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Detail from a page in the Farnsworth Hours; illumination attributed to Flemish artist Willem Vrelant, ca. 1465, Booth Family Center for Special Collections

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The Quadrangle: A history in fifty images

Online Exhibitions

In April 1788, work began on Georgetown’s first building, the South Building, situated along what would become the south side of the Quadrangle. Over time, other buildings joined the South Building and in 1926, with the opening of New North, the Quadrangle as we know it today was completed.

The Quadrangle is the heart of Georgetown’s campus. The history of its development is in effect the history of the development of campus as a whole for the first 140 years of Georgetown’s existence. During this time, academic, residential, and spiritual activities all centered on it. Not until the 1930s when the Medical-Dental Building opened on Reservoir Road, followed by the building of Copley Hall and White-Gravenor, did the focus of campus planning shift away from it.

This exhibit briefly charts the history of the space through scans of fifty documents from the University Archives.  Most of these documents are photographs; in some of these the Quadrangle is the focus of the image, in others it serves as the backdrop to either routine activities or to special events.

The South Building

The South Building

The first building on campus, sometimes known as the Carroll Building, was begun in 1788. Georgetown’s founder, Father John Carroll, described its site as one of the most lovely situations, that imagination can frame in a letter he wrote in March 1788. Carroll hoped the building would be finished in a year – however, financial issues meant that it took over three years to finish. The building was still under construction when our first student, North Carolinian William Gaston, arrived in November 1791. The South Building was razed in 1904 and Ryan Hall stands on the site today.

Georgetown University campus in 1829

Campus in 1829

The South Building was quickly joined by the North Building (known today as Old North.) The land on which Old North sits was bought in 1792 and work on its exterior was completed by 1795. Old North was modelled after Nassau Hall at Princeton. At 154 feet across, it quadrupled dormitory space on campus and added classrooms and a chapel. Finding money to pay for the construction work was challenging for the fledgling Georgetown College. Fees were raised and records in the Archives show that at one point building expenses were paid in beef - from cows raised on campus - rather than cash. It was not until 1809, when an anonymous gift of $400 was received, that the interior was fully completed.

The area enclosed by the fence seen in this image was a recreational space known as the Yard. In 1891, when an Athletic Association was formed by the students it was also known as the Yard, a term which later came to be associated with student government more generally. The Yard/Athletic Association’s initial function was to organize “amusement and exercise,” according to the 1891 catalog. Over time, however, it became involved in a wider variety of student interests and by 1920, The Hoya was referring to the Yard President as the official head of the student body. 

George Washington at Old North

George Washington speaking from the steps of Old North

A number of notable visitors have spoken from the steps of Old North, beginning with former U.S. President George Washington in August 1787. Two of his grandnephews had been enrolled previously. Apparently, while the College knew he was coming, we did not know what time to expect him and when he arrived no one was waiting to greet him. He simply tied his horse to the porch and went inside. 

Georgetown University campus in 1851

Campus in 1851

This scene was used to illustrate the first catalog printed by Georgetown College in 1851. It includes the two buildings added to campus in the 1830s: Gervase, which opened in 1831 as the College infirmary, and Mulledy Hall, now known as Freedom Hall, a multi-functional building which was completed in 1833. Freedom Hall’s first floor housed the student dining hall until the early 20th century when Ryan Hall opened. Its second floor included a student chapel used until Dahlgren Chapel opened in the 1890s. The third floor was used as an auditorium where commencements and other large gatherings were held until Healy Hall was completed.

Two sides of today’s Quadrangle are recognizable in this image but the space is open to the north and south 

Georgetown University map before 1854

Map of campus drawn by James Curley, S.J., sometime before 1854

One of the few pre-20th century maps of campus in the University Archives, this detailed drawing shows almost every structure in the vicinity of the Quadrangle, including a greenhouse, bakery, icehouse and privies. Building No. 1 is Old North and Building No. 2 A is the South Building. We can date this map because Maguire Hall, completed in 1854 to house the Preparatory Department students, does not appear on it.

Maguire Hall

Maguire Hall

Construction on Maguire began in 1854. It was built to house the “small boys” as the students in the Preparatory Division were called and was, therefore, known as the Small Boys Building. It was felt the building was needed to allow the separation of the younger boys from the older ones, lest the latter be bad influences. The basement served as recreational space, the first floor housed a dining room and a reading/music room, the second floor served as the study hall, and the third and fourth floors housed open dormitories. 

