The History of Willis Hall
Willis Hall Chronology
January 23 – site chosen by special meeting of Board of Trustees.
September – Northfield College opened in American House
“Fitful” construction. Called “Goodsell Hall” in the architectural drawings. In June of 1869, “occurred the laying of the cornerstone, containing diverse documents and the names of all contributors to the Founders’ Fund. By then the basement had been finished and 90 cords of stone, laboriously dragged to the site by ox teams, had been used. Then came a halt for over a year, however, “in view of the fact that the subscriptions specifically made for the erection of the building are to so large an extent unpaid.”
Original building completed September. Three story building designed by Minneapolis firm of Alden and Howe, and built by Mr. D.C. Hill of Red Wing, Minnesota at a cost of $28,000. French Second Empire style. Chapel chandeliers donated by William Carleton. Campus plan only beginning – front of building overlooked the Cannon River and Northfield. (to the east was a wheat field.) “New Hall.” December dedication, at which Minnesota Governor spoke. Top story men’s dormitory*; 1st floor chapel, remainder of space for recitation rooms, library, and “cabinet.” Students originally had access to the 150 volumes in the “library” only for an hour after lunch, which followed the daily prayer meetings held at noon in Willis. (*) faculty minutes from 1870’s: “the use of brass musical instruments having become annoying and detrimental in Willis Hall, it was unanimously voted that all use of such brass instruments in Willis Hall be restricted to the basement.”
Named for Susan Willis, who donated $10,000 to retire the debt on building.
December 23 – a blizzardy day of sub-zero temperature, starting about 10 a.m., fire gutted the wooden inside of Willis and extensively damaged the central tower and third floor roof line. (Rice County Journal: “Carleton College Burned to the Ground”) Insurance claim for $12,000. Surviving library books stored off campus, then to Williams when that opened in 1881.
January 1 – “trustees voted unhesitatingly to rebuild better than before. Like Grant in the Wilderness, the orders are to advance trusting in Providence and a reliable constituency.” Rebuilt – entirely new interior encompassed by the old frame, and exterior changes, $15,577.51. Exterior changes: elimination of a cornice in the top line of the mansard roof, stylization of the third floor dormers, and the addition of the clock tower. No longer dorm facilities. 2nd floor more spacious chapel, classrooms, meeting room for literary societies. Furnace instead of stoves. Rededicated in October.
December – connected with parts of the town by telephone.
Robins Battell of Norfolk, Connecticut donated a chime of bells for the new tower clock.
James J. Bow '74 reminisced about the old Willis: “ To the old Carletonians it will ever be the Willis Hall. Affection refuses to go out to its newer sister, and memory fondly pauses in its reminiscent flight at a time when it stood in its rugged homeliness as a fitting emblem of the true, the noble and the good.”
Bookstore opened in Willis in January, in between 1st and 2nd floors – moved in 1904 to cubbyhold in basement. As student-run co-op (operated by College from 1920).
Gift allowed connection of Willis and other building to a new sewer line, “thus doing away with expensive and objectionable cesspools.”
Electric lights for each room.
Religious activities removed to Skinner, and Willis Chapel becomes lecture hall.
Class deans offices located in Willis – a few years.
Offices for English Department (and Latin, Public Speaking and Romance Languages)
Bookstore installed in the south end of the basement, formerly a chemistry laboratory. English department took up quarters where the old chapel had been.
A tea room and the post office located in north end of basement. Soon thereafter, a little theater and Carletonian office (later moved to Williams, then Severance, and then in 1955 back to the top of removed Willis) Theater on 3rd until late 1932 when Nourse Little Theater replaced.
- Bulletin board presented by Class of 1923 as a memorial.
Offices Economics and Biography join English, Latin, Public-speaking and Dramatic Arts.
Sociology offices added
Latin moved to Williams and Economics to Leighton
Classical Languages move to Willis
Sociology moved elsewhere; French to Willis
Trustees approved plans for conversion to memorial student union. (Abandoning plans to build a separate new union building. Funded in large part by student and alumni fund drive)
Closed for remodeling
Rededicated as the Memorial Student Union. Renovations: new stairways, automatic freight elevator, first floor lounges, a grill/snack bar, TV room, KARL radio (top floor; from Scoville basement), post office, bookstore, student publication rooms (Algol, Carletonian) and organization offices (Social Co-op, CSA, etc.), record library/jazz listening room, game room, a darkroom, several overflow classrooms. Masao “Frank” Shigemura room – main lounge. Eventually, offices of Director of Student Activiites.
Addition of an enclosed rear entry.
Placed on the National Register of Historic Places
Sayles-Hill becomes student center. Post office moved to Sayles (taking original Willis brass eagle mailboxes)
Offices and classrooms: Economics, Political Science, Educational Studies, Willis computer room.
For more information on the Founding of Northfield College (later called Carleton College) see the Northfield Historical Society website.