North Hall: Three Centuries of Education
By Jamie Curtis, class of 2010
The majestic Victorian-era North Hall has symbolized the spirit of Mansfield University for more than a century. Located in the heart of the campus, it originally housed the women's dormitory and today serves as one of the most elegant libraries in the United States.
The original North Hall, known as the "Ladies Building" was built in 1874. The four-story wooden and brick structure was 150 feet long with a covered walkway that connected it to South Hall and Alumni Hall. The kitchen and dining hall were moved from the seminary building to the new ladies dormitory. Building materials for North Hall totaled about $15,000.
During the dedication ceremony for the new structure, Dr. Simon B Elliott, state trustee and one of the most important figures in Mansfield history, unveiled his vision of higher education that was far-reaching and decades ahead of its time: 1
"To the end that intelligence and education shall be universal; that the rich and the poor; the child of him who has power and place, and of him who treads the lowly paths of life shall receive alike the blessings of Education-the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the people of this community built and now dedicate this building to the uses of education and to the moral and religious instruction and in rite equally and alike without distinction of sex, or race, or creed, or party, the children of all who may desire to participate of the opportunities which shall be here offered." 2 Dr. Simon B Elliott, State trustee. –
As student enrollment grew, Mansfield needed to expand. In 1891 construction plans were drawn up by Elmira, NY architects, Pierce and Bickford. The original plans called for a steeple. While very imposing and fanciful on the drawing board, it was scaled back by the board of trustees due to financial constraints.
From 1891-1894 the northern section of the 1874 structure was removed to allow the incorporation of the North Wing into the central portion of the building where the atrium or "well" is located. By 1894 the North and Central parts of the building as we see it today were finished. The expanded atrium joined the new north wing of the building with the original 1874 central portion of the original building. Electricity was also installed in 1897.
The southern portion of the building was not completed until the early 1900's, due to a lack of funds. In 1908, the rest of the 1874 structure was torn down. By January 1909 the first three floors of the new south wing were occupied, and by summer of 1909 the construction of the new south wing was completed. 3
The 270x 100 foot, seven- story structure housed the women's dormitory, an elegant oak dining room for 500 (located where the children's library is today), kitchen, bakery, infirmary, fraternity rooms, suites of rooms for the art and music departments, reception rooms, principals/faculty quarters etc. The rooms in the attic on the 7th floor served several purposes over the years, one of those being musical practice rooms.
The final touches to the building were completed by 1911. A raised walkway was built connecting the 3rd floor of the south wing to the Alumni Hall, South Hall and the Gymnasium, where Manser dining hall is today. A grand stairway, creating an entrance to the first floor, was also built on the west side of North Hall at a cost of $1,800.
North Hall did not undergo any other major renovations until the summer of 1930 when the atrium/well openings were covered with flooring and the rails were removed. The atrium openings were considered a fire hazard, and sealing off these openings was a preventative measure as there were no sprinkler systems at the time. Many students were disappointed about the changes, and groups of students would often gather around the banisters on each level of the atrium to sing. According to local historian Stephen Orner, girls also used to leave their outgoing mail on the banisters of the well.
In the mid 20th Century, the Women's Dormitory underwent another face-lift. In 1950, the kitchen was modernized. In the summer of 1953 fire escapes were installed, the 10 dormers were removed, and a new slate roof was added. Students on each of the women's floors decorated over what was the atrium at Christmas time and had contests to determine the best decorated floor.
The 1960's were a time of great change on campus. Mansfield State Teachers College became Mansfield State College.
The face of the entire campus was evolving as new dormitories and Manser Dining Hall were constructed. The completion of these facilities left vacant space in North Hall. Some areas of the building were turned into office space, commuter lounges, classrooms, and computer rooms. The print shop and A/V studio were also there. State officials by this time were nervous about the continued use of the building as a residence hall due to the outdated wiring the in building which was considered a fire hazard. All inhabitants were moved to the first two floors where special outlets were added to handle modern appliances.
By the early 1960's, plans were in the making to tear down North Hall and replace It with both a student center (Memorial Hall) and a parking lot. The grand staircase on the west side of the building was removed in 1969 to make room for Memorial Hall.
