Section: News

Peirce Hall celebrates 85 years of community meals

Peirce Hall celebrates 85 years of community meals

by Phoebe Roe

Buried in the far-away reaches of North Campus, the Bexley Hall office of Kenyon’s college historian, Tom Stamp ’73, is filled to the brim with books, documents, sketches, pictures, displays and dozens of keys. Amid the chaos, there are mounds of information about Kenyon’s historic dining building, Peirce Hall.  

“Well, I love the Great Hall,” Stamp said. “It goes across generations of students; we’ve had a Great Hall since 1929.”

AVI’s Resident Director Kim Novak echoed the sentiment, saying, “Sitting in the Great Hall when there’s not a lot of people around, and you kind of feel the whole history of the building, is really just a great moment.”

This feeling was worth celebrating with a slice of cake and music at Peirce’s 85th birthday party last Friday.

Peirce’s iconic Great Hall was originally designed by architect Alfred Granger’s, a Kenyon graduate of the Class of 1887. Students who attended Kenyon at the time would eat family-style meals on the benches of the Great Hall.

“He was a really talented architect,” Stamp said. “Here at Kenyon, he designed Cromwell Cottage, Bailey House, Stephens Hall and Peirce.”

Charles Connick, considered one of the greatest stained-glass artists of the 20th century, designed Peirce’s stained-glass windows. The windows depict great works of English and American literature, from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

More stained-glass windows can be found lighting the way up to the third floor of Philander Chase Memorial Tower, commonly referred to as Peirce Tower. The windows depict Philander Chase’s life, explained Stamp, who is bothered when students so frequently use incorrect nomenclature when referring to the tower. “If you look, it says right in the stone, Philander Chase Memorial Tower; the tower is actually a memorial to Philander Chase,” Stamp said.

arly 30 years after the Great Hall was built, Kenyon’s student body started to grow.  Before World War II, Kenyon was comprised of only about 350 students.  Those students ate meals in what is now the Office of Development.  

“Students would go in and wait on the first floor until there was space upstairs and then they would go upstairs and eat,” Stamp said.  

When the college decided to become co-ed, it began to expand the student body to about 600 students and it quickly became clear that a new dining hall was in order. Thus, Dempsey Hall, which many students refer to as “new side,” was erected.

Stamp recounts a very drab lower Dempsey with low ceilings, no connection with the outdoors, no French doors, and purple-and-white linoleum flooring.  

“From the outside it looked pretty good,” Stamp of the original Dempsey Hall said. “The upper part was okay. The lower part was god-awful.”

To remedy this problem, the College orchestrated the most recent renovation the building has undergone, a $28 million renovation of Peirce in 2006 designed by Graham Gund ’63. Tom Lepley, former director of facilities planning, described the renovation as “10-fold better than it was before.” “As far as I’m concerned, it’s good for another hundred years,” he said.

Another vital element of Kenyon’s dining hall is the seal on the floor near the entrance of the building.  Current Kenyon students avoid the seal like the Krud because, rumor has it, students who step on it will never graduate. That tradition has existed for roughly 30 years, according to Stamp. “Things around here — you know, we always say if you do something once, it’s a tradition,” Stamp said. “Likewise, if somebody says something once, it’s a superstition.”

Around the same time that the seal tradition rose to prominence, students gained a new dining hall option in Gund Commons. Students ate in lower Gund Commons, which now houses the Career Development Office and computer lab.

“I didn’t eat at Peirce that much when I was a student,” Stamp said. “I ate at Gund more often because three of the four years I lived North.”

Stamp may have not frequented Peirce as an undergrad, but he is still the reigning Peirce expert. Not even Stamp can say for sure what changes Peirce will undergo in the next 85 years, but he is optimistic that any change will be for the best.  

“I don’t want the College to be exactly like it has been in the past,” Stamp said. “There’s nothing interesting about a college or a campus preserved in amber. If a place is alive, it’s going to change. Change means life.”


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