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Past to present: Brockport's history through construction

by Kristina Livingston - Executive Editor
Tue, Nov 7th 2017 09:00 pm

Turn back the clock over a hundred years and get a glimpse of the unrecognizable picture both the college and village of Brockport once painted and become transported back to a time when the College at Brockport consisted only of Hartwell Hall, what was once a private academy in 1835. The college’s purpose was to train teachers who would go on to practice in state schools. 

According to college archivist Charlie Cowling, the college saw its first major changes in the 1940s, progressing alongside history. Prior, the school had approximately 300 students and 30 faculty members operating out of one building, this being Hartwell Hall.

The paper “Cherishing Heritage” by W. Wayne Dedman cites the original plans for what would come to be known as The Brockport Institute and is now known as Hartwell Hall as being “of stone 200 feet long and four stories high, large, commodious, and substantial” and the grounds as “extensive, well and tastefully laid out and shaded.”

The Brockport Institute was founded after much debate amongst the Village Board.

“After World War II, higher education took off like a rocket,” Cowling said. “What you had was this loose, little group of state teachers’ colleges — Brockport, Potsdam, Geneseo and so on.”

In Cowling’s view, New York still had a late start with an involvement in higher education, as SUNY was not formed until 1948. 

Brockport began its expansion in the late 1940s to meet this demand, which existed in part due to a post-war economy. The administration knew it had to implement something as its response, no matter how temporary, according to Cowling.

“The campus was kind of different than now, when everything is settled,” Cowling said. “There is a vanished Brockport.”

As the state poured in money and new faculty were hired by the dozens, the Brockport Institute acquired war surplus supplies, namely barracks from Hamlin Beach previously used as a Prisoner of War camp in WWII, in which to temporarily house married veterans attending college. Where Seymour College Union is currently located once resided West Hall, a women’s dormitory, with a building known as The Field House, an old naval base. The Field House functioned as the main athletic training facility.

Temporary buildings were installed on the lawn of Hartwell, with some remaining there up until the 1960s. Adjacent to Hartwell Hall soon stood the first stable buildings, these being Lathrop Hall, a strucure much different from the renovated nursing building which then served as a student union. Morgan Hall acted as the first permanent housing unit on campus.

“They never intended them to be there forever, but things were moving so fast, it was like, ‘we have to get something up,’” Cowling said.

As the timeline progressed, permanent buildings began being constructed. In the 1970s, just off North-Redman Road there once stood a building known as Stage 16, a housing unit which proved unprepared for proper drainage, eventually leading it to be given cause to be torn down in the early 1990s. Parking lots now fill the space previously used to house the sparsely populated institution. 

The student acceptance rate naturally rose as the campus was capable of accomodating a greater amount of students. The 1960s showed the largest increase in the student body, with over 5,000 more attendees present on campus than during the World War II era.

“The sky was the limit; it was a lot of fun in many ways,” Cowling said of Brockport in the 1960s, which he referred to as “a sea of construction”.

With dormitories and academic buildings popping up, construction stalemated in the 1990s. 

As the college’s presence grew, homes were relocated in the surrounding village. Cowling describes the more recent additions of the Liberal Arts Building and the SERC as a resurgence in construction, with Drake Memorial Library and Allen Building marking the last period of prominent projects. 

Much history is left to The Rose Archives, an expansive archive collaborated upon by Cowling and alumni such as Betty Evershed, class of 1949. The archive is located on the Drake Memorial Library website and accessible throughout the world, documenting the college’s transition from a teacher’s training academy into a liberal arts school, as well as countless other moments cemented in history.

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Taken by Vinny Croce:
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