The northern portion of Chester is now separated from the riverfront city by the great divide of I-95, the former route of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. This northern zone contains Widener University. Founded in 1867 as the Pennsylvania Military Academy, it became a college in 1892. With the national scramble to find officers still alive after the Civil War, the new school offered the opportunity to train a larger officer corps than could be supplied by West Point alone. To ensure that its officers met national standards, the school was one of the first to have a U.S. Army officer attached to its staff. In the Vietnam era, the college was renamed for the Widener family, who made a fortune in Philadelphia in public utilities and had long served on the college's board. The original cupola-capped building crowns its small hill overlooking the city. At the outset it housed the entire institution, from dining halls and classrooms on the lower levels to dormitories on the upper floors. Its architect, John Crump, was the builder of Philadelphia's Union League as well as contractor for the War Department in Washington, D.C., suggesting that political connections were part of his success. His design is based on the Second Empire classicism popular with the architects for whom he built during the war. The third floor of Crump's building burned in 1882 and was rebuilt in seven months, in time for the new school year but with a separate annex for the chemistry department, where it was thought the fire originated. Old Main is now surrounded by a generally undistinguished group of buildings, the best of which is the library of 1969 by Vincent G. Kling and Associates.
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Old Main, Widener University
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