The building of Maguire necessitated the moving of the Jesuit Cemetery which was established in 1808 close to what is now the south end of Healy Hall. The cemetery was moved to its current location, at that time far from any developed area of campus, because administrators did not want it next to the new building.

Georgetown University in 1861

“Quarters of the Sixty-Ninth (Irish) Regiment, New York State Militia, At Georgetown College, D.C.” Harper’s Weekly, June 1, 1861

This illustration shows the Sixty-Ninth Regiment of the New York State Militia, known as the “Irish Regiment,” in the Quadrangle in front of the South Building. The Sixty-Ninth, which numbered fourteen hundred men, arrived on campus on May 4, 1861. The College was given less than 24 hours’ notice of their arrival and the 60 or so students who still remained (the others having been withdrawn by their anxious parents) had to quickly move out of the buildings on the south side of the Quadrangle. These were turned over to the Regiment and College operations moved into Old North.

The Regiment was billeted at Georgetown for three weeks, during which time President Lincoln and several members of his cabinet visited to review them. On June 4, 1861, they were replaced by the 79th New York who stayed for a month. Known as the Highland regiment, its members appear, at least from accounts in the archives, to have been less disciplined than the 69th and to have been prone to arguments and knife-fights. 

Letter requisitioning Georgetown University buildings in 1862

Letter to Georgetown President John Early, S.J., from the Surgeon General’s office, requisitioning campus buildings, August 31, 1862 (Rev. John Early, S.J. Papers, box 1, folder 1)

At the end of August 1862, after the Second Battle of Bull Run, buildings on the south side of the Quadsrangle, as well as the College’s villa in Tenleytown, were requisitioned because of the pressing need for Hospital accommodation. The new building mentioned in the requisition letter may be Maguire Hall, construction on which began in 1854. Apparently, Old North was spared because of the intercession of a Union General, General Amiel Weeks Whipple, whose sons William and David were enrolled. Because of this, Georgetown was able to continue in operation although enrollment dropped to as low as seventeen students. It was not until February 1863 that campus reverted back to the control of the College.

Georgetown University campus around 1867

Campus around 1867

Seen from left to right are: the Infirmary (Gervase Hall), Freedom Hall, the Small Boys Building (Maguire Hall), the South Building and Old North. The only significant campus building not seen in this image is the Observatory which was completed in 1844. As this image shows, most of the early buildings on campus were oriented to face the river. Healy Hall begun in 1877 and Dahlgren Chapel consecrated in 1893 do not share this orientation and thus serve to create the eastern and western boundaries of the Quadrangle.

This photograph can be dated because of the stone wall along the eastern edge of campus which was completed in 1867. This dating is confirmed by the height of the towers on the North Building. In 1866, a new roof was put on the building and the towers were remodeled and built up an additional 30 feet.

The Quadrangle in 1874

The Quadrangle in 1874

The pump and Old North (left) and the east corner of Old North (right), April 1874

The College got got its water from the pump in the Quadrangle water until 1884 when municipal water became available. 

Old North in 1874

The South Building in 1874

Views across the Quadrangle from the South Building to Old North (left) and from Old North to the South Building (right), July 1874

Note the number of steps leading up to the Old North porch in the image to the left. The construction of Dahlgren Chapel in the 1890s required the regrading of the Quadrangle and the addition of steps.

Healy Hall stereo card around 1880

Healy Hall stereo card, around 1880

Healy Hall completes the east side of the Quadrangle. It is named for Patrick Healy, S.J., who served as Georgetown President in 1874-1882. Before Father Healy became president, there had been plans to build several new buildings on campus in the same architectural style as the existing ones. Father Healy abandoned these plans and instead constructed one large building. Construction work began in 1877 and the exterior was completed by 1882, although work on the interior continued into the early 1900s. 

The building stands out for three reasons. The first is its size; its completion more than doubled the total square footage of campus buildings. The second is its architectural style; the Medieval Revival / Flemish Romanesque design is a very different style from the Federal style much used in Georgetown and Washington. The third is its orientation; Healy Hall was the first building on campus to face D.C. rather than the river. Some historians have suggested that Father Healy deliberately selected this orientation as a signal that Georgetown should be viewed, from that point on, as an educational institution of great local and national importance.  