Since the plan was to demolish North Hall, Memorial was built beside it, where the North Hall entrance stairs had been. Plans called for part of Memorial Hall to be built over a portion of North Hall site, but because of strong protests to save the North Hall, architects had to change their plans and re-design Memorial, which was completed in 1970.
According to former Mansfield Archivist Robert Unger, in 1974 when MU was under the direction of President Lawrence Park, the general assembly appropriated a quarter of a million dollars to demolish North Hall in hopes of receiving funding for a more modern facility.
North Hall continued to serve as a women's dormitory until 1976 when Cedarcrest opened. North Hall's first two floors were then utilized as office space until the early 1980's, and the basement housed the TV studio. The campus police station was located on the northwest corner of the ground floor of the North wing. Today this section of the building serves as a staff/faculty lounge and a tutoring center for athletes.
North Hall was closed in 1982. It was at this time plans to save the building and re-renovate it into a usable, modern facility began to take shape.
Things really began to press forward when President Rod Kelchner was named president in 1983. He had long opposed the state's plans to demolish the building and now was in a better position to take the necessary steps to save it. He spent many hours lobbying in Harrisburg to save the building, obtaining the necessary funding, and helping to determine that the building become a library.
"North Hall embodies the spirit of Mansfield," Kelchner said. "A spirit that I often referred to as ‘dogged determination.' The history of our school is characterized by struggle and challenge. Beginning with a fire that destroyed the original building Seminary Building just four months after it opened, to a series of fiscal issues, enrollment challenges, and threats to close the school. Mansfield survived many struggles. North Hall is a microcosm of similar challenges. From the centerpiece of the campus which housed classrooms, student rooms, the Office of the President, a dining hall, and meeting rooms, it slowly deteriorated to a dilapidated structure that was a campus eyesore. However, Mansfield always came back. It overcame challenge after challenge and emerged stronger and stronger."
Other key players in the preservation of North Hall were Library Director Dr. Larry Nesbitt, and Bill Yost, vice president for administration and finance. In 1984, the general assembly appropriated $6 million funding for the renovation project. State Representative Fred Noye, MU class of '68, was influential in persuading the general assembly to appropriate the funds. The original plan was to renovate the structure into a student center. Later it was determined that North Hall would better serve as a library. However, it was a long time before the funds were actually released. The battle to save North Hall was a long and difficult one.
Before any further steps could be taken, the building needed to be evaluated by an architect to determine if modifications could be made to support a change in weight capacity. According to Nesbitt, the weight-bearing capacity differed between a residence hall and a library. A typical library needs at least 150 pounds per square foot versus the 60 pounds per square foot required of a typical residence hall. In order to update the building there needed to be steel rods in the framework. The university got lucky. In 1985 Treby-Howard Phillips, an architectural firm from Allentown, PA surveyed the North wing and found the building structurally sound. The components needed to convert the old dormitory into a library were there. "If they had torn apart the south wing first, the building would have been torn down. So it was a pure stroke of luck," Nesbitt said.
In 1987 Governor Robert P. Casey sent Kelchner a letter saying that the state would release $6.5 million to begin renovations on North Hall. Casey's letter stated: "Due to the historical value of this building, it is important to the commonwealth that it is preserved and reopened for use… not only will this project enhance the academic facilities on the Mansfield University Campus, but it will also restore the building's historical value in the community." (The North Hall Dedication Program Oct. 26th 1996). The program also states what the three proposals were in creating the new building.
- Combine the campus's three libraries into North Hall.
- Prepare for the next century by wiring the building for exploding electronic research technology.
- Preserve the building's elegant 19th century heritage.
The $6 million that was initially allotted by the state was not enough to complete the project. Another three to four million was needed. Dr. Stephen Bickham, professor of philosophy at Mansfield, created the Save North Hall committee as part of a fundraising effort. "The Save North Hall Committee was a faculty, alumni, student group of Pennsylvania citizens interested in supporting the university." Bickham explained.
