History of University Park Campus

Site Selection and Early Buildings

One of the most significant questions facing the trustees of the infant Farmers' High School of Pennsylvania was where to locate the school. During the summer of 1855, they mulled over offers of land from Erie, Blair, Perry, Allegheny, Franklin, Dauphin and Huntingdon Counties before settling on the offer of Gen. James Irvin for 200 acres of land in Centre County. At the September 12, 1855 meeting of the trustees, Irvin offered an adjacent 200 acres for purchase at a favorable price, and the citizens of the County offered a further donation of $10,000 to the new school to help it with the expenses of constructing a college building. After several substitute motions failed, the board voted to accept the Centre County offer.

The Centre County site was the recommendation of the board's committee of viewers and there were a number of factors that influenced the selection. Not the least of them was the prominence of those supporting the Centre County offer. Gen. Irvin, Andrew Gregg Curtin, and Hugh Nelson McAllister, were all well-known figures in state politics and business. The county's central geographic location also played a role in the selection, although its isolation was even more valued to protect the students from the evils of an urban environment. Another advantage was that the Nittany Valley was the state's second largest limestone valley. As such it had soils of outstanding fertility. The lack of surface water on the acreage did appear to be a problem in the early days; today the water resources of the valley still represent a concern although we frame the problem differently now.

The four hundred acres acquired from General James Irvin had been mostly clear-cut of trees to make charcoal to power Centre Furnace. There were still two woodlots -- today's Hort Woods and the remnant forest surrounding the Nittany Lion Inn. But the land was still rough with many stumps and boulders to remove. There were no existing structures on the land, nor was there anything more than a hotel and a house or two across the road that would become College Avenue. The early student labor projects (three hours a day required for each student) went to readying the land, then plowing and planting. This all took place around a small cluster of buildings.

The College building (usually referred to today as the original Old Main) was designed by Hugh N. McAllister, a Bellefonte lawyer and local trustee. The massive five-story, five-bay structure was constructed of limestone quarried a few hundred yards away from the building to the southeast. It was built on a rise facing a large open field, initially planted in farm crops, but later in grass, and beyond that the main road from Bellefonte to Spruce Creek. This arrangement, and in fact the look and functionality of the building, followed the model of Princeton's Nassau Hall -- America's most imitated college building. For the students of the time, it was the college. It housed both student rooms and faculty apartments, cooking and eating facilities, classrooms, labs, the library and museum, literary society rooms, and the president's office.

Aligned behind Old Main were, to the west, the College Barn and its small auxiliary structures. To the east was the residence of William G. Waring, horticulture professor and general administrative superintendent before the arrival of President Evan Pugh. The barn and house (later known as Oak Cottage) were in place by 1858. Old Main was only partially completed, however, when the first students arrived in February 1859. Construction had begun in 1857, but a short-lived but sharp financial panic that fall kept donors from fulfilling their monetary pledges and the contractors went bankrupt. Evan Pugh, arriving on campus in October 1859, invigorated the new school and by 1861, the trustees were ready to restart construction. Because of delays caused by the Civil War, the building was not completed until December of 1863.

In the following year, President Pugh laid out the design for a country Georgian president's residence. He contributed half of the costs and construction began in the spring of 1864. Sadly, he would never live in the house. He died unexpectedly in April 1864. He had, however, accomplished a vital task for the school. The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania (renamed in 1862) was designated Pennsylvania's Land Grant College by the legislature thanks to Pugh's tireless lobbying. While the benefits of the Land Grant endowment were slow in coming to the college, the state's formal pledge of continuing support to the college was vital to its future success.

Atherton Administration

With one additional residence, a house for the Vice President built in 1880, the campus was complete until the first major building program, initiated under the college's seventh president, George W. Atherton. The Pennsylvania State College (renamed in 1874) had struggled through its first 17 years. When Atherton arrived in 1882, there were only 87 students and there had rarely been more than a half-dozen degrees awarded in any year. Two recent legislative investigations had highlighted the curricular disarray and financial woes. Within six years, Atherton had refocused the college. He lobbied Congress for the passage of the Hatch Act in 1887, creating America's agricultural experiment stations and bringing federal aid to Land Grant colleges. He secured the first regular biennial state appropriation for Penn State as well as a series of appropriations to construct new buildings to support Penn State's future growth.

The Board of Trustees designated Frederick Olds as College Architect to design these buildings. Olds brought elements of H.H. Richardson's Romanesque revival style and Frank Furness' Victorian eclecticism into six college buildings and six faculty residences built on campus between 1886 and 1892. Certainly, the most significant of these was the Engineering Building. Located at the corner of College Avenue and Allen Street, the current site of Sackett Building, Old Engineering was a massive structure with a great arched entrance, onion-dome roofs on bartizans, and other dramatic ornamentation. It firmly established the campus location for engineering for the next century.