A stereo card, or pair of identical photographs mounted on card stock, was viewed through a device known as a stereoscope to produce a single, three dimensional image. These cards were widely distributed in the United States by the 1880s.  

Prep students in the Quadrangle in 1885

Preparatory Department students seated in the Quadrangle in front of the South Building, 1888

Georgetown College Journal, October 1892

Georgetown College Journal, October 1892

The quadrangle has been changed completely, so much so that few of the old boys would recognize it . . .

Today’s Quadrangle is sometimes referred to as Dahlgren Quadrangle. As this extract from the 1892 student newspaper indicates, however, the Quadrangle was historically known as simply the Quadrangle. The re-grading and other changes mentioned in this note came as a result of the building of Dahlgren Chapel.

Dahlgren Chapel cornerstone laying, 1892

Laying the cornerstone of Dahlgren Chapel, May 1892
Photograph by J. B. Chamberlain & Co.

The buildings seen in the background are the South Building (left) and Freedom Hall (right).  Dahlgren was the first building on campus financed entirely by outside philanthropy and the first to be named for a non-Jesuit. It was funded by John Dahlgren, C’1889, and his wife Elizabeth Drexel Dahlgren. Elizabeth took a close interest in plans for the Chapel, particularly the stained glass windows, and even specified what kind of ivy should be planted to grow on its exterior.

Dahlgren Chapel around 1893

Dahlgren Chapel around 1893

Georgetown College Journal, October 1893

Mention of ivy being planted in the Quadrangle. Georgetown College Journal, October 1893

The Quadrangle in the 1890s

Students relaxing in the Quadrangle in the 1890s

Freedom Hall in 1898

Freedom Hall (formerly Mulledy Hall),1898

The roofline of Freedom Hall seen in this image differs from the roofline of today. In 1947 a fire broke out in the building which destroyed its top floor. A firefighter broke his leg while fighting the blaze but that, according to accounts in The Hoya, was the only fire-related injury. Edmund A. Walsh, S.J., Regent of the Foreign Service School, returned to the burning building to rescue a large number of photostatic copies of Nuremberg trial documents (Walsh served as Consultant to the U.S. Chief of Counsel at the Nuremberg Trials). These copies were used in the writing of his book, Total Power: A Footnote To History, published in 1949. The building was subsequently repaired and the fourth floor and roof were rebuilt to a different configuration.

The South Building in 1899

The South Building, 1899

Five years after this photograph was taken, the South Building was demolished to make way for Ryan Hall.

Ryan Hall in 1904

Ryan Hall under construction, 1904

Ryan Hall was funded by Ida M. Ryan whose five sons attended the College. She was the wife of Thomas F. Ryan, an extremely wealthy industrialist. Ryan Hall was built to contain dormitory rooms for students on its second, third and fourth floors and the student dining hall on its ground floor. The building was dedicated on December 8, 1904.

Ice skating in the Quadrangle in 1920

Ice skating in the Quadrangle. Pictured in Ye Domesday Booke, 1920
First blessing by newly ordained Jesuits in front of Dahlgren Chapel, around 1921

New North, which opened in 1926, was not begun when this photograph was taken.

"Foch Honored by Georgetown." The Hoya, November 24, 1921 26

Marshal Ferdinand Foch (1851-1929), Commander in Chief of the Allied armies during World War I, was France’s representative to the Limitation of Armament Conference held in Washington on November 11, 1921. He was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Canon and Civil Law by Georgetown on November 16, 1921 and was also presented with a gold sword, a gift from all the Jesuit colleges in the United States, on the porch of Old North.

Dahlgren Chapel and New North under construction, around 1925

New North was the last building on the Quadrangle to be completed. It opened in September 1926, after a six week delay caused by a strike by the bricklayers union. It was the first building constructed on campus since 1906 and cost just over $225, 000 to build. Built as a dorm, it had 122 double rooms. There had been a significant increase in enrollment after WWI and a new dormitory was needed to house the additional students. 

When the building opened, its ground floor had four large classrooms and there was a rifle range in the basement. The range contained 11 targets and was built so that the ROTC unit and University rifle team could practice. The student newspaper described it in 1925 as an “ultra-modern dormitory.”  It housed students until 1986 when Village C opened – at that point it was renovated to house office for a number of departments including Theology, English, Classics and Philosophy.

Acknowledgments: 

Curated by Lynn Conway, University Archivist