As one walks along Middle Path, the magnificent historic architecture of Kenyon’s campus beams at passing students. Recent, modern additions to campus have not reflected in the desire to preserve this architecture. Beyond that, the wave of renovations places many interiors under constant threat. Maintaining old buildings on campus is vital for ensuring the especially conducive environment of growth at Kenyon, and for securing its historicity.
Venturing inside some of these aged structures may instill awe, for instance the wondrous sensation of climbing the stairs of Ascension Hall to the Philomathesian and Nu Pi Kappa lecture halls. Surrounded by ornate furnishings, impressive stained glass windows, and wooden tables and paneling, all encased in a stone Victorian Gothic embrace, one cannot help but feel impressed. These buildings present an aspect of Kenyon’s identity of great value to the campus as a whole. At its core, Kenyon is a beautiful place of learning in a nature-filled and relatively isolated area, able to inspire its students through its architecture and ambience. This is reflected in Kenyon’s own description of Ascension as a “Castle on the Hill,” positioning the College as an exceptionalist community to look up to. Buildings such as these are more than just functional, and add a grandeur of institutional legacy that may inspire its pupils, raise the campus atmosphere and foster community.
That is precisely why it is necessary to protect Kenyon’s existing historical architecture and caution against renovations that could damage it. Buildings like Ascension, Peirce Dining Hall, Samuel Mather Hall and Old Kenyon Residence Hall: These are the places that define this school. These buildings are perhaps deserving of a special respect, and definitely of protective maintenance. Of these four places, all but Ascension have had major renovations, making the preservation of these campus landmarks all the more urgent.
The interior of Old Kenyon was once grand, with gorgeous decorations, spiral staircases, hardwood floors and a top floor that resembled that of Leonard Residence Hall today. After it burned down, Kenyon soon rebuilt it, but did so without preserving much of the original interior. These features were replaced with Faux-marble linoleum flooring, white plaster walls and several flights of utilitarian stairs (with tiles akin to a bathroom wall). While that is an older example, it feels necessary to point to it as construction and modernization abound. Just last week, one of my professors mentioned that the interior of Ascension was next on the renovation list — and while it is unclear what that may entail, the notion alone was concerning enough to compel my presentation of this opinion.
In the recent renovation of Bexley Hall, contractors gutted the interior and removed the windows. The latter was done to install energy efficient windows, a measure which I support. Any removal of such striking detail is still frustrating, although the stripping of the interior remains ghastly in comparison. Thankfully, the exterior structure is maintained; however, we have yet to see if the interior will retain its previous charm. Bexley could serve as a potential model in preserving historic buildings on campus while still meeting the needs of Kenyon’s growing community, but if it follows previous renovation trends, the preservation of finer historical features do not appear to be prioritized.
With this in mind, accessibility issues that are coupled with these antique buildings — in particular, the lack of wheelchair access — become necessary to mention. While resources are allocated towards constructing new buildings, many historic locations have not been made accessible — e.g., many of the older dorms and Ascension. Kenyon ought to be aiming to make these grand campus spaces available to everyone, while preserving them.
Kenyon’s older buildings define our campus, bringing a powerful mix of beauty and history to this school. Maintaining and restoring these structures should be at the forefront of Kenyon’s focus as a school. Especially with the current emphasis on renovation and construction on campus now, we must not only build the new but also embrace the old.
Guthrie Richardson ’25 is a columnist for the Collegian. He is a political science major and is from Chapel Hill, N.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at email@example.com.
Definitely please err on the side of preserving these gems. It’s a vital investment.
I wonder if Cromwell Cottage needs a thoughtful update as well.
Reply to Jan