Running at right angles to Allen Street was the road behind Old Main, now Pollock Road. A number of the new structures were lined up along it. The Armory was placed near the corner of Allen Street and the road. Diagonally across from it was Old Botany and slightly behind it the Ladies Cottage (the first women’s dormitory). Farther east was the Chemistry-Physics Building, and five faculty residences on both sides of the road. A parallel road further north up the hill became a location for additional residences and to the east, bisected "Ag Hill," the location of the Agricultural Experiment Station building and barns. Between Ag Hill and the residences lay a grandstand, and fields for football, baseball and track -- the "Old Beaver Field" area.

Thus, the campus began to be aligned in a regular grid of streets and the buildings were placed with generous setbacks giving the appearance of an academic village. A further sign of a campus plan was the initial placement of functional groupings of buildings for the disciplines of engineering, science, and agriculture in specific locations on the campus. In addition, these new buildings with their modern architectural styles provided a consistent appearance to the new buildings on campus, in contrast to the more traditional styles of Old Main and the president's house.

A second building program in the Atherton administration followed in the 1899-1906 period. It included Schwab Auditorium, Carnegie Library, McAllister Hall, the Armsby Building, and several wood frame structures for forestry, mining and dairy husbandry, as well as several more faculty residences. The ag-related buildings expanded the Ag Hill group, and the auditorium, library and McAllister (a dormitory) were built around the back of Old Main, preserving the campus lawn in front. Some of the buildings and residences however, were more scattered over the property giving a more casual appearance to the placement of buildings.

First Campus Plans and Sparks Administration

Perhaps as a result of this seemingly haphazard growth over fifty years, the Board of Trustees commissioned the first campus plan in 1907. New York landscape architect Charles Lowrie took the existing layout with few changes and overlaid it with a more developed rectangular grid of streets, supplemented by diagonal avenues, and a number of new buildings that further expanded the disciplinary groupings. Allen Street became the primary north-south axis with a central quad of arts, sciences and "public" buildings rising to the north of the library. Surrounding this central group, in clockwise order would be groupings for engineering, fraternities, men's dorms, athletics, agriculture, women's dorms, faculty homes and the president's residence (relocated to Elm Cottage).

Unfortunately, the Lowrie plan arrived at a time of turmoil for the campus. President Atherton had died in 1906 and it took two years to find a new president. In the interim, General Beaver, as Board of Trustees President served as acting president, and deans, administrators, faculty, and students battled one another over direction and control. With the arrival of a new president, Edwin Erle Sparks, came a new campus architect, Charles Z. Klauder of the firm of Day and Klauder, to develop a new master plan for the campus.

Klauder's first plan in 1914 changed the Lowrie concept by reducing the number of roads and paths, and by creating more symmetrical quadrangles for the building groups that related more consistently to Old Main as a focal point, rather than Allen Street. As a planner, Klauder was an exponent of the "Beaux-Arts Campus," the adaptation of the monumental organizing schemes for cities first presented in America at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

The masonry buildings of the second Atherton building program were examples of classical revival-style designs, also favored by the architects grounded in the values of Paris' Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Klauder would continue in this mode and over the next 25 years, he would design some of Penn State's most distinguished buildings.

The Sparks administration (1908-1920) saw only beginnings of buildings, although Sparks began the first expansion to the east with several farms purchased to add more than 600 acres to the original 400. On campus, several new buildings were constructed on Ag Hill, along with the first phases of Pond Lab, the Sparks Building, and a new Mining Building. Several other buildings received additions and Engineering Units E and D were constructed. In November of 1918, a terrible fire gutted Old Engineering, and in the next years, Engineering units A, B and C, and Reber were built to fill the gap.

After the traumatic changes brought to Penn State by World War I, when the Army virtually took over the college, President Sparks returned to teaching. In the post-war period, veterans as well as increasing numbers of high school students wanted to attend Penn State. Enrollments topped 3,000 and the demand could have surpassed that by at least 50%. The trustees knew they needed more buildings for "student welfare" -- dormitories, a hospital, a student union, and gymnasiums.

Thomas Administration and Capital Campaign

The board hired a new president in 1921 with proven experience in fund-raising, John Martin Thomas. Thomas planned a "Two Million Dollar Emergency Building Fund" drive, Penn State's first private fund-raising campaign. This was, however, only part of Thomas' grand plan to have Penn State become the State University. As such, it would be the capstone of the public education system and only recipient of state appropriations for higher education, including $10 million proposed for more new buildings.

