You are here

Old West, West College

-A A +A
1803–1805, Benjamin Henry Latrobe; later alterations
  • (© George E. Thomas)
  • (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • Bosler Hall (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • Stern Center for Global Education (Tome Scientific Building) (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • Stern Center for Global Education (Tome Scientific Building) (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • Althouse Science Building (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • Althouse Science Building (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • "The Quarry" (Photograph by Mark Mones)
  • "The Quarry" (Photograph by Mark Mones)

At the urging of Carlisle lawyer and federal representative to western Pennsylvania Hugh Breckenridge, Benjamin Henry Latrobe offered free plans when the “New College,” begun in 1799, burned. The fire turned out to be to the college's advantage because Latrobe's design became a classic of American collegiate architecture. His scheme is rooted in the broad proportions of Georgian design, but with the planar, abstracted ornament and references to classicism of the English Regency. The crest of the roof is crowned by a domed tholos, the original belfry, on which turns a wonderful primitive image of a wind god, transformed by the local craftsman into something like a mermaid. Undergraduates used to steal the “mermaid,” until a disastrous fall precipitated its removal to the library where it is on display. The building now presents a rather ashen visage of the weathered local limestone dotted with secondary features in the local brownstone, but originally the effect would have been quite different when the fieldstone was its original dark bluegray. Tiny bits of the original hue can still be seen where it is protected by the cornice and is also visible in the sheltered entrance to the Holland Union Building (1964, H. L. Shay and Associates) across College Street.

West College, so called to distinguish it when East College was constructed in 1836 (Henry Myers; 1969 rebuilt, H. L. Shay and Associates), housed the entire college with professors’ quarters, classrooms, and student rooms. The interior has been altered but enough remains to appreciate Latrobe's plan. The main rooms are on the warmer south side, with the great room, the “college hall,” like that of the University of Pennsylvania on which Latrobe had worked three years earlier, occupying the prime space, here the projecting central block. On the north side are stubby wings on either side of a section of the exterior wall thereby lighting and ventilating the corridor. Door and window trim recalls the abstracted pilasters that Latrobe would have learned from John Soane's circle in London. The main room originally had a balcony permitting it to seat the entire college community. It was refurbished after World War I as a memorial space with late Baroque ornament in the Georgian style that is certainly at odds with Latrobe's original design.

The campus green includes Bosler Hall, built in 1884 to house the college library. Because Dickinson was affiliated with the Baltimore Conference of the Methodist Church, it commissioned Baltimore architect Charles Carson, who designed a striking brick and brownstone building with a great tower in one corner and a large auditorium in the upper levels. In 1940 the college commissioned local architect William Emmart to remove the Victorian elements and reface the building in a colonial mode to complement the Alumni Gymnasium (now the Weiss Center for the Arts, 1929) across High Street. A year after completing the library, Carson designed the Tome Scientific Building that stands to the east and slightly to the rear of Old West. With its polychromed slate roof and naturalistic ornament recalling Deane and Woodward's Oxford Museum, it is a rare surviving college laboratory from the 1880s. Extensively renovated in 2000, it now serves as the college's Stern Center for Global Education, but its large windowed laboratory spaces and central museum can still be discerned. The Althouse Science Building to the other side of Old West is a 1957 design by Elmer Adams, a Reading architect who in the next decade was responsible for many of the lesser buildings of the college's residential zone. The tiny late Victorian and rather residential-looking structure at the corner of Louther and College streets, now called “the Quarry,” was built in 1899 for Phi Delta Theta from plans by York architect Harry Yessler. He also designed the gates to Biddle Field (1909).

Writing Credits

George E. Thomas


What's Nearby


George E. Thomas, "Old West, West College", [Carlisle, Pennsylvania], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of PA vol 2

Buildings of Pennsylvania: Philadelphia and Eastern Pennsylvania, George E. Thomas, with Patricia Likos Ricci, Richard J. Webster, Lawrence M. Newman, Robert Janosov, and Bruce Thomas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2012, 366-367.

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.