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University Archives and Special Collections at Bloomsburg

Bloomsburg University History

The origins of the current campus of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania began in May of 1866 when the Board of Trustees of the then Bloomsburg Literary Institute decided to build a new facility and needed to select a site.  The decision was made to buy three acres of land located at the east end of Main Street on the top of the hill.  In June of 1866 the Board elected Henry Carver Principal of the Institute and authorized him to design a building for not more than $15,000. Carver served as the architect and general contractor for the new building. It became known as the chapel or Institute Hall, and was dedicated on April 4, 1867 just in time for the spring term.

Skip to Main ContentThe origins of the current campus of Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania began in May of 1866 when the Board of Trustees of the then Bloomsburg Literary Institute decided to build a new facility and needed to select a site.  The decision was made to buy three acres of land located at the east end of Main Street on the top of the hill.  In June of 1866 the Board elected Henry Carver Principal of the Institute and authorized him to design a building for not more than $15,000. Carver served as the architect and general contractor for the new building. It became known as the chapel or Institute Hall, and was dedicated on April 4, 1867 just in time for the spring term.In 1868 it was suggested that the Institute become a state normal school for teacher training, and in order to do this more land and a dormitory were needed.  And so by April of that year seven more acres behind the existing three were purchased, and Henry Carver presented plans for a dormitory that would include rooms for a model school for teacher training.  The cornerstone was laid on June 25 and by February of 1869 the building had been completed and Bloomsburg officially became the State Normal School of the 6th District.

An unplanned construction opportunity occurred on September 4, 1875 when the dormitory caught fire and burned down in two hours.  There was no loss of life, but student possessions were lost and rooms for them had to be provided in the town.  It was decided to rebuild on the same site, and on October 30, 1875 the cornerstone was laid for a four-story building.  At the same time, since the rooms used for the model school had been in the old building, a one-story frame structure called Hemlock Hall was erected along Penn Street north of Institute Hall to serve as the new model school.  Work on the dormitory went quickly, and it was dedicated on April 26, 1876.  In 1927 the dormitory was named Waller Hall in honor of two-term principal David J. Waller.

During the 1800s there does not seem to have been a formal planning process in determining the future physical layout of Bloomsburg's campus.  Land was purchased as lots became available in order to insure expansion room, although there was no plan drawn up to show what facilities would be placed on that land.  Buildings were built primarily because of the pressures of increased current enrollment and not due to future projections of growth.  This was the case in 1885 when more classroom space was needed, and so a new building for the model school was planned that would be two stories in height and lie just to the east of Institute Hall.  The model school was named Noetling Hall in 1927 after longtime faculty member William Noetling.

In 1888 and 1889 two more sections of land were purchased when 3 and 1/4 acres lying to the north of the existing campus along Lightstreet Road holding a large grove of trees were bought for $3500, and eight lots on the south side of Second Street opposite the campus were acquired for $4500.  It was recognized that the school would need this land for its future growth.

 A great deal of construction went on between 1890 and 1895 as enrollment grew and the trustees reacted accordingly.  Loans had to be taken out, which were backed up by the personal wealth of the board, whose members included influential individuals from the Town of Bloomsburg.  More dormitory space was required, so a wing was added to the dormitory in 1890 which included a porch along Second Street, and an annex was completed between the main part of the building and the model school in 1894.  These additions included both dorm rooms and an enlarged dining room and library.

A small gymnasium had been set up in a room in Institute Hall, but this was replaced by a modern facility attached to the back of the annex.  Employees had lived in the main dormitory building and then Hemlock Hall after 1886, but the latter was torn down when a new employee building was completed in 1895.  In 1898 the additional buildings finally demanded the construction of a boiler house along Penn Street to provide heat for the campus.

 Space for outdoor recreational activity was not ignored, and in 1890 tennis courts were built just to the east of the dormitory along Second Street.  By 1895 an athletic field running north of Institute Hall and utilizing part of the land near the Grove was graded and used by the football team.  It was enclosed by a high-board fence on the north end, and also included a baseball diamond with a grandstand.  

