At a college with as much history as Kenyon, there’s bound to be many spaces on campus that have fallen out of use, been closed to the public or been sealed off to prevent students from accessing them. In an interview with the Collegian, College Historian and Keeper of Kenyoniana Thomas Stamp ’73 explained the stories behind several restricted places at Kenyon, ranging from iconic symbols of life on the Hill to lesser-known structures from eras past.
Stamp began by talking about Philander Chase Memorial Tower, known colloquially among students as “Peirce Tower.” In the past, the Tower was home to art classes after the Department of Studio Art was created in the 1940s, but today, students are prevented from accessing it on their own. “I take students up there every year if they ask,” he said. “Back when I was teaching, I took my classes up there. And it’s really a wonderful way to see the campus, especially in my classes, where we were looking at how campus spaces develop over time. It was a good illustration of that.”
Another undeniably ubiquitous restricted space on Kenyon’s campus is the steeple of Old Kenyon (“Old K”). Often considered a symbol of the College, the steeple holds a bell that used to ring to mark special occasions, Stamp explained. “There used to be a tradition of ringing the bell that’s up there on special occasions, like when the College had a football game — so it wasn’t rung that often!” he said. The clapper of the bell was removed in previous years and is currently stored in the College archives. “It can be taken out for official occasions when they want to ring the bell, and I’m hoping that they’ll do something with that for the bicentennial.” Among the special occasions that the Old K bell is reserved for is the inauguration of new presidents, so it’s likely that the community will get to hear it sooner rather than later, when former President Sean Decatur’s successor is chosen. While some Kenyon students have been known to venture up into the steeple, Stamp advises against exploring. “It’s troubling because it’s not safe,” he said.
One of the better hidden restricted spots on campus is the defunct observatory in the tower of Ascension Hall. For many years, the observatory was a functional space for students and faculty to conduct research and experiments, but it has not been used regularly since the 1950s. “It’s sort of an inhospitable environment up there,” Stamp said. “Certainly students would’ve worked up there with faculty members. There’s not a lot to see, but it’s interesting just to see the space that was used for that purpose so long ago.”
In addition to spaces that are part of the College, there are also many hidden spots with historical significance in the Village itself. Among them are the Quarry Chapel, which is owned by the College Township and is located beyond the Kenyon Farm on Quarry Chapel Road, and the now-abandoned Knights of Pythias Lodge, which sits between Wiggin Street Coffee and the Kenyon Farm. The chapel holds sentimental value for Stamp, who is a member of the volunteer board responsible for its upkeep. Commonly used as a wedding and concert venue, the Quarry Chapel was not always in working order. “When I was a student it was just a shell, but over the past 20 years or so it’s been beautifully restored.”
As for the Knights of Pythias Lodge, Stamp is less familiar with the group behind it. “That building is still there — I actually think it’s just been sold. It was used by one of the [College’s] fraternities too, before it was the Knights of Pythias hall,” he said. The Knights of Pythias is a fraternal organization and secret society whose values center on friendship, charity and benevolence. A 2017 Collegian article made reference to some surprising finds from the lodge, including a human skeleton (supposedly used for rituals) that was later donated to the Department of Anthropology. Although it is located near Kenyon’s campus, Stamp noted that the organization was not affiliated with the College.
Some of the most mysterious buildings to the community at large and Stamp alike are the lodges belonging to Kenyon’s five fraternities. Since the lodges are only open to members of the fraternities they belong to, most Kenyon students do not get the opportunity to step inside. For Stamp, this can be equal parts frustrating and fascinating. “Those are, to me, some of the most interesting ‘restricted’ spaces,” he said. “For example, I saw the inside of the Alpha Delta Phi (AD) lodge for the first time just this past year, and I was amazed by it. I think the fraternities would actually do themselves some good if they did show these buildings a bit more. I know there’s this value they place on secrecy, but I’m not sure that works to their best advantage.”
Stamp also noted the profound historical significance of Kenyon’s fraternity lodges: “Some of them are quite old. The AD lodge I believe is the oldest fraternity lodge still in use in America. The Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) lodge is not their original lodge, but their original one was the first fraternity lodge on an American campus, and that dates back to the 1850s.”
Knowing that some Kenyon students would be curious about accessing many of the spaces he spoke of, Stamp urged potential adventurers to use caution and common sense. His message to potential explorers was not to go venturing anywhere in the first place, and especially not without guidance from individuals familiar with the spaces “For example,” he said, “if they wanted to go to the top of Chase Tower, they should contact me!” He also lamented the dwindling number of people able to help students access more campus spots: “A lot of the people who would have been available to help them see those places have retired. But I do think it would be a good thing for the frats who still have lodges to think about making them accessible one day a year or something like that.”
Although they are mostly forgotten by today’s Kenyon students, each of these spaces is a part of Kenyon’s storied past, begging the question: Will any of our current campus mainstays become the stuff of legend for future generations?