The most iconic building on the Bloomsburg University campus is, without question, Carver Hall. April 3 marked the 150th anniversary of its dedication in 1867 as the first building of the Bloomsburg Literary Institute. The individual most responsible for it coming into being was its eventual namesake and the university’s first president, Henry Carver.
Arriving in Bloomsburg in March 1866, Carver knew that higher education could only thrive in the community if there was a first-class facility to attract students and faculty. Carver soon opened a school and made it clear that a new building was essential for its long-term survival. The trustees of the Bloomsburg Literary Institute, incorporated 10 years before, acquired the land, while Carver solicited donations for construction costs by selling shares of stock. Work on the building commenced later that summer and continued into 1867. Carver not only served as architect, he also organized the construction as general contractor.
Finally, on Wednesday, April 3, 1867, the dedication exercises began with a procession that started at 1 p.m. and made its way up Main Street to what was then Institute Hall.
Faculty, pupils, parents and townspeople poured into the new building and up the stairs to the auditorium, where more than 1,000 filled it to overflowing. Speeches and essays read by students filled the time that afternoon, evening and the following evening. In addition to the auditorium, there were six classrooms on the first floor, and the total cost for construction and furnishing came to $24,000.
No changes were made to the hall until 1887, when a bridge was added to the back of the building leading from the second floor into the new model school building. Five years later, the auditorium was updated with a balcony and, for the first time, permanent seating in the form of opera chairs. The most noticeable renovation the building has ever undergone was in the summer of 1900, when a large tower topped by a copper dome was added to the front. A new porch and steps also were built, and a stained glass window was installed in the ceiling of the auditorium. A clock was installed in the tower with faces on all four sides, paid for by selling dinners at the Bloomsburg Fair.
In 1927, 60 years after the dedication, the Alumni Association passed a resolution that Institute Hall be named after the school’s first president and the building’s architect and contractor, Henry Carver. The Board of Trustees quickly approved the resolution. Renovations continued. Enclosed stairwells were built on the south and east sides in 1928 and an eight-foot lantern placed on top of the dome in 1931. In the summer of 1939, the bridge was removed and an addition placed on the north side to enlarge the auditorium’s stage.
The interior of Carver Hall was completely remodeled in 1953, when all the classrooms were taken out and replaced by offices. As the most visible and historic building on campus, it was decided Carver Hall would house the offices of the president, dean of instruction (now provost), and Business Office. At the same time, lights were installed on the lower section of the tower toilluminate the dome as a beacon in honor of the 27 individuals affiliated with the college who died during World War II.
The dedication of the remodeled Carver Hall and beacon took place on Feb. 19, 1954. Later that year, ivy was removed from the exterior and the bricks painted red, while the dome, which had been painted green in 1927 after tarnishing from its original color, was painted silver. The dome remained silver for 30 years until the spring of 1984, when it became the current gold.
Since the 1950s, the work on Carver Hall has been one of remodeling and shoring up the historic building. Extensive repairs and reinforcements to the tower and dome were made in 1976, 1982 and 2002. The auditorium, whose opera chairs were replaced with cushioned seats by 1962, underwent a complete remodeling with new chairs, lighting, carpets, paint, elevator and dressing rooms 30 years later. The Kenneth S. Gross Auditorium was dedicated in the fall of 1993 and a further remodeling was completed in 2014.
For 150 years, Carver Hall has stood at the doorstep of the campus, welcoming everyone to the university. It was the culmination of a vision dating back to 1839 that higher education could succeed and flourish in Bloomsburg. Thanks to Henry Carver it did, and continues to do so today. •
Robert Dunkelberger is Bloomsburg University archivist.