"We had no official status with the university, though they knew who we were and what we were doing. I asked one other faculty member to be on the committee with me--Howard Travis, of the Communications Department. The names of all the committee members are on a plaque just outside the main library door," Bickham said. "What we did mostly was make telephone calls. We'd meet in my office once or twice a week and phone Harrisburg. . . . We learned our way around the bureaucracy."
Bickham said that he, himself, made very few of these calls. "We found that the alumni and students were much more effective than anyone else on the phone. The Pennsylvania Department of General Services (DGS) as well as our elected officials were charmed by the students being interested enough in this important project to make the calls."
Eventually the project began to move. "We knew where the finish line was," Bickham said. "That point was when the state would advertise bids for the project. It was a multi-million dollar deal, and there would be plenty of companies interested in getting the work. Once the winning bids were announced we would know we had won."
Bickham said committee members' work kept the project alive and, more importantly, a sense of hope that North Hall could be saved. He also painted a picture of what the building was like before the renovation. "Gradually the building became a derelict in the middle of campus. Windows were boarded up, and the ones that weren't boarded were broken by people throwing stones. You could hear water gushing down the inside steps of the building. The building was vulnerable to fire since there were no internal fire protection or fire notification systems." Bickham said.
Each floor had about 38 rooms. The hallways were dark and narrow. There were stories about homeless people living in North Hall and cooking pigeons to eat. . . In the early 1990's before the renovation campus police were sent to North Hall to investigate a disturbance. The suspicious noise turned out to be from a great horned owl.
In June of 1993 bids were released to five different contractors. These included G.M. McCrossin Inc. of Bellefonte, PA.; Silvertip Inc. of Lewisburg PA; Schoonover Plumbing & Heating of Canton PA; G.O Wick Electric Inc. of Elmira NY; and Aven Fire System, Inc of Newcastle PA. The head architects during the Renovation was Eckles company/architects from Newcastle PA. The building systems engineer was Pascoe Engineering Consultants Inc., also from Newcastle. The project was overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of General Services.
The renovation, which began in August 1994 took 18 months, and cost $10 million. According to Nesbitt, the renovation included adding more steel columns to increase the weight support needed for a library. All steel beams are camouflaged by white columns. Other major renovations included restoring/reopening the atrium, incorporating internet access, and encasing the porches in glass. "The challenge of a school is to use buildings as a primary indicator of academic vitality and student success," Nesbitt said. "Before the North Hall renovation, all MU had buildings looked like shoe boxes… we had no building in use that stood out and made the statement that we're a good school."
North Hall was the first library in the U.S. that was planned with complete internet access. All the furniture in the library has an 1890's feel, and was designed by Brodart Furniture Company. Nesbitt mentioned that the shape of the 1912 plaque, which is arched at the top, was the inspiration for the architectural design that appears as a theme throughout the library. Nesbitt was involved in every detail of the renovation process, right down to the types, colors and shapes of the nuts and bolts.
The library officially opened on July 1, 1996. The transformation was unlike anything in campus history. "If you have a little money and persistence it's just phenomenal what you can get," Nesbitt said. The Traditional Reading Room was dedicated to Dr. Larry Nesbitt upon his retirement in 2005.
Today, North Hall continues to play an important role on campus for students. There have been some additions to the library since the renovation. These include energy efficient lights and windows, as well as the incorporation of wireless internet from anywhere in the library. Bean bag chairs for the students were also added. "I want this library to be the student's library. You want them to be comfortable and respectful of it and they always have been… they are fantastic with that," said Scott Dimarco, the current library director. "We want a library for the next generation of students, one that says to students we're here for you."
- Mansfield Normal School College Catalogue 1874-75.
- "The History of Mansfield University to 1912: An Address by Simon B Elliott." Published by Mansfield University 2007.
- Mansfield Normal College quarterly, 1909.
Other Sources used.
Special Thanks to:
- Dr. Stephen Bickham. Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Mansfield University
- Mr. Scott Dimarco- Library Director Mansfield University
- Mr. David Guinn- Archivist, Mansfield University
- Mr. Rod Kelchner- former President, Mansfield University
- Dr. Gale Largey- Professor emeritus of Sociology, Mansfield University
- Mr. Joseph Maresco- former Vice President for Student Affairs
- Dennis Miller- Public Relations Director, Mansfield University
- Dr. Larry Nesbitt- Former Library Director, Mansfield University
- Mr. Stephen Orner- Mansfield Historian
- All of the North Hall Library staff who were of assistance during my research
Editor's Note: The following is a story about Sarah, the ghost of North Hall, published with the permission of the author.