The fund-raising didn't bring in all the money needed, but the Tri-dorms (Watts, Irvin, and Jordan) were eventually built along with Recreation Hall, Ritenour Health Center, and the Grange Building (a women's dorm). Thomas left after it became clear that his conflicts with Governor Gifford Pinchot would never yield the kind of state support he envisioned.

Hetzel Administration: Depression to Post-War Boom

Penn State entered the late 1920s with a new President, Ralph Dorn Hetzel. He first finished Thomas' buildings, and then, in the early years of his presidency, a positive turn in Harrisburg's attitude towards Penn State and higher education in general brought additional new buildings to campus. These included Sackett Building, Buckhout and Borland Labs, Steidle Building, the Nittany Lion Inn, additions to Pond Lab and Sparks Building, the Power Plant, Henderson Building and a new Old Main. All designed by Klauder, they continued the line of classical revival-style structures.

While Hetzel took advantage of a few last years of good times after the stock market crash; depression, World War II, and the return of the veterans to college overshadowed the remainder of his term as president. However, the depression of the 1930s gave rise to a new approach to relief. President Roosevelt's activist programs included several that would put men back to work by constructing needed new public buildings.

Charles Klauder had continued to revise his campus master plan as new buildings were added on the ground. A major revision came in 1937 in anticipation of major federal funding for public works. To meet long-delayed needs of women students, Penn State had already built Atherton Hall and the White Physical Education Building through a loan. Now they prepared for a building boom. The legislature created the General State Authority in 1937, and in the next year five million dollars from the federal Public Works Administration were funneled through the GSA to Penn State.

These funds built Pattee Library, Burrowes Building, Electrical Engineering West, Osmond and Frear Labs, Ag Engineering, Ferguson Building, the Poultry Plant, and additions to Steidle and Sparks. With the passing of the 1930s, the campus remained relatively stable until after World War II. Charles Klauder died in 1938 and while the College's physical plant had grown with the additions of Mont Alto, Stone Valley, and more farmland, the central campus remained relatively compact. Virtually all of the buildings still were encompassed within the original 200 acres donated by Gen. Irvin in 1855, bounded by Atherton Street, Park Avenue, Shortlidge Road, and College Avenue. To the west was the golf course and to the east stretched the experimental farms and plots with barns, greenhouses, and the federal Pasture Research Lab just across Shortlidge.

The post-war period brought the veterans, America's great suburban growth spurt, and later the baby boomers. All in one way or another, had their impact on higher education and Penn State. Even before the war ended, veterans were flocking to campuses with tuition and support paid by the GI Bill. The sudden demand at Penn State couldn't be met without dramatic steps. Starting in 1946, several years worth of freshmen were "farmed out" to the state teachers' colleges, and the reopened Penn State undergraduate centers. On campus, new permanent dormitories for men and women were in design, and former army barracks and trailers became the temporary Pollock Circle and Windcrest Trailer Park. Inexpensive, pre-fabricated housing was built for students as Nittany Halls, and for new faculty families as Eastview Terrace. In addition, a temporary classroom building and a temporary student union were constructed.

Growth in the ‘50s and ‘60s

Many of the new residence facilities were placed to the east of Shortlidge Road, and Nittany Halls to the east of Bigler Road. This was the beginning of a major trend in campus development. Paralleling this trend however, was the gradual infill of the central campus through additions to existing buildings along with new structures. In the 1950s, seven major buildings, plus North Halls, were built on central campus including Hammond, Whitmore and Fenske Labs, Eisenhower Chapel and the HUB. At the same time, Graduate Circle Apartments, South Halls, most of Pollock Halls, and the first four dorms in East Halls with their respective dinning halls, along with the Home Management Houses and Wagner Building were built east of Shortlidge Road.

These structures were appearing in response to the regularly revised master plan for the University that kept increasing enrollment estimates. In 1954, 18,000 students were envisioned for 1970. Four years later, the figure moved up to 25,000 students. By 1959, some fundamental changes were planned, including the gradual move of the athletic plant and the development of a complex of research buildings, both on the east campus. In addition, new buildings for the colleges of Business Administration, Education, and Arts & Architecture were being planned in the central campus or on the golf course. Also for the first time walking distances for students became an issue with ever more distant dormitories. In 1960, the University moved to a four-term system, which included for the first time, 20-minute intervals between classes.

The 1960s saw the completion of much of the expansion needed to accommodate the enrollment growth. Pollock Halls added 2 more units and East Halls added 10 dormitories and new dinning hall-union facilities. In addition, the Computer Building, Shields, and Mitchell all appeared across Shortlidge. Plans to build on the golf course were gradually abandoned as additions and new buildings were added to central campus. Seventeen new structures were built for Business, Arts, Science, Education, Liberal Arts, Engineering, and Earth and Mineral Sciences in the '60s. In addition, a new graduate union building and a conference center appeared.

