Friday, February 14, 2014

Before Calhoun College: The Old Yale Divinity School

1: Postcard of newly-built Calhoun

At the corner of Elm and College streets, and diagonal to the Green in New Haven, Connecticut is Calhoun College, one of the twelve undergraduate divisions of Yale College.  The Gothic, weathered stones and leaded glass of Calhoun seem so solid and permanent that one might imagine it has stood there for ages.

Yet Calhoun was only constructed in 1931-2. Its site has been integral with New Haven history since the Seventeenth century, and part of Yale since shortly after the Civil War. Fortunately, many early maps and photographs exist that allow us to peel back the layers of time, and reveal the early appearance of the Yale campus.

2: John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun (1782-1850) was the seventh Vice President of the U.S., under Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. He at various times served as Secretary of State, Secretary of War, and also Senator and Congressman from South Carolina. Since he was an 1804 graduate, Yale desired to honor his distinguished career by naming one of the colleges after him. Unfortunately, Calhoun was virulently pro-slavery, so in recent decades especially there has been considerably controversy of the propriety of using his name.

 3: Detail from 1748 map, Calhoun Site buildings shaded in red.
(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Early Days:
New Haven was settled in 1638, and by 1641 the land on what is now College and Elm was the farm of John Brockton. By 1748, the Wadsworth Map (above) shows Innkeeper Mix established on the site, which remained an inn until the mid-Nineteenth century. Note that on the Wadsworth map, Yale College was still a single building.

Yale Divinity School, 1869-1931:
The Calhoun land was initially obtained by Yale to provide a new home for its Divinity School. In its earliest days, Yale College was confined to the Old Campus block, bounded by College, Chapel, Elm and (later) High Streets. The famous Brick Row was started in the Eighteenth century, culminating with the construction of Divinity College at the Elm street end of the Row in 1835. 

 4: This c.1869 photo shows only East Divinity
After the Civil War,  a new growth plan meant the demolition of Divinity College in 1869 to make way for Durfee Hall (1870), and the Establishment of a new Divinity School across Elm Street. The first phase was the construction of East Divinity in 1869, designed by the acclaimed architect Richard Morris Hunt.

5: Hallway in East Divinity

6: Library in East Divinity

7: East Divinity + Marquand Chapel to the left.
1871 saw the addition of Marquand Chapel, also designed by Hunt. In this photo we can still see the early small white houses, so characteristic of New Haven, flanking the new Divinity School on both the College and Elm Street sides.
8: Stereoviews like this, which appeared 3-D when viewed in a special holder, were popular in the 1800's

9: A special kind of luck favors collectors, one result of which was this obtaining this original admission ticket to the 1871 dedication of Marquand Chapel.

10: This is actually a palimpsest photograph, pasted on another; notice the faint elm branches in the background. Luckily, I have a copy of the underlying photo, which fittingly is a close-up of the Divinity School.
The above picture from 1873 helps make sense of the new Divinity School as seen from the Old Campus, taken in front of Farnam Hall looking across Elm to the new Divinity School and the future site of Calhoun. At the extreme left is North College dormitory (built 1820, razed 1901), part of the old Brick Row. Just beyond it is the brand-new Durfee Hall (1870), looking just as it does today. Across Elm Street, we get the best view of that early wooden house, reminding us that Elm Street was known as New Haven’s Quality Row. Marquand Chapel and East Divinity come next, then at the extreme right is a very recognizable and still-standing Farman Hall (built 1869).

Because of Yale’s intensive building program, photographs of this period are often easy to date. This photograph marked 1873 is readily confirmed, because it had to be taken after the construction of Marquand in 1871, yet the view across Elm Street is unimpeded by Battell Chapel, not built until 1874.

11: Looking past the future site of Battell Chapel
This similar view taken at a different angle allows us to see, across College Street, two buildings which are still there: the First Methodist Church, and the Colonial house that is the current home of the Elihu Club, although not when the picture was taken, as Elihu was founded in 1903. Durfee and East Divinity are to the left, and a tiny sliver of Farnam on the right.

12: From a Bird's Eye View of New Haven, published by Bailey & J.C. Hazen in 1879.
In addition to Battell Chapel, 1874 saw the construction of the West building of the Divinity School. This 1879 Birds-eye view, with the Divinity School is in the center, provides some context. On the left across Elm Street (unlabeled) is the edge of the old campus, showing Farnam, Battell, and Durfee. In the foreground is the New Haven Green, showing the Center Church (1812) and United Church (1814), both still standing. Notice the two particularly fine houses at High and Wall, and at College and Wall, both long gone.

13: By 1874, West Divinity had been added on the left, but there is still an available gap between West Divinity and Marquand.
14: Colored postcard shows addition of Trowbridge Library
Nature abhors a vacuum, and in 1881 the gap between Marquand and West Divinity was filled with Trowbridge Library. Old postcards, although often colored imaginatively, can give a good idea of what strolling by the site must have been like. The photo below shows the interior of Trowbridge Library:

15: Interior of Trowbridge Library--those windows face Elm street.

16: Blount Avenue separating Berkeley Oval and West Divinity
Blount Avenue:
In the 1890’s the Divinity School received some new neighbors. The houses on Elm Street to the west were replaced by the buildings of Berkeley Oval, the precursor of Berkeley College. In the above photo, West Divinity is on the right, and on the left is Fayerweather Hall of Berkeley Oval. Between them, the mall-like space was known as Blount Avenue, which still separates Calhoun and Berkeley. In the distance can be seen the University Dining Hall, built in 1901.

17:  In 1911, the Noah Porter Gate was installed, which still serves as the entrance to the current Cross Campus.

18: What you would see taking a stroll on the Green in 1900.
The above postcard seems to show the final development of the Divinity School on the site of the future Calhoun. Fayerweather is briefly seen to the left, and the colonial houses on the right have not yet relinquished their hold.

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi…
All was soon to change when the College Plan for Yale went into effect in the early Twentieth century.  A new Divinity School was built on Prospect Street past Science Hill, on the site of the former Winchester mansion. The old Divinity School was razed to make way for Calhoun College. In the 1931 photograph below, looking towards College Street, all elements of the Divinity School are gone. Across College Street we can see Battell and Durfee, and a bit of Harkness Tower in the background. On the right are Blount Avenue, the Porter Gate, and finally Fayerweather Hall in its final days, as it would be torn down in 1933 to make room for Berkeley College.

19: The End of an Era:  This dramatic photo shows the demolition site of the Divinity School, and the future site of Calhoun. Notice the one legacy--the Calhoun Elm carefully protected by boards!
As a student in Calhoun, I was completely unaware that it occupied the site of the Divinity School that had stood there not that long ago—even within my grandparents’ lifetime. It is a shame that such a large part of Yale's history has been virtually forgotten. Other than in these old photographs, no vestige seems to be left of the building that inhabited the corner of Elm and College for six decades. I will take a good look at Calhoun itself the next time I am in New Haven. Perhaps in the stone carvings that adorn Calhoun are hidden some reminders of its historic predecessors.

Coming Soon: The Construction of Calhoun

A note on the images:  It is my hobby to collect photographs and other ephemera that document the Nineteenth-century history of Yale University and the city of New Haven. These have been augmented with images from the treasure-trove at Yale Manuscripts and Archives, and from the Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

Photo Credits:
Photos 3 and 12 from Leventhal Map Center of the Boston Public Library.
Photos 5,6,15,16,17 Credit: Yale University buildings and grounds photographs, 1716-2004 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
Photo 19 Credit: Photographs of Calhoun College, Yale University, 1931-1932 (inclusive). Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University
All other photographs and objects are from the collection of the author.