Scoville Hall

By Emily Christiansen ’22

The fifth building constructed at Carleton, Scoville Hall was completed in 1896 and was the last campus building built in the nineteenth century. Scoville served as Carleton’s library for 60 years until its collection was moved into Gould Library, and since then the building has housed classrooms, academic departments, and offices. The library’s Richardsonian Romanesque style distinguishes it from all other campus buildings, and is now beloved for its beautiful exterior– this makes it an attractive home for Admissions, its present day use. 

Originally named Scoville Memorial Library, James W. Scoville of Chicago pledged the funds that made this commission possible. Although Scoville passed away before donating the money, his wife donated $25,000 according to his wishes. Scoville knew Carleton’s President Strong from the Chicago Theological Institute and took an interest in the college, prompting the donation, as he did for other Midwestern colleges. Accounts describe Scoville as a discerning and tasteful man, in turn reflected in the designs for the library. 

Though not nearly as imposing as Williams or Willis Halls, the smaller structure still has a weight and prominence due to several features of its design. The large rectangular stones that compose the sides of the building help to create a feeling of solidness and mass. The two story building uses limestone quarried from Kasota, Minnesota, a small town about 50 miles from Northfield that supplied stone for a wide variety of local and national building projects. The stone is rusticated, a masonry technique that involves cutting the stone to make the face rough and protruding. Classical architectural projects often use this technique for decorative purposes, as is the case with Scoville Library. The rectangular building has a distinctive octagonal tower, as well as a gable-hip roof and conspicuous entrance on the east-facing front facade. A large protruding arch frames the main entrance; above this arch sits engravings of the building name and two shields; further above the engravings are three arched windows. The exterior remains largely the same today, with the exception of the times when the exterior was covered in vines. 

Patton and Fisher, a Chicago architecture firm, designed Scoville Library. The firm designed a wide variety of buildings throughout the Midwest, although many look architecturally alike and are clearly the designs of the same builders. Patton and Fisher designed many private residences, churches, other libraries, and academic buildings. Much like Carleton, Beloit College in Wisconsin also had a Scoville Hall, designed by this firm and highly similar to Scoville Library at Carleton. Other libraries designed by the firm, such as Hackley Library in Michigan, are reminiscent of Scoville, with similar brickwork and Romanesque arches. 

Scoville Library was one of the first libraries built among small colleges in the Upper Midwest, making it an especially historically significant building and model for other schools. Stated as one of the reasons for Scovile’s listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the construction in 1896 placed Scoville “at the forefront of the movement to construct separate buildings for library use at institution of higher learning.” Scoville’s exemplification of Richardson Romanesque style aligns with stylistic trends of the late nineteenth century: this style was especially popular for public building commissions, and adds another level of significance to the structure. While the library collection would later outgrow Scoville, at the turn of the nineteenth century users of the Scoville felt satisfied with the building in terms of both its appearance and functions as a library.

The main reading room of Scoville Library in the early twentieth century 

Unlike the continuous and long hours Gould Library remains open daily, Scoville Library initially had much shorter operating hours. Similar to the limited hours of older reading rooms in the American Hotel and Willis Hall, Scoville Library had shorter windows of open hours: in 1900, Scoville was open from 8:00 am to 12:30 pm, and then from 1:30 pm to 5:00 pm. In 1911, Scoville started to stay open for two evenings a week. And not until 1936 did the reading room open from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm on Sunday. But slowly as the century went on, the days and hours both libraries were open increased. 

Carleton’s collection of books grew rapidly in the first half of the twentieth century. Scoville’s layout accommodated about 13,000 books, whereas the second library, built in 1956, was designed to hold over 150,000. This steady increase in books eventually prompted the construction of Gould Library with the transition and period of overcrowding in Scoville mediated by several annex constructions next to the library. By the 1940s discussion of Scoville’s overcrowding was nearly constant; people also complained about its “gloomy” and outdated appearance. In 1947, a temporary annex was built and President Gould formed a committee to examine the needs of the library and its future. The planners also shared the sentiments that Scoville appeared outdated. This attitude likely resulted in the dramatically different architectural style of Gould Library, as the massive four-story building embodied an aggressively modern style. Upon Gould Library’s completion, Scoville ceased to function as a library. 

After this transition, classrooms and offices populated Scoville for several decades, and it was renamed Scoville Hall to reflect this change. The interior was remodeled for this use in the mid 1950s, though it remained similar to its original design. The History Department made its home on the second floor. In 1982, Scoville Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places, classified as a place of local significance and in good condition. 

In 2016 and 2017, Scoville underwent further interior renovations, this time focused on “restoring the architectural integrity of the building and addressing issues of accessibility” (Carleton College Facilities Management). These $7 million renovations were done in tandem with those of Johnson House. Changes to Scoville included developing several spaces for Admissions offices, a reception space for Admissions visitors and guests, a meeting room, a reading room for Admissions, and Financial Series offices. Scoville continues to serve this purpose today and is often one of the first buildings that prospective students visit.