Saturday, September 26, 2015

The Wren Building at the College of William and Mary

Chris Gehrz of Pietist Schoolman fame brought to my attention this interesting article on the Wren building at the College of William and Mary. (Chris is a William and Mary grad).  

I love old academic buildings (Nassau Hall at Princeton is my favorite for a variety of reasons).  I have been in the Wren Building a few times and have tried to wander through it whenever I am in Williamsburg.  It is a great old building that is still in use for academic purposes.

Here is a taste of Sarah Ruiz's article on the Wren from The Flat Hat, the student newspaper of the College of William & Mary.

...The Wren is the United States’ oldest academic building but it was not always used for education. It served as a field hospital in two wars, and functioned as the Virginia capitol twice.
“It’s really fascinating to me to think about what rooms they used and how this building actually functioned as the Virginia government,” Kern said.
There were other moments in the building’s history, however, that threatened its existence. The Wren suffered through three fires in its time: once in 1705, just five years after its construction, and again in both 1859 and 1862. According to Kern, one professor’s account from the night of the 1859 fire tells the story of College President Bejamin Ewell rousing the grammar school boys from their beds on the second floor, and then rescuing important artifacts from the burning building. Among those artifacts were portraits of James Blair and his wife, the College seal and the Charter itself.
“The official apparatus of the College is saved during that fire,” Kern said. “The descriptions of all of that suggest an attention to the history of the College, and also give us this insight into how people are using the spaces at that moment. That’s a particularly exciting window into what must have been a terrifying night for lots of people.”
In 1881 the College building was again threatened when the school was forced to close its doors due to lack of funds until 1888. During these “silent years,” President Ewell continued to ring the Wren’s bell at the start of every academic year. Associate Director of Historic Campus Kimberly Renner said these moments of disuse are a testament to the building’s endurance....