The stately buildings ringing the University of Rhode Island’s Quadrangle helped shape the story of the institution. Here, on the occasion of URI’s 125th Anniversary, we present you with a narrative behind the walls of that historic timeline.
**Much of the historic data in this article was culled from information provided by the late Sandy Taylor, a champion of historic preservation and land conservation, who served as University Architect from 1987 until his retirement in 2005. We are also deeply indebted to students enrolled in Catherine DeCesare’s history class last fall who provided additional information. DeCesare is a history coordinator, academic advisor, and lecturer. Finally, we would like to thank Mark Dionne, Archives and Special Collections, for his patience and vast knowledge.
College Hall, now Davis Hall, is perhaps the most recognizable building on the Quadrangle because of its castle-like appearance. Built in 1895 to replace the original 1891 College Hall, which was leveled to the ground within an hour by a raging fire in 1895. Fortunately no one was hurt as the building’s occupants were attending church in the village at the time.
Renamed in 1896 to honor Gov. John W. Davis, a prominent figure in Rhode Island at the time, the four-story, campus-quarried granite building with a boulder basement anchors the west end of the Quad.
Best known for its bell tower, Davis bells originally rang to signal the time to eat, go to class, and attend chapel. An electronic carillon installed in 1967 chimed out the hours with recognizable tunes. Today only the hours are chimed.
In the early years, Davis served primarily as a men’s dormitory, by 1920 space was given for a campus library. In the 1930s, the building became a women’s dorm with the basement serving as a campus infirmary. After Roosevelt Hall opened in 1937 as a new women’s dormitory, Davis no longer housed students. During World War II, Davis became headquarters for the military department. Secretarial science training courses for women were offered and played a large role in the state’s war effort.
Davis has served as administrative space ever since. Today, the administrative offices of the Harrington School of Communication and Media occupy its first floor and Communication Studies its second floor. Communication Studies faculty members occupy its third and fourth floors.
Increased enrollment during the 1960s created a need for a new building on campus. Business faculty and alumni successfully lobbied President Francis H. Horn to designate the new facility as a business college.
Ballentine Hall, home to the College of Business Administration, was completed in 1967. The 46,750-square-foot, three-story building, was named in honor of George A. Ballentine, a former dean of the college. The building reflected a contemporary design.
In 2003, Ballentine Hall underwent a $10.9 million renovation and expansion project. The original building was partially demolished on its current site, leaving the foundation, structural steel, and floor slabs in place.
State-of-the-art wireless computer technology was incorporated throughout the structure. Its granite exterior façade now complements the other buildings on the historic quadrangle. A concrete plaza, park benches, and an array of light posts highlight the building’s entrance.
Constructed with a 5,300-square-foot addition, a special feature of the building is the Bruce S. Sherman Trading Room with access to stock trades and purchases in real time from financial markets around the globe.
Today undergraduate students have a choice of nine undergraduate majors: accounting, entrepreneurial management, finance, general business, global business, marketing, supply chain management, textile marketing, textiles, fashion merchandising and design, as well as, two interdisciplinary majors: International Business Program and Green Business. The college also offers a variety of graduate degrees.
Opened in 1897, Lippitt Hall filled the need for a drill hall and gymnasium facility on campus and a library for the College’s growing number of books.
Built with locally quarried granite, it was named in honor of Gov. Charles W. Lippitt. The architecture of Lippitt Hall is unique to the campus, primarily in its use of Tudor-style facings on the north and south side dormers.
Lippitt Hall houses a chapel and was the site of recitations. It was a central gathering place for the entire campus. An extensive renovation in 1935 established a Student Common in the building, including a cafeteria-style dining facility on the upper floor, along with a sandwich and soda shop in the basement. Student dining moved elsewhere during the war years, to allow a mess hall to be set up for the military contingent then in training at the College.
Dancing was always a popular activity in Lippitt. The Class of 1900 called its dancing class “the only thing that saved us from total madness. There all our cares and woes were forgotten in the mazes of the waltz and the two step, and our minds were allowed to relax from the strains of German and chemistry and rest in the strains of Whistling Rufus and Home Sweet Home.”
A festive gala all was held in Lippitt in 1951 when the College officially became known as the University of Rhode Island.
A $8.9 million renovation modernized the building with wireless technology and updated the classroom spaces. Today the building is home to the prestigious URI Honors Program, Africana Studies and the Mathematics Department.
Bliss Hall, the flagship of the College of Engineering since it opened it doors in 1928, is located on the northeast corner of the Quadrangle. It was named in honor of Zenias Bliss, a prominent and supportive state legislator.
The last of the granite rock quarried on campus appears on the exterior of Bliss, creating the need to use brick to complete the north side of the building.
The three-storied building included basement and attic space. Interestingly, the attic provided residency space for famed aviation pioneer Igor I. Sikorsky who taught aeronautical engineering for the college during the 1930s.
Renovations became necessary during the 1950s and 1960s as the field of engineering expanded and enrollment grew.