Even after these improvements the Board of Trustees was still planning to further expand the campus.  These plans would include a home for the principal, a science building, and a new athletic field.  One possible location for the principal's home was on the site of the tennis courts, but when the house formerly owned by Charles R. Buckalew became available in 1903 it was purchased and renovated the following year.  Principal Judson Welsh and his family moved into the home in 1904, and after a period of time when it was rented out it has been the official residence of the head of this institution since 1922.

On February 4, 1904 the two upper floors of the employee dormitory were destroyed by fire.  It was soon rebuilt, and in 1908 was remodeled as a student dormitory and renamed North Hall.  By 1925 it had become the men's dormitory and would continue to be used for this purpose until the completion of new North Hall, now Northumberland Hall, in 1960.

More land was needed for the expansion plans of the normal school, and in May of 1904 5 and 1/2 additional acres were purchased along Lightstreet Road and the west side of Spruce Street.  This gave Bloomsburg the space needed for its next two projects, a science building and new athletic field.  It was decided in 1905 to place a $75,000 science building in closer proximity to the rest of campus by using the north end of the current athletic field, just to the west of the grove.  The new field then went on part of the recent land purchase to the east of the grove. 

Map of the normal school campus in 1913.  With the exception of Buckalew Place the entire campus was in a compact area that included the buildings, athletic fields and tennis courts, grove, and plenty of open space with wide, terraced lawns.

Although not formally planned, beautification projects during the early part of the 1900s made the normal school campus a more pleasant and attractive place.  Many of them were memorial gifts of various classes.  These included a bronze fountain installed in the street in front of Institute Hall by the class of 1904 and a lagoon placed in the Grove by the Class of 1908.  Both of these had disappeared from the campus by 1963. 

Two memorials that still exist are the Pergola located north of Science Hall which was a gift of the class of 1916, and the World War I Memorial Pinery that was placed in the lawn between Institute and Science Halls by the Class of 1919.  The pinery consisted of sixteen pine trees planted in the shape of a six-pointed star. It was dedicated on Memorial Day of 1919 to remember the lives of sixteen Bloomsburg State Normal School students who died in the First World War.  

The final but perhaps most memorable additions of this type to the campus during the first two decades of the twentieth century were the seven stained glass windows purchased through the efforts of Prof. Oscar Bakeless.  Four rectangular windows were acquired from the Spence Company of Boston in 1918 and 1919 and placed in the model school.  Three Tiffany windows were installed in the entrance to the dormitory annex in 1920 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first class of teachers from the Normal School, and to honor Dr. David Waller's retirement after many years of service.  

Once these buildings were completed it would be over fifteen years before more new construction went up on the Bloomsburg campus. Low enrollments during World War II played a part in delaying any further expansion, but also the need was felt to once again go through a period of remodeling and modernizing.

The first major project was the old gym. Once Centennial was finished it was decided to turn the former facility into a student recreation area that would be a center for campus social activities. The work went on until 1955 when the updating of the former gym was completed with the addition of the student bookstore and a snack bar. When it was finished the student recreation center was christened the Husky Lounge, and it remained the center of campus activity until 1970. Carver Hall also underwent major changes during the 1950s. 

The remodeled and improved Husky Lounge in 1964.  It was the place for students to get together and relax

In 1953 Carver was selected to be the primary administrative center on campus, and offices for the President and other officials would be there instead of Waller Hall. Since its construction in 1867 the first floor of Carver had only been used as classroom space. These were removed, and by February of 1954 Carver Hall boasted a new lobby, conference rooms, and the college's major administrative offices. For the first time they were located at the front of the campus

Although the modernization work went on, it was realized by 1952 that as the size of the student body increased the need grew for a larger physical campus.  In April of that year money was made available for one construction project, and it was decided to use it to build a dining facility, with additional funds used to convert the former dining room in Waller into the new library.  The site chosen for the dining hall was the old set of tennis courts between Waller and Ben Franklin that had been in place since 1890.  The building served its first meals in April of 1957, while the remodeling for the library was completed in early 1958.  The Commons was the first new building on campus in nearly twenty years, and was the beginning of an advanced building program that would last for twenty more years and completely reshape the Bloomsburg State Teachers College.