By Samantha Lienhard
Mr. and Mrs. Rod C. Kelchner
A noise reaches me in the dark.
I stir, trying to trace its source. It is not a sound that can be heard by mortal ears or measured in vibrations. It is something deeper, carried on the waves of emotion.
It is a soul crying out in sorrow.
My searching leads me to the window. I look out upon the path stretching out below me. It is crowded, filled with students. Some are hurrying to their classes, while others are spending free time outdoors.
At last, I see him. He is just another student, outwardly the same as the rest. I have long since ceased to see their differences. My gaze is drawn to him, though, for the sorrow is his.
He is standing with a girl. As I watch, she turns and walks away from him. I cannot hear what was said, but I can guess. He stares after her for a while, and then he slowly leaves.
The others may think something is wrong. His step is too slow, and his head is hanging. They won't be able to feel his sorrow the way I can, though. It shudders through the energies that surround me, piercing me to the core of my being.
Unbidden, a long-remembered aria of pain comes to me. I sing softly, remembering when my love was betrayed, a century past…
I am shaken from my memories by the sense that he is coming closer. I drift down from the sixth floor to find him, but I do not have far to go. He has climbed to the fourth floor of the library, and now he stands by the railing that surrounds the center.
Leaning over slightly, he is staring down to the bottom floor. The shock and despair pours forth from him like a roiling miasma of poison. There is a great weariness behind the sorrow on his face, but doubt flickers in his eyes. He is considering it; he knows there is no one around to stop him.
Or, rather, that is what he thinks.
I move to the very center, hovering in the air right before his gaze. I hold out a hand to stop him, shaking my head.
He jerks backwards in alarm, but then he frowns, staring through me. His mind won't let him see something he thinks is not there.
It is enough. He backs away from the railing, pushed just above the oppressive despair that had enveloped him. I join him where he now stands, curious as to what he will do next.
He seems uneasy. He rubs his eyes several times, blinking at the spot where he had seen me. Finally, he leaves the fourth floor. His sorrow is now intermingled with confusion, and he seems more tired than anything else.
I return to the sixth floor, leaving him to recover on his own, as people must.
His distress will not let me rest, in the days to come. He is not coming to terms with what happened. If anything, he is falling deeper into despair. I feel his sorrow like I felt my own, and I long to put it to rest.
He enters the library again, two days after I first observed him. He is heading towards a particular wing, as he reaches the third floor, but he slows as he crosses the floor. His gaze is pulled towards the center.
The sound of his pain reaches an unbearable pitch, and he trembles mid-step. Anguish washes his face, and his will threatens to submit to the lure of eternity, stop his walk entirely, and lead him to a fatal fall.
I move behind him as he begins to falter. Gathering the energy around me, I give him a firm push in the direction of his original destination.
He stumbles towards the wing with a startled look. With a shiver and a shake of his head, he walks the rest of the way.
I follow him. His sorrow is still billowing forth from him in waves. He is in incredible danger from his own mind.
I trail him as he finds the book he was looking for and works his way through the room. He sits at a table and spreads his things before him. Beside the book he lays a stack of paper, a printed page of guidelines, and a pencil.
Settling in beside him to watch him work, I am alarmed by the way his hands are shaking. He cannot seem to concentrate on the materials in front of him.
"I could have talked to her about this paper," he mumbles to himself, putting his head in his hands. "Oh God, what did I do wrong? Why did she leave me?"
"Have courage," I whisper gently.
His head snaps up. "I—" He cuts himself off abruptly, looking around in bewilderment as he realizes he is alone.
Finally, he sighs and returns to his work. He is more focused now, if only out of necessity. At the very least, he is no longer contemplating jumping to his death.
I wait with him until he is ready to leave the library. I wish I could speak with him. He will not believe I exist, though, and can only hear me in the seconds I catch him unawares.
