The Old College Compendium: Planning the Building, Circa 1801
With the selection of the Athens location and the resignation of President Abraham Baldwin, the construction of the first campus fell to our second President, Josiah Meigs (left). Both Baldwin and Meigs were on the faculty at Yale University and some accounts have stated that Meigs brought the plans for Yale's Connecticut Hall to Athens to use for the design of Old College. That has not been verified, but both Baldwin and Meigs would have been familiar with the Yale building and the structures do share similarities. At the beginning of the 20th century Connecticut Hall was restored to its original 1755 appearance with a gambrel roof and dormers, unlike Old College. The 1934 Pandora yearbook compared the two buildings with some skepticism directed at the "Meigs brought plans from Yale" theory. Or perhaps they were commenting on the ability of frontier Georgians to work from plans?
The two structures, however, looked much more alike in the early 19th century. According to the Yale University Archives Connecticut Hall was remodeled in 1797 using a design by John Trumbull, the noted painter. Josiah Meigs would have watched this project as a faculty member at Yale and possibly would have praised the change to a more "American Federalist" style. The resulting building, with dormers and gambrel roof removed, did resemble a taller version of Old College, as can be seen in this view from an 1863 photograph of Yale.
In his book, Yale University: The Campus Guide, Patrick Pinnell discusses the original interior arrangement common to both buildings,
The internal organization followed the tradition of English college buildings, with stacks of rooms paired around a central stairhall in a manner later called the "entryway system." (It is a dormitory design strategy that is intrinsically inferior for watchfulness and control than the "hall system" of long central corridors, favored in the twentieth century generally and for women's dormitories in particular.) As built, each room had a larger, shared sleeping space and two tiny, four-by-five-foot, individual study and prayer booths.By the time the University of Georgia built its next large dormitory, New College, in 1822, it had learned to adopt the "hall system" for better control. The blueprint below is probably very close to the original layout of the ground floor Old College, though it dates from 1907 and never carried by Josiah Meigs. It was drawn by Athens City Engineer J. W. Barnett as part of his assessment of the deteriorated condition of the building, which will be discussed later.
The wall dividing the building into eastern and western halves is clearly seen in the center of the plan. Also seen are the features that Josiah Meigs reported in the Augusta Chronicle for February 1, 1806,
"It is a strong and handsome brick building, 120 feet long---45 feet wide, and three stories high, containing four chimnies, 24 fire places, 24 principal rooms, 48 bed rooms, 48 closets, and 106 windows, with a deep and spacious cellar under the whole, a part of which will make an excellent Laberatory whenever a Professorship of Chimistry shall be established."
Meigs seems to be counting the smaller rooms as both bedrooms and closets and it is not pleasant to contemplate sleeping in one of the windowless interior "bedrooms" in warm weather. At one time it was assumed that smaller rooms were used for student's servants, but descriptions such as Meigs' have long discredited the idea.
However the building came to be planned, students were arriving in Athens and it clearly was time to begin construction.
Back to Timeline