Oswald and Jordan Administrations

The new Oswald administration recognized the need for new academic and physical planning in the early 1970s. Enrollments continued to inch upward despite the growth of the Commonwealth Campus system, but financial aid for higher education from government was becoming severely limited. Enrollment in 1980 was projected at 32,500 and it was already clear that transportation, student housing, coordination with local government planning bodies, and town-gown issues in general were becoming increasingly serious issues. The 1974 Campus Development Plan focused on renovating older buildings, and proposed a few additional structures on campus. No new student housing was planned, given students' increased interest in off-campus living and the inflationary costs of new dormitory construction. Environmental quality was highlighted as was the need to restrain automobile access and promote bus and bicycle use, enhancing the pedestrian experience in the central core.

Only nine major buildings were constructed in the 1970s including Eisenhower Auditorium, Althouse and Noll Labs, the Business Administration Building, Walker Building, Nursing, Ag Administration, and the IM Buildings. By the end of the decade, it was believed that the building boom was in the past, and that major maintenance, utility upgrades, energy conservation, and provisions for handicapped access, combined with renovation and very limited replacement of outmoded structures would be the agenda for the future. The 1980s largely proved these concepts and in the Jordan administration, there was very little new construction. Many buildings were renovated and space reallocated. A major development was an expansive program of renting space in the community for offices and administrative functions.

While an interim planning document was prepared in 1977, the first major revision of the 1974 campus plan came in 1987. The context for these documents remained steady growth of enrollment, approaching 35,000 by 1985, and almost 39,000 by 1990. The 1987 study pointed to likely growth of Engineering buildings on the west campus, and a complex of buildings on the east campus including a convocation center, hotel, conference center, alumni center, and visitor's center. In the central campus, replacement of the poultry plant with recreational space, construction of the Thomas Building, and of the Ag Science and Industries building and possible adjacent structures, was the focus. Also proposed were the Nittany Lion Inn, Music Building, Pattee Library, and HUB additions (all completed by 2000). While the concern for promoting a more pedestrian campus was echoed from earlier reports, this document also noted the need for as many as 3,000 additional parking spaces, due to overall growth. Ultimately, the Nittany Lion Inn and Eisenhower Parking Garages were built to partially meet this demand.


The ‘90s and the Future

Given the context of steady enrollment growth in the ‘90s (along with concurrent growth in the faculty and staff complement), there were some additional buildings constructed to meet specific opportunities, such as the Wartik Lab for biotechnology research, and the Mateer Building for an expanding Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Management school. After some hesitation, construction did begin on the west campus with the Hallowell Building, renovation of the foods building for Engineering and Earth and Mineral Sciences, and additional buildings for ARL and engineering research.

On the east campus, joint state and University funding created the Jordan Center, however, some of the other buildings initially proposed for that immediate area, became the anchor for the Penn State Research Park, to the east of the State College by-pass, including the Penn Stater conference center hotel, along with business incubator and research buildings. The Alumni Center was finally designed as a complementary addition to the rear of University House, placing that facility in a central location. Additional athletic facilities have been built or upgraded to meet Penn State's needs for facilities that match or surpass the competitive quality of those of other Big 10 institutions.

As the 1990s drew to a close, the University continued to eye very specific additions to the building stock of the campus. The Master Plan submitted to the Board of Trustees in March 1999 is probably the most extensive planning document yet created for the University. It specifically focuses on changes in the engineering, science, and agricultural sub-campus areas, generally suggesting eastward moves of more academic space across Shortlidge Road and thus shifts of more agricultural and athletic spaces beyond that. Within the plan, there are also suggestions for the enhancement of major mall-like greenways extending the Henderson mall north to Hort Woods and an east-west path stretching from the Paterno Library to the Jordan Center. Also similar to past plans, there is the strong suggestion of restraining automotive traffic on campus and continuing the transition from surface parking lots to parking garages on the peripheries.

The quality of the campus experience remains paramount for the planners and the University. The stress is on an environment that can integrate teaching, research, and outreach; that enriches the vibrancy of the student's learning experience; and that preserves and enhances the "memorable" campus that is historical, rural, human-scaled, and welcoming. The challenges to achieving this are numerous, and an almost urban-sized population and the widespread scale of the campus are hardly the least of them. Nevertheless, the image of the Penn State campus; its eclectic mix of architecture, diverse plantings, trees and landscapes; views of surrounding mountains and valley; its easy access to, but distinct boundary with, a community that many consider the "quintessential college town" are all powerful positives for a plan that has many goals.

* Prepared by University Archivist Leon J. Stout in March of 1999 as an introduction to the University's new Master Plan for the University Park Campus. A few editorial revisions were made in Summer 2000.