That is not enough to deter me, however. It cannot be.
When he returns the next day, I am already waiting in the lobby. His unrest was so great that it had reached me across campus during the night. I had shaken with his nightmares, assaulted by a double memory of betrayal and pain. His recent wounds had opened my old ones, and now I watch him with even more care.
The people around him try to talk to him. They claim they understand what he is feeling. They do not, however. They cannot feel the way his heart threatens to rip in half, keeping him awake at night with the stabbing pain. They cannot see the sorrow rising within him, choking and suffocating him. They cannot ever hope to truly understand what is happening behind his shadowed eyes.
He finally shakes off all those concerned for him, and I follow him again. He morosely makes his way through the library. I wait as he looks up the book he wants, and then we continue on our way. His steps are leaden, and when he at last reaches the shelves on which the needed book is located, he stares at them dully.
I look at him carefully. His gaze is blank and unseeing. Although he stands there, his mind is far away. I shudder in sympathy; I know what it is to be trapped in a cycle of unending memories.
At last, he shakes himself out of his dark reverie, and begins to look. I see the book he had looked up, just in front of him. His depression, however, has deadened him, and he shows no sign of seeing it.
Taking pity on him, I take the book from the shelf and offer it to him.
He stares at the book for a second, and then he reaches out and takes it. Then he realizes what he just saw, and drops the book with a yell.
I pick it up and put it back on the shelf. He screams a second time. I cannot help but smile. Fear and alarm has replaced some of his sorrow for the moment, and I feel sure I have made him aware of my existence now.
Another student comes running, having heard him cry out.
"Are you all right?" she asks breathlessly.
"I think I'm being haunted!" he blurts out.
"Haunted?" she repeats.
He nods, and then the words begin coming from him in a wild rush. "Books have been flying around, and the other day I heard something, but no one was there, and someone pushed me when I was walking, but no one was there then, either! Lately, I feel like I'm being watched when I'm here, and—oh." His eyes widen. "It all started when I thought I saw—but I couldn't have—a girl, a lady, all in white, just floating in front of me…"
The other student looks amazed. "What, did you do something to get Sara angry?" she asks, laughing slightly.
He makes a choking noise. "Who is Sara?" he finally manages.
"The ghost of North Hall."
His focus on her is absolute. His sorrow has retreated to the back of his mind, temporarily forgotten. I, too, listen intently, curious to see what she will say.
We listen together as she explains my story—telling him about how before the building was a library, it was a dormitory, and how I cast myself down from the sixth floor atrium, singing, after being betrayed and abandoned by my boyfriend. She tells him about people's experiences with me, and I can tell he is uneasy.
"Why would she bother me like this?" he mutters, but he lacks conviction. He knows that my story is all too similar to what he considered making his.
"The stories say she's a playful ghost, not a malevolent one," the other student offers reassuringly. "You're in no danger."
"No, quite the opposite," he mumbles.
He shakes his head, unwilling to talk about it.
She frowns at him. "Is something else bothering you?"
I leave them, retreating to my sixth floor dwelling. He is safe, for now. No longer do I feel his pain. All that remains is my own, and it has become unbearable, as it so often does.
I had once hoped that after countless years of following others as they overcome their sorrows, my own would diminish and fade away. It has not. My mortal memory has faded, but a new torment has replaced it. I have endured here for years, and I will for years to come. I cannot escape the sorrow of the world.
What will become of me, when I am forgotten? Will I have any power at all in this world, when I am just a death that happened long ago, and the story of my spirit is never told? Is that when I will find my yearned-for rest, or will I be doomed to witness the tragedies of the world even once I am powerless to stop them?
The mortal world is gray and indistinct to me as I glide through the air. All that remains is my own world, just on the edge of a barrier I long to cross.
A glorious piano sits before me. It is the ghost of a tangible instrument, and it has remained with me through everything. It is the one stable thing of my existence; it is the one thing that will never change and will always be my own.
They can destroy my home and change things as they will, until I have faded from memory, but they will never destroy the sleek black surface and shining white keys that sit before me now. Its music will be eternal.