In late 1956 the college had two established programs for its physical plant, one that dealt with the modernization of existing buildings and the other with the construction of new buildings.  The latter took precedence, because even before the College Commons was complete state funds were provided for two more projects.  These were for a men's dormitory 25 years after the need for one had first been established, and a classroom building that would be the first classroom space built specifically for college use since Science Hall 50 years before.

The immediate goal of the construction was to create accommodations for more students, so that the college that had 1079 undergraduates in 1956 could handle 1200 in 1957 and 1400 by 1958.  In order to accomplish this in an organized and logical manner a comprehensive campus plan was drawn up by John Schell in 1957.  It was the first plan of its kind developed for any of the Pennsylvania state teachers colleges.  The plan was intended for a college of 2000 students, which enrollment projections said Bloomsburg would reach by 1965.  It divided the campus from west to east into three areas of living, learning, and recreation. Anything built in those areas would have the appropriate function.  All of the pre-1930 buildings would be torn down with the exception of Carver Hall and replaced with dormitories or open space.

A 1958 presentation of the master plan for the Bloomsburg State Teachers college campus.  The plan was followed with minor alterations, with the exception that the athletic facilities were moved to the upper campus after the land there was purchased.

 Most of the construction work over the next decade followed this general plan. Ground was broken for the men's dormitory in July of 1958, and in August the new classroom building was started just to the west of Centennial Gymnasium in the learning area.  The new North Hall dormitory and Sutliff Hall were both completed by 1960.

 This was occurring at a time when the state of Pennsylvania had a 10-year plan to spend $122 million on construction projects across the state system to improve and expand facilities.  Bloomsburg was due to receive $8 million of this money, which would go towards three classroom buildings, six dormitories, an auditorium, field house, and maintenance building.

As the initial building phase was being completed it became necessary to drastically adjust the college's enrollment projections and the campus plan as well.  Projections that originally showed 2000 students by 1970 were far too conservative.  A 1961 campus plan was based on enrollments of 4800 by 1970, and a third plan by Price and Dickey finished in 1967 anticipated 6000 by 1975.  This rapid growth called for both a large and sustained building program, as well as the acquisition of more land.  In 1957 the state authorized the purchase of land that comprised the former country club, as well as properties on both sides of Buckalew Place, although these transactions were not finalized until 1963.

Seventeen buildings would be completed on the Bloomsburg campus between 1964 and 1976.  These included six dormitories, two classroom buildings, two athletic facilities, two buildings for administrative use, the auditorium, library, commons, student union, and the parking garage.  This mammoth construction project completely changed the face of the campus.  Lost during this time were old North Hall, Noetling Hall, and bit-by-bit Waller Hall.  The sites for the buildings followed the basic outline of first the 1957 plan and later the 1967 campus plan.

The one major change apparent in the 1967 plan over the former plan was the location of the athletic fields, which were originally to be at the east end of campus.  This change was due in no small part to the acquisition of land on the hill north of the existing campus that formerly held the country club.  When its purchase was first planned the land was to have been used as a second campus organized for a junior college of freshmen and sophomores.  But by early 1966 it was decided that it would not be wise to separate the students in this manner, as well as duplicate services such as dining.  So the decision was made to place the new athletic facilities on the upper campus, including a field house/gymnasium, football stadium, and baseball field.  The need to redesign these facilities necessitated a long delay in their construction.

Buildings Constructed on the Bloomsburg State College campus, 1964-1976


Year Completed

Montour Residence Hall


Schuylkill Residence Hall


Andruss Library


Haas Center for the Arts


Luzerne Residence Hall


Elwell Residence Hall


Hartline Science Center


Bakeless Center for the Humanities


Buckingham Maintenance Center


Columbia Residence Hall


Scranton Commons


Nelson Field House


Tri-Level Parking Garage


Waller Administration Building


Kehr Union Building


Redman Stadium


Lycoming Residence Hall


Providing for student services was important, and as the college grew the need for a larger dining hall became evident, so work started on a new commons in 1968.  Even though the College Commons had only been completed nine years before it was now much too small for the rapidly growing student body, which numbered over 3000 by the fall of 1966, nearly three times what it had been in 1956.

