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Centennial Spotlight

centennial spotlight


Campus on the move

The development of Skidmore’s campus is a century-long saga of expansion, creative use, adjustment, relocation, and acceptance of continual change. Lucy Skidmore Scribner started her Young Women’s Industrial Club in 1903 in modest quarters—the parsonage adjoining her church, in the heart of Saratoga Springs. But even before the YWIC opened, Mrs. Scribner may have foreseen its rapid expansion.

“A few weeks ago Mrs. Scribner purchased the historic building and grounds of Temple Grove Seminary [on Circular Street]…. A report is circulating that it is to be the new home of the Young Women’s Industrial Club, which, though less than three months old, is taxing the capacity of its present quarters.”
—New York Daily Tribune, July 26, 1903

In 1908 The YWIC did expand into Temple Grove. Rechristened Skidmore Hall, it became the core of the Skidmore School of Arts, which soon grew to fill a city block. By the time Skidmore became a college in 1922, growth and change were the norm.

“The Skidmore of 1925 could be seen in its entirety by walking around two city blocks and looking at 17 buildings.”
—President Val H. Wilson, Skidmore College Bulletin, December 1957

“When the students return to Skidmore College on Sept. 26 they will find many changes…. The chapel has been rebuilt and enlarged, the library has acquired a second floor, the capacity of the Art Building has been doubled by the addition of a new wing, and the Home Economics Department has a newly purchased practice house.”
—New York Times, September 23, 1928

“Skidmore has crossed Union Avenue! It is an event almost as momentous as when Caesar crossed the Rubicon. On June 28 the college consummated the purchase of the Mabee property located on the corner of Union Avenue and Circular Street. This new acquisition has added almost two acres to the college grounds and makes available for immediate use four brick buildings.” —Skidmore Alumnae Quarterly, July 1930

Campus facilities were constantly adapted and reassigned to accommodate enrollment growth, curricular change, and sometimes disaster (as when South Hall burned down in 1937). Skidmore broke ground for a new library in 1940 and soon developed the Fifty Acres athletic facility on land purchased from the Yaddo artists retreat. Fathers Hall, the long-awaited modern dining hall, debuted in 1951. And in 1958 Moore Hall dormitory added a large—and very pink—element of modernity to Union Avenue.

“[The new library] is Skidmore’s pet dream come true. Every convenience anyone has ever heard of is there, and a lot more besides. Sofas and easy chairs every place you look, to say nothing of rows of smoothly-polished tables. There’s no excuse now for not studying, unless you’re just too absorbed in gazing at the sunlight shining through those long yellow curtains.” —Skidmore News, October 16, 1940

“I recall my own first office in a made-over bedroom tucked away up under the roof of College Hall among the rafters and cobwebs and organ pipes. Only the more indefatigable students ever found me.…Now I can luxuriate in a capacious ground-floor studio with a sunny bay window…
—Professor of English Joseph Bolton, 1950

“Mr. Henry Blatner, architect of Moore Hall, explained that as the primary function of the dormitory is to house girls, he has chosen the color pink to give a feminine appearance to the building.”

—Skidmore News,
October 23, 1958

In 1960 the college developed a twenty-five year plan to modernize and expand within a compact area downtown. But that was soon superseded by an even grander plan—to build an entirely new campus, on the abandoned Woodlawn estate at the north end of town. Trustee J. Erik Jonsson and wife Margaret donated money for the purchase, and the board of trustees voted in 1961 to begin construction.


“By 1961, along Union Avenue…there had emerged a painfully assembled, unruly but charming patchwork campus of 84 buildings, only six of which were built by and for the College. The other 78 were a mind-boggling melange of converted mansions, carriage houses, boarding houses, a church, a synagogue, a summer hotel, a bordello, a TB sanitorium, and a haunted nunnery.”
—President Joseph Palamountain, October 7, 1978

“You will design a campus which will provide for both student and teacher a feeling of freedom and wide horizon, and you will provide the physical opportunities for attaining that freedom in the mind and that horizon in the spirit.”
—Board of Trustees Chair Josephine Young Case, Charge to the Architects and Planners, 1961

The transition from old campus to new took many years; for thirteen of them, two campuses operated simultaneously. Through it all (including construction strikes, budget troubles, and seas of mud), the Skidmore spirit proved resilient.

“A new move naturally brings with it excitement, doubts, and inconveniences. The projected move to the New Skidmore Campus in September offers all three. There will be 528 living spaces to be filled in the four new Skidmore Residence Halls.…Classes will still be held on the present Skidmore Campus and thus a ‘fleet of buses’ will be in operation to and from the two Skidmore campuses.”
—Jill Schuker ’66, Skidmore News, February 11, 1965

“The New Campus is full of noise, dust, and debris.…The bus service is disrupted, Moore Hall serves no meals on weekends, the lines at the New Campus dining halls are huge.…The chaos we seem to see all around is merely the most superficial result of what happens when a college struggles to expand and survive simultaneously.”
—CGA President Nancy Watkins ’74,
Skidmore News, September 19, 1973

The college’s “center of gravity” finally shifted to the new campus with the completion of Ladd Hall and Case College Center in the 1970s.

“Finally, the fairy tale of a massive building with things that would apply to a college, like a snack bar open at night, mailboxes within walking distance, and a college bookstore, has come true.…Skidmore students finally have a true college center.”
—Skidmore News, April 18, 1974

“Gradually the campus approached completion—although Skidmore folk have learned never to think of the job as finished.”
—Professor of American Studies Mary C. Lynn,
Make No Small Plans

In the 1980s the Jonsson Campus gained a sports center, classroom buildings, and a new dormitory. But by the early 1990s a report noted that Skidmore’s “new campus” was no longer new; its earliest facilities were in need of renewal. Before the decade was out, Scribner Library and Dana Science Center were expanded, a lighted outdoor athletic complex was built, and the dramatic new Tang Museum debuted to rave reviews. Other projects, such as renovating the Filene Music Building, still waited.

Just this spring Moore Hall—Skidmore’s last facility downtown—went up for sale, and architects are designing a new student housing complex for the northwest corner of campus. Meanwhile, Skidmore’s boathouse, baseball diamond, and riding stables remain off campus, the college maintains study-abroad offices in Europe and Asia, and UWW and MALS students engage in study from all around the world. Clearly, Skidmore is much too complicated to tuck neatly into pockets, pigeonholes, or campus confines.

—compiled by Kathryn Gallien
Editor’s note: Click here for an interactive map of the old campus.