I begin to play, and the golden tones, wrought from emotion, start to ease my suffering. I let the music encompass me until there is nothing else. When I begin to sing, I feel that my union with the song is complete. We are one, both ethereal and alone, brought together in a bittersweet melody of pain.
When my burden becomes too great, my only solace is here.
Time is immaterial, when I am that withdrawn from the mortal world. I play for an unknown period of time, before I hear my name, whispered cautiously by one half-afraid of hearing a response.
I stop playing. Only trace amounts of his sorrow linger in him, but I know it is the same student. In whatever days have passed, he has begun to recover. There is nothing more I need to do for him.
Yet, it would seem he would have something of me.
He is nervous. He opens his mouth several times before words come out. "I heard your music," he finally manages. "You really do exist, don't you?"
He hears me and jumps. "You exist," he repeats, weakly.
"Do not be afraid," I say.
After a minute or two, he composes himself. "You saved my life, you know."
"Why? What am I to you?"
I think about that, before replying. "You are only another mortal, like I once was, who has felt the sorrows that I once suffered."
"You didn't want me to suffer?" he asks. He seems dissatisfied with that. "I would have ended the pain right then. It's what you did."
"And I have been condemned for it."
"Condemned?" He shakes his head. "You're still around. It's as though you never even died, really. I think you were blessed."
"Blessed?" I demand, angered by his shortsightedness. "I should have gone to my rest a century ago. Instead, I still walk this world. I am weary, on a scale you can never imagine. I sought to escape one sorrow, and have reaped a hundredfold more. Your pain hurt me, as has the pain of every betrayal, separation, and unrequited love since my death. I hear them all; the sorrow of the world speaks to me. It is constant, and it will never cease." My strength grows with my vehemence. He takes a sudden step back, and I know that he can see me now. "I find relief when I ease those sorrows that I can, but that is barely a step towards erasing the weight that time has placed upon me. I am cursed to prevent my history from repeating itself, time after time, until I can no longer bear it. Then, I will be merely a shell of pain, beaten down by the tragedies. This is no blessing."
He lowers his head. "I'm sorry." He looks up again. "I know that doesn't do anything to help matters. But…I am sorry."
I glide to the window, silently. The world continues on, down below us. I can see time moving inexorably onwards.
"Why can I see you?" he asks.
"Because you believe in me," I answer.
"I knew you existed when you started speaking, though."
"What did you know of me? You only knew enough for my presence to be known to your conscious mind…but now, you know more. You have some understanding of who and what I am, and so I am real."
"What happens if everyone stops believing you exist?"
It is my previous thoughts, repeated back to me. I am no closer to an answer now than I was then. "I do not know. It may be that I will at last fade into death completely…or, perhaps, I will remain, but people will only ever see me in glimpses, until they again begin to truly believe."
"You'll have earned your rest," he says encouragingly.
I do not know what to say to that. I finally turn towards him, with a different question. "How do you see me?"
"What do you mean?"
"What do I look like?"
He answers hesitantly. "Well…you look like a lady—noble, in a way, I mean. I guess I would say you look like someone who was once great. You're very pale…all white, like a picture with all the color taken away from it. You're translucent, too. I can see you, but I can see the wall behind you, too. Then again, maybe that's just a little disbelief of mine, eh?" He laughs nervously.
I turn towards the window again. "Thank you. I was just curious."
After a long silence, he speaks again. "Thank you for saving my life. Your music was very beautiful, by the way. If you see me around, feel free to say hello. Maybe I'll cheer you up next time."
Although I doubt he could ever help, his sentiment makes my burden seem a little lighter.
"It's been nice talking to you, Sara… I really hope you get to rest some day." He awkwardly backs away and leaves.
I am still standing at the window when he leaves the library. He is walking with the other student, the one who told him about me. They are talking together, but he turns his head and looks up at the sixth floor window.
I do not know if he can see me or not, but I wave, just in case.
They sometimes say that a ghost is a spirit doomed to walk the earth until it puts its unfinished business to rest. My business is easing the sorrow of broken love. I dearly hope my sentence is not meant to last until that business is completed, and that one day, I will at last be allowed to leave the earth.
Until then, I am here.