A larger student center was also very necessary, and after the Scranton Commons opened in the spring of 1970 the former commons was renovated to become a temporary student union.  The new student center was built just to the north of Waller Hall, and had all of the services of the previous center in addition to game rooms, an infirmary, and information center. The Kehr Union was dedicated in May of 1973, even though it was not fully operational until October.  After the Union opened the former Commons was again renovated, this time into the permanent home of the bookstore.

The campus plans addressed not only classroom and dormitory space, but also more mundane but important facilities such as a parking garage to replace several student lots lost to construction.  In 1969 five houses south of Carver Hall were purchased and torn down so that construction could begin on a tri-level parking garage.  A lot owned by the Bloomsburg Hospital was also rented in an attempt to ease the parking shortage.

Work on the new upper campus also progressed, and by the spring of 1974 baseball was once more played on campus, and in September Redman Stadium was dedicated.  This all but ended an almost twenty year period of continuous growth at Bloomsburg.  In January of 1975 venerable Waller Hall was demolished just short of a century after it had replaced the first dormitory, and construction began on Lycoming Hall which was dedicated in October 1976.  Pleas were made to the state for funds for a human services classroom building and a badly needed addition to the library, which had outgrown its space after only eight years, but no further money would be forthcoming for new construction for quite some time.


The upper campus in 1974.  Nelson Field House was completed in 1972
and Robert B. Redman Stadium two years later.

During the 1980s other smaller projects were completed, including in 1985 the installation of a pedestrian footbridge across Lightstreet Road.  This was important to insure the safety of students getting from the student parking lot to campus.  The need for this had been suggested and advocated for twenty years until it became reality.  But the two largest projects during this decade were the long-delayed classroom building and additional student housing.  In 1982 after years of waiting plans were approved for a human services center.  In the fall of 1984 it was dedicated and named for Bloomsburg's former president James McCormick.  And as early as 1981 the trustees had wanted to construct dormitories on the upper campus.  This did not happen until early 1988 when construction began on a $6 million project to build six townhouses.  The Montgomery Place Apartments were completed and dedicated in October of 1989.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s another period of change began, but this differed from previous ones as to how it was funded.  Before the Bloomsburg State Normal School was purchased by the state of Pennsylvania in 1916, money for construction and land purchases was raised by the trustees through loans or their own personal credit.  From 1916 until the 1980s funds were provided primarily by the state, with the exception of the Depression years when it was the federal government.  But over the last fifteen years development funds, student fees, and government bonds have accounted for most of the funding to fuel the continued physical growth of Bloomsburg University.

The first major project to be completed was in 1990 with the total interior renovation of Old Science Hall.  It took a year and half at a cost of $3.3 million to upgrade the building.  In 1992 the renovation and expansion of the Scranton Commons created atriums that would accommodate nearly 200 more students, but the largest project was the expansion of the Kehr Union to include a ballroom for 600 people. The Union was rededicated in 1993, as was a newly renovated Carver Auditorium.  In February 1995 a $5.6 million, 56,000 square foot student recreation center was opened and ready for use.  The vast majority of work 80 year old building done during these years was needed to relieve overcrowded conditions and improve student service facilities.

But the greatest need, and the priority project for the campus since the mid-1980s was a new library building.  The old building had been inadequate since the early 1970s, and finally in 1988 the state legislature approved funding.  But it was not until 1995 when the University had raised millions of dollars in private money in support of the library that the state money was made available, and in the summer of 1996 construction began.  The library opened at the end of May 1998 and was dedicated the following September.

Over the last several years work has continued to improve our physical campus, from redoing the steam tunnels to renovating the University bookstore and Scranton Commons.  Centennial Gym is being greatly expanded into a modern classroom building and the old library turned into a student services center.  More apartments are being built on the upper campus and in 2000 the first campus master plan since the mid-1960s was completed.  This plan stresses maximum efficiency to increase the amount of green space on campus and fully utilize existing areas for new classrooms, student housing, and parking.  Over its long history Bloomsburg University has had an admirable record of growth and expansion, becoming one of the best educational institutions of its size in the northeastern United States.  And this has been done in no small part due to the efforts of the individuals who planned our growth from one small building into a modern campus.