Building for a Vision

Abbie Tanyhill Darst '036 Comments

Black and white photo of Howard Hall

Howard Hall, built in 1869, is recognized as the first integrated male residence hall in the South. The $18,000 building was paid for by the Freedmen’s Bureau and named after its chief commander, General Oliver Otis Howard. Photo courtesy of Berea College Special Collections & Archives.

Tucked away beside the Edwards Building on Berea’s campus sits a lone cupola. The tin-roofed and weathervane-enhanced tower stands in remembrance of Berea’s first men’s residence hall—Howard Hall.

Built in 1869, Howard Hall was unique in its time. In fact, John A. R. Rogers wrote, “Howard Hall was the wonder of the section. People came from the mountains to see it.” The white wooden clapboard building stood three stories high with decorative roof and porch soffits. It housed 89 young men under its tin roof.

But what made Howard Hall truly unique was that those 89 men were both black and white, living together in what was the first integrated men’s residence hall in the South. White men and formerly-enslaved black men from Appalachia found a new beginning at Berea College as they sought to be educated together. Inside Howard Hall, as cited in the book, “Berea College: An Illustrated History,” the students “got along well enough that faculty members often were dispatched to quiet the overly cheerful and noisy residents.”

Howard Hall cupola and Legacy Wall

The Howard Hall cupola has been preserved for many years in a brick-terraced garden as a gift of William Dawn ‘34 and Mildred Faulkner Dawn ‘35. The area also is home to the John G. Fee Glade Legacy Wall.

As the Civil War came to an end in 1865, Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau to help millions of formerly-enslaved men and poor whites in the South in the aftermath of the conflict. The Freedmen’s Bureau provided food, housing and medical aid, established schools and offered legal assistance. Intent on building a “New South,” the Freedmen’s Bureau provided for the completion of the $18,000 residence hall, lending an air of stability to a fledgling institution and giving the College a tangible symbol of its radical ideals and impartial admissions policy.

The Bureau also provided scholarships to emancipated black men to attend Berea College.
In an 1873 letter to donor Gerrit Smith, founder Reverend John G. Fee wrote, “I wish some of you who toiled early in this struggle for national regeneration could come and see. The demonstration is as harmonious and complete as you could possibly expect or desire.”

So it only stood to reason that Fee named the residence hall after the chief commander of the Freedmen’s Bureau, General Oliver Otis Howard. That same year, Howard became the founder and president of Howard University in Washington D.C., which also was coeducational and integrated. He later founded Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee in 1897. Howard, through his work with the Freedmen’s Bureau, was a leader in promoting higher education among the freedmen and Appalachian whites, and he fought for blacks to have the right to vote, work and gain political power in the South. In 1898, Howard visited Berea College and delivered a Memorial Day speech.

Howard Hall, which occupied the space where Seabury Center sits today—adjacent to Pearsons Hall— included a reading room and two rooms for meetings and social occasions. Each residence room had a stove, two beds, two chairs, a table and a wash stand. Students paid between $2 and $3 per term for boarding, and $2.50 for fuel in the winter. Bathrooms were installed in 1900 and the building was outfitted for steam heat and electricity in 1910.

Plaque about the Howard Hall cupolaWhen Seabury Gymnasium was built in 1928, Howard Hall was moved 100 feet north. With the move, the College added a basement and an additional 12 rooms. It stood until it was razed in 1971. To honor the legacy of this important building, its central cupola was retained and placed as the focal point of Howard Hall Memorial Park.

Today, in its brick-terraced park, the Howard cupola overlooks the Legacy Wall in Fee Glade, which lists more than 3,000 names of those who have included Berea in their wills or made life income agreements with the College, helping to keep Reverend Fee’s vision and Berea’s distinctive mission alive.

6 Comments on “Building for a Vision”

  1. My freshman year I lived in Williams dorm situated next to Howard. The horse shoe pits occupied the grassy area between them. I was fascinated by the skill with which stacked “ringer” upon “ringer”. The intermittent clang of metal on metal drew the late afternoon crowd and challenger. This was obviously a mountain sport with a skill that had been honed through adolescence by my Appalachian classmates in their hometown competition. I don’t think it rated as an intramural sport but I vaguely remember declaring a champion.
    Perhaps others can add details that I have missed

  2. My brother Wendell Wright lived in Howard in the early 60’s.My mom would wash his clothes if and when he came home to McRoberts. Mom could not understand why all of a sudden she had roaches, anyone who lived in Howard could answer why. I lived in Blue Ridge and then in the room at the back of Phelphs Stokes . I actually got to spend a week in Howard while my senior class went to Washington and NY,one of the perks of being poor. I am glad to see Howard still lives.

    1. Gary,
      Though by the 1960s Howard may not have been in immaculate shape (it was razed in 1971), I hope your brother, Wendell, enjoyed his time there and at Berea. And the same for you. Though we hope none of the pests live on, we are proud of the legacy Howard Hall has left on this institution and the importance of our radical inclusivity that led to the building of Howard Hall.
      -Abbie Darst ’03

  3. I was a resident of Howard Hall in 1968 and I can attest to the cheerful and noisy residents still being in full voice. We used to Joke that if the Termites ever decided not to hold hands the Dorm might fall. Howard was a place where you forged friendships that lasted a lifetime. Everyone knew everyone else and Dean Orwig was a frequent visitor to see or to comment about the recent mischief that some resident had achieved. Unlike the Blue Ridge dorm which was out at the edge of campus, Howard was in the middle of everything and I think that we got blamed for a lot of things that we did not do. Well, Maybe we did do all those things!! My memories of Howard will always be grander than the dorm actually was and I was very sad the day they demolished Howard Hall. I grew up not far from Lincoln Memorial University in Tennessee and never knew that General Howard was responsible for that institution, and I certainly never connect Howard Hall with Howard University. The History of Berea never fails to amaze me!

    1. Mr. Stephens,
      Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories of your time in Howard Hall and at Berea! Berea seems to be connected to so many things, and I just love hearing about how people connected with their time on campus!
      -Abbie Darst ’03

  4. I never was a resident in Howard Hall but I had many college buddies that lived there; thus, I was in the dorm many times. Also, the summer of 1970 when I had a summer job with the Upward Bound program after graduating in May, Howard Hall was the Upward Bound men’s students dorm that summer. I lived in Blue Ridge Dorm three years; my senior year as a Bingham III Prophet. As a student at Berea College, I never knew the historical background of this building. Now, it makes perfect sense on how this building got its name.

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