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A good walk through history

Dec 23, 2014 09:52PM ● Published by Kerigan Butt

Several trees on The Green remain from the time they were first planted in 1917.

Gallery: A good walk through history [10 Images] Click any image to expand.

Story and photographs by Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

The Green, extending from Main Street to south of the Morris Library, is not just a half-mile distance, but the accumulation of a shared vision, one that began nearly a century ago.    

In 1915, University of Delaware alumnus and trustee, H. Rodney Sharp, philanthropist Pierre Samuel du Pont, university presidents Samuel Chiles Mitchell and Walter Hullihen, architects Frank Miles Day and Charles Z. Klauder, and landscape designer Marian Coffin gave birth to an idea that has now become a historical Delaware landmark an one of the most important centers of advanced learning on the East Coast.

At the time, the University of Delaware existed as two small, single-sex colleges. On the north end stood Delaware College, centered at Old College on a campus constricted by the tracks of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Main Street. On the south end, the Women’s College of Delaware was located on a separate campus near the corner of South College Avenue and Park Place. In between was an agricultural oasis filled with swampy marshland, apple orchards, a few old houses and a tavern.

However, it was Sharp's vision to help move his alma mater towards academic greatness – to connect the two separate colleges together –  and with the help of his brother-in-law du Pont, the no-man's land patch between the college's was purchased by du Pont, and then turned over to Day, Klauder and Coffin for design.

Day and Klauder began to draw up the new design for the land by incorporating the symmetry and balance seen in Thomas Jefferson's design of the Lawn at the University of Virginia, while infusing the look and feel of architectural design Day had seen in his travels through Delaware.

Once the layout of The Green had been defined, construction began on Harter Hall, a dormitory, and Wolf Hall, which became the home to science laboratories and an auditorium. In 1917, students helped plant the rows of elm trees along The Green, many of which still survive today.

A year later, Coffin designed an ornate landscape design concept for the newly-designed university, and by the 1920s, the two colleges, once separated by neglect, were now one. In 1924, Memorial Library, now Memorial Hall, was dedicated, and in the late 1920s, two more buildings – Mitchell Hall, still used as a performing arts center, and Evans Hall, now home to the the electrical and computer engineering department – had both opened.

In 1937, Harry Fletcher Brown, an executive at the Du Pont Company, financed the construction of the chemistry laboratory, a building that now bears his name, and one year later, with federal support from the Public Works Administration, Hullihen Hall, the university's main administrative building, was completed.

The Green welcomed its next structure in 1958, when DuPont Hall, now the home of the College of Engineering, was completed. In 1962, state funding helped pay for the construction of Sharp Laboratory, and is now where the university's physics department is located.

When David P. Roselle took over as president of the University of Delaware in the early 1990s, one of his missions was the help beautify The Green by adding brick walkways and upgraded greenery. In 1995, the W.L. Gore family gave the university funding in order to build a much-needed classroom building to stand in the last, large empty space along the west side of  The Green. Now, Gore Hall faces P. S. du Pont Hall, a building that had been designed in a utilitarian style that differed from that of its colonial revival surroundings, and had a setback out of keeping with The Green’s cruciform plan. University officials recognized an opportunity to correct these problems by constructing a new façade for Du Pont Hall in 2002.

With the completion of the newly-designed Du Pont Hall, the nearly century-old idea for the University of Delaware had at last been fully realized.

[Reference: “A brief history of the UD Green,” by Carol E. Hoffecker, Richards Chair and Professor, Department of History.]

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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