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Raiders of the Lost Archives: Early Days of Scoville Memorial Library

In anticipation of upcoming renovations to Scoville Hall, this week’s column looks back to the former library’s construction 120 years ago. The building was named for James W. Scoville, who met College President James W. Strong (1870-1903) while they both attended the Chicago Theological Seminary. Mr. Scoville expressed a desire to donate $25,000 for a new college library, but he died before such a provision could be made in his will. Scoville’s widow and son fulfilled his wish posthumously, a gift heartily accepted by faculty and students alike. The Carletonian of February 10, 1896, said, “Our hearts were filled with joy when we heard that Carleton was to have a new library. The results of Mr. Scoville’s gift cannot be estimated in money value. He has done more than any other investment could do for our college.”

Excavation began on April 20, 1896. On June 10, the day of Commencement, Professor Charles H. Cooper laid the cornerstone on the northeast corner of the building. Each piece of limestone that made up the exterior walls was specially cut at the Babcock quarry in Kasota, Minnesota. The rest of the structure contained 250,000 bricks, seven tons of plaster, and 100,000 feet of lumber. Interior trim and furniture were oak, the floors maple. The architects were Patton and Fisher of Chicago. The Scoville Memorial Library was dedicated on November 6, 1896, just six months after construction began. Seven hundred people attended the dedication exercises and toured Carleton’s newest building. Reverend Watson Millard blessed the building and the young scholars of Carleton, while Professor Horace Goodhue, Trustee Harlan Page, Board President George Rust, and Librarian Charles Cooper all gave speeches to mark the occasion.

As printed in the Northfield News, Librarian Cooper remarked, “At last the day has come, longed for by all of us, when the dignity and beauty of its enclosing temple marks the position which the library holds in our college life. As I took occasion to say last June when I stood on yonder corner, I believe the library to be the heart of the [College].… It is the storehouse of the treasures committed to us by the generations that are gone.”

On the library’s main floor were the reading, cataloging, and book rooms, as well as the librarian’s office. The upper floor, illuminated by skylights, held periodicals, study rooms, and classrooms. The 1896 collection numbered 13,000 volumes at a time when 146 students were enrolled in the college. According to a 1922 report by Librarian Walter Patton, enrollment was 820, and the library held 54,000 volumes, excluding periodicals. Plans were drawn to expand Scoville in the 1930s, but a permanent addition was never built. In 1953, a wooden annex was constructed to house studying space and the reference collection, but that too became crowded. At the end of Scoville’s service as the library, its walls contained only 40 percent of the college’s total collection.

When the new $1.5 million library was completed in 1956, 690 students helped move thousands of books and periodicals to their new home. President Laurence Gould rededicated Scoville Memorial Library as Scoville Hall, which was remodeled into office space and classrooms. As of 2016, Scoville and the Gould Memorial Library have each served as libraries for 60 years.

One final note: Scoville was the birthplace of Carleton’s unofficial mascot. The May 1, 1898, Carletonia briefly mentioned “a very beautiful gift” of artwork from Miss Isabella Watson, namesake of our high-rise dormitory. Included in the gift were busts of the German writers Johann Goethe—and, of course, Friedrich Schiller. Although that detail has not been included in previous accounts of the Schiller tradition, the Schiller bust was first stolen from Scoville Hall in 1957. The rest, of course, is history.

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