynolds Hall, after Janette Reynolds.

Interior of a dorm, c1956I wish I could give a clear telling of how all the buildings got their names, which names went where, and so on, but it is a rather complicated story, one still being explored. This spring, Contessa Blosenhauer ’17 is doing an internship in the Rose Archives to help me sort out all the tangled lines of when things were built, what they were called, and where they were — for some, of course, no longer exist, as is the case with the “Quonset huts” remembered by many. But following is the story as we know it now, and your input and suggestions are most welcome.

For a century or more, Brockport was a one-building school. The first building stood where Hartwell Hall is today, by which it was replaced in 1938. Neither that building, nor Hartwell, when first built, had a name; they were simply the school. After WWII, when the GI Bill and later baby boom expansions took place, building after building was added, the school expanding outward to the west at an ever-growing pace into the 1970s.

Former Bramley HallThe first separate dorm was “West Hall” in the late 1940s, named for its location west of Kenyon Street, where the Seymour College Union is today. This was a temporary frame building to house women students. In 1951, a permanent structure was built, today’s Morgan Hall, which at the time of building consisted of four “halls” for women: Bramley, Morgan, Thompson, and Vanderhoof. Perhaps the names Bramley and Thompson are familiar? Part of the confusion in this history is that some names, like Bramley and Thompson, seem to have been moved to other buildings.

Other names, like in our Lower Quad, seem to have come and gone. Originally, the four buildings were known collectively as “Stage IV,” the romantic nomenclature of the state dormitory authority, which simply named buildings in order, culminating in the ill-fated “Stage XVI.” Then they were named Chriswell, Holmes, MacVicar, and Reynolds Halls. In the later 1960s, those names disappeared; a 1969 map simply labels the halls “East, West, North, and South.” Subsequently, the Lower Quad became renamed as MacVicar, McFarlane, McLean, and Thompson, as we know them today.

1969 campus map

Early on, Donald Tower, president of the College from 1944 to 1964, in consultation with faculty, seems to have had a prominent role in naming some of the earlier buildings and halls. Later, Professor Wayne Dedman, who wrote the history of the school in 1969 in his Cherishing This Heritage, was a key figure in the decision-making of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the building names we know today were settled upon.

One does wish, perhaps, that some of the older names had not been left behind. Mabel Vanderhoof, who taught here from 1911 to 1941, still has a building plaque in her memory hidden in a back passage of Morgan Hall, but her name no longer graces a building, nor a section of one. Reynolds and Minerva Chriswell were left behind in the shuffle as well. All the building names we have today, however, are certainly of people who had a notable impact on the College, as teachers, administrators, or supporters of the school. The list of building names of today is something of a Brockport honor roll!

If you have memories or knowledge to share about building names or other areas of campus, please email College Archivist Charlie Cowling.

Last Updated 7/29/21

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