Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History

Academics

1836-1934

Old Metcalf Hall / Boarding House

The first, and until 1901 the only, dormitory at Wheaton, the Boarding House was begun in 1836, "talked into existence" by Mary Lyon, encouraged by Eliza Baylies Wheaton. Until its construction, students boarded with families in Norton Center, including the Wheatons. The original Boarding House held 40 students and three teachers, and cost $5,735.  During Wheaton Seminary’s first year, room and board cost $1.67 per week, “including washing and lights [candles or oil lamps].” Mary Lyon was adamant that only two girls occupy each room, and that they not be allowed to speak after "lights out", on the theory that young ladies "may say things in the dark that they would never repeat during daylight hours".

In response to growing enrollments and increasing national demand for women’s education, two wings were added in 1851 that housed 20 students and several teachers.  By allowing three students to occupy several larger rooms, and having some students share with accommodating teachers, the house could house 65 students.

This proved inadequate, however, and in 1857 a “West “Wing,” or New Boarding House opened, housing another 30 students. Both the "old" and "new" houses looked very similar to ordinary family residences, giving the Seminary a home-like atmosphere.  The two houses were joined together by an "isthmus" which earned for the building the name of "Siamese Twins."

Several other enlargements resulted in a rambling wood frame structure parallel to Main St. Additions at the rear of the structure included The Sem, which was moved back across Howard St. in 1868 and used as the laundry.  An indoor toilet system was added in 1870, although each night students still drew pitchers of water for drinking and washing in their rooms from a well in the basement.  Central steam heat was installed in 1885.

A long distance telephone was installed in 1897, and in 1899 electricity reached Norton and the seminary.  The dining room and classrooms were lighted and one bulb was placed in each student room.  Students continued to study by kerosene lamps for more than a decade, however, on the theory that electric lights were too hard on the eyes.

Often called “The Home,” the boarding house was named for principal Caroline Cutler Metcalf in 1901.  Over the years, administrative offices, the bookstore, the post office, and the infirmary were all housed in Old Metcalf.

In June 1932, the west wing as far as the "isthmus" was demolished to make room for New Metcalf Hall. In February 1933 what remained of Old Metcalf ceased to be used as a student dormitory and instead became administrative offices. The building was entirely demolished in the fall of 1934. The original porch pillars were used to create a "Greek Temple" beside Peacock Pond in 1935. Much of the lumber and fixtures in Old Metcalf were used for repairs in other buildings.

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