Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
College History



The Sem / Seminary Hall / 3 Howard St.

Built in 1834 across the street from the Wheaton homestead, on the site where the north wing of Mary Lyon Hall now stands, Seminary Hall was the first building constructed for Wheaton Female Seminary.  It contained classrooms, recitation rooms, and offices; all academic and most social functions of Wheaton Female Seminary were held in this building from 1835 until it was replaced in 1849. Laban Morey Wheaton had completed its construction by the end of 1834, before the family had finalized plans for the Seminary.  It was moved and re-purposed several times.

The original design included Neoclassical features in its two-story front portico, four simple columns, and low pediment.  The columned cupola, topped by a weathervane, gave it a decidedly “schoolhouse” appearance.  Its current appearance bears little resemblance to this original design.  The portico and cupola are gone.  A two-storey sunporch was added to the south side in 1938.

A peripatetic building, "The Sem" has served many purposes. Between 1849 and 1933, it was moved three times across Howard St., and has stood in four different locations. In 1850, having been moved to Howard St. and replaced with the a new Seminary Hall, it was used as a straw hat factory, tenement, and meeting hall, rented to such groups as the Sons of Temperance. In 1868 it was moved back across Howard St. and attached to the rear of Old Metcalf Hall where it served variously as the laundry, infirmary, gymnasium (prior to 1903), bookstore, and post office (between 1904-1933). As such, it was the most popular spot on campus after morning Chapel, to which students rushed to collect their mail before their first classes. In 1933 it was moved to its present location on Howard Street.  Used for student activities, it became the headquarters for the Student War Activities Board (SWAB) during World War II.  The Sem held faculty apartments from 1941 until 2010, when it returned to service as a residence hall for students.

The most vivid imprint of The Sem’s previous history survives in the upstairs apartment, where four rooms that stand in pairs off a long, narrow hallway still feature transoms over each doorway.  In each of these rooms, on either side of the entrance, are two closets, containing deep, built-in shelves meant to serve as dressers for student residents.

In 1933, prior to the demolition of Old Metcalf, the building was moved to its current location on Howard St. and given its nickname "The Sem" by President Park. This name appears on a small pediment over the front door.

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