At the dedication and opening ceremony of Peirce Hall in 1929, Kenyon’s President William Peirce declared that it would be the last building that Kenyon would ever need, according to Tom Stamp ’73, the College historian and keeper of Kenyoniana. Despite this underestimation, President Peirce was right about one thing: Peirce Hall would be a unifying center of campus culture for years to come.
For over a century, Kenyon did not have a dining hall. Instead, students were responsible for arranging their meals with Gambier village members and families for an entire school year. Starting in 1911, students ate meals in what is now the Office of Advancement, but in order to accommodate everyone in this small space, they ate in assigned shifts.
58 years later, however, Kenyon had grown from not having any dining halls to having two. Upon the building’s completion in 1969, as well as the opening of the Coordinate College for Women, Gund Commons served as a second dining hall for students on the north end of campus, but this ended in 2006 due to a desire to foster campus unity around one dining hall, according to Stamp.
Because of its proximity to the Coordinate College, Gund Commons mainly served women. However, Stamp, who was a member of the first co-ed class, noted that the women were joined by some of their male peers. “Independent [non-fraternity member] men in my class tended to go to Gund for meals,” said Stamp. Thus, the Great Hall was almost exclusively used by fraternity members. Though Stamp acknowledged that most Greek organizations still lay traditional claim to Old Side tables today, as do many sports teams, he felt that this culture is less extreme today than it was when he was a student.
As per President Peirce’s prediction, Peirce Hall has long served as a multi-functional space. In fact, when it was first built, the building was also referred to as “The New Commons.” It was home to several student organizations, one of them being the “Shoppes.” The Shoppes, which existed in what is now Peirce Pub, were student-run dining options on campus, with selections ranging from cafe to diner food.
Though students today feel at home in Peirce, some previous students were literally at home. When Peirce was first built, the rooms on the third floor served as apartments for bachelor professors. They would later house the President of Student Council, the editor of the Collegian and the manager of WKCO, though this function ceased by the early 1980s.
In 2008, the College completed the renovations that changed Peirce Hall into the building students know and love today. According to Stamp, a variety of factors went into the decision to renovate the building, including the need for greater accessibility and more women’s restrooms. Additionally, neither the kitchen, nor Old Side and Dempsey Hall — the latter of which was, prior to renovations, approximately one-third the size of New Side — were large enough to accommodate the student body at its current size. The result was the addition of Thomas Hall, the Alumni Dining Room and the classrooms on Peirce’s lower level.
As Kenyon students who frequent meals at Peirce multiple times a day, it can be easy to take the building’s history for granted. Yet, its evolution serves as a physical representation of the College’s evolution as a whole; as Kenyon has changed, Peirce has changed with it. Though Peirce Hall has evolved drastically in its 90 years of existence, it has and always will be a center of campus culture at Kenyon.