Ralph Adams Cram sure did a lot more for Wheaton College campus than most students realize. Not only did he design the campus blueprints, but he followed in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson and placed our school’s library at the center of campus, symbolizing a community focussed on student education.
Before Ralph Adams Cram’s design plan, our library didn’t have a proper place on Wheaton’s campus. According to collegehistory.com, it began in a room in the Boarding House; the first, and only, dormitory on campus until 1901. From there, it was moved into Sweet Hall in 1869, which was the first gymnasium to be built on a women’s college campus in the United States. In 1879, a specialized room was created in Mary Lyon Hall, but it only remained there in 1918 before being moved into the Chapel’s basement.
With increased enrollment and campus population, it was time for this important academic institution to finally have its own building. Thanks to Ralph Adams Cram’s designation of the library, the building was finally constructed in June of 1922. Although the library finally had a proper place on campus, the evolution of the building itself was only just beginning. Several extensions and renovations would be added over the years, until as late as 1999, with the repositioning of the front desk from beneath the marble staircase to the lobby.
The library began as one floor with alcoves full of study tables and places for reading.
The top floor of the building remained empty until 1929 with the creation of the stacks. The library did hold, however, rooms for reading and studying, a delivery room, a lecture hall, a work room, a periodical room, a gallery, a seminar room, and, of course, the stacks.
In 1927 the Cole Room was created and with it the Cole Memorial Section. Founded by Samuel Valentine Cole, the room consisted of many English literature and poetry books from his private collection. A past president of Wheaton College from 1897 to 1925, Cole donated these works to the library. The original Cole Room has since been renamed to be the Merrill Room, and the Cole Memorial section finds its place elsewhere within the library.
The Clark room wasn’t always a quiet reading room. It began, in fact, as an art gallery within the library. It held a series of oil paintings loaned to the school by Newport, Rhode Island’s Mrs. T. O. Richardson. Inspired by the art hanging on its walls, for a short time between 1980 and 1998, the room held art academic books and magazines, though now is mostly just used for quiet study.
The architects of Balfour-Hood Center, Caleb Hornbostel and Richard M. Bennet, began their work together on Wheaton’s library, designing the Henry Clay Jackson wing that was built in 1941. This wing held a browsing room, a periodical room and stacks for the magazines, as well as a new area for books. Exhibit cases for Laila Raabe’s collection of early American glass decorated the halls of this old wing. However, today they can be found in Watson Fine Arts Center instead. The wing’s old browsing room is now home to the new Cole Room.
In 1961 a major extension of the library was completed, expanding the seating and stacks areas with the addition of another periodicals wing to the east side of the building. The final expansion was designed by Mark Mitchell in 1979 and created the large stairs tower that connects the underground book stacks to the science center. It has become a favored underground passageway.
While Madeleine Clark Wallace library was being expanded and redesigned, the aesthetics of the building, as well as materials, roughly stayed the same. To keep its uniform look and non-generationally built aesthetic, meaning to look built as one fluid piece, the original materials of brick and Indiana limestone were used throughout the building’s exterior to keep with the Georgian style of campus.
Despite the various academic rooms throughout the Madeleine Clark Wallace library in past years, as well as now, pure academia isn’t always the library’s function. Today, Madeleine Clark Wallace library also holds the campus’ food pantry and in the past, around the 1920s according the collegehistory.com, the library was used to host plays put on by the senior class.
Fun fact: when you walk to the main entrance of the building, stop at the top of the stairs before the door, turn to your left and your right. With a careful eye, you may make out the slightly darker bricks in the center of these walls. That is from when the space hosted theatrical performances, and these were where the wings to the sides of the stage were cut into the walls. Unfortunately as the top of the stairs are no longer used for theater performances, the arches were filled in.
Although Wheaton’s library is no longer being used for theater, there’s still plenty of entertainment available inside. A neat aspect of the Madeleine Clark Wallace library is its option to check out a variety of games, including board games, card games, and video games. You can also rent an array of popular movies. Furthermore, if ever in the need of a calming challenge, a puzzle is always waiting to be solved in the Reading Room just outside the atrium. Obviously, there’s also always the opportunity for free reading, as the library is always circulating new and popular books to check out.