Today, the college offers undergraduate degrees in biomedical, chemical, civil, computer, electrical, industrial and systems, mechanical, and ocean engineering, as well as a dual degree International Engineering Program that combines a field of engineering with a foreign language.
Thanks to voter approval of a $125 million bond referendum in 2016, engineering students and professors will get a new engineering building that will not only match the caliber of engineering instruction at URI, but will also enable the university to meet the state’s need for more highly-trained workers. Bliss Hall will gain a $25.5 million addition.
East Hall, named for its location on the Quadrangle, was completed in 1909 and designated as a men’s dormitory, thereby solving a housing crisis on campus.
The building is unique among the first of the late Georgian-style granite buildings on the Quadrangle with its introduction of arched windows on the first floor and its edgings of brick trim.
Original plans for building were nixed when students complained the rooms were too small for two or three residents. A modified plan for $36,877 building cost an additional $2,000 and decreased the number of residents to 63.
The last minute changes delayed construction. When the building opened for the 1909 fall semester, the plumbing wasn’t operating, forcing students to wash themselves using rain barrels placed outside on the lawn.
The opening of East, allowed the former men’s quarters in Davis Hall to be remodeled and used as a women’s dormitory as well as a new home economics program.
Following the building’s use for housing, the Physics Department became the occupant of East Hall, after residing in Quonset Huts during World War II. The Physics Department makes East Hall its home to this day.
Washburn Hall, originally named Agriculture Hall, was built to centralize the studies of agriculture, animal husbandry, dairying and horticulture.
Unlike other buildings on the quadrangle at the time of its opening in 1921, Agriculture Hall had a simplicity of design. One special aspect inside the three-storied rectangular is its windows, which are greatly enhanced by deep plastered wall recesses containing them.
George E. Adams, Dean of Agriculture, called the building “a dream come true.” Interestingly, Adams was a member of the first class to graduate from the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanics in 1892.
The building, renamed in honor of the College’s first president, John Hoesa Washburn, has undergone a series of renovations to keep the building up to code and running efficiently. Starting in 2012, Washburn, East and Ranger halls had their slate roofs and windows replaced and their classrooms and hallways renovated. In 2016, renovations were made for handicap accessible entrances and a repaved parking lot.
Over the years, Washburn has served a variety of tenants. Perhaps its most unusual were housed in its basement, which once hosted a poultry farm to study the now famed Rhode Island Red. Years later, dental technician trainees got plenty of hands-on training there by offering to clean anyone’s teeth free of charge.
Today Washburn is home to the Departments of History and Political Science.
Opened in 1928, Edwards Hall was built with the same rough squared ashlar granite as the earlier buildings on the Quadrangle.
Named after the college’s third president, Edwards initially housed the library, small seminar room, a large central reading room, and a large auditorium with 1,009 opera seats, each costing $4.71. For years, Edwards was home to URI Theatre and popular movies were shown there for decades.
When the Will Theatre in the Fine Arts Center opened in 1969, Edwards was redesigned for use as a large lecture classroom, as well as, a public facility for concerts, movies, and ceremonial occasions. Seating was replaced in 1988 the “new” seating installed in 1969.
The building underwent a $1.5 million project in 2010 to enhance fire protection, technology, and aesthetics. Workers in the Edwards lobby were amazed to uncover a colorful set of oil-on-canvas murals painted by Providence artist Gino Conti during the Great Depression. In near perfect condition, the murals, survivors of earlier renovations that kept them hidden for 43 years, were removed and restored.
Today, Edwards still boasts a large auditorium, as well as, the Office of Learning and Teaching.
After much political opposition to expanding the College’s mission beyond an agricultural school, Science Hall was built in 1914 as a home for all science classes—bacteriology, biology, botany, chemistry, animal husbandry, math, physics, zoology and agronomy—finally replacing “the shacks in which chemistry and botany were being taught that were in a state of imminent collapse.”
Built with campus-quarried granite, the building boasted a state-of-the-art heating system that connected Ranger to the main power house by an underground trench through the Quadrangle.
The building was renamed Ranger Hall in 1927 after Walter E. Ranger, a strong advocate for the building who later served as chairman of the College Board of Trustees. A $600,000 renovation in 1950 updated the utilities and improved the building’s interior space planning.
In 2015, Ranger Hall received a $6.3 million facelift and is now home to the Harrington School of Communication and Media, housing 11 rooms on the first floor, that include classrooms, editing suites, a recording studio, a screening room, a social innovation lab, a media equipment resource center, advising center and large living room.
The program offers five undergraduate programs: communication studies, film/media, journalism, public relations, writing and rhetoric and two graduate programs: communication and library information studies.
The building’s second, third, and fourth floors are unoccupied awaiting renovation.
Funding for the construction of Quinn Hall, as well as for Green and Roosevelt Halls, came from the federal government in 1933. The buildings were designated as a Works Progress Administration (W.P. A.) project, a Great Depression relief program.
The granite Georgian-style structure sits in the southwestern corner of the Quadrangle with only its north end facing the green.
Named after Lt. Gov. Robert Quinn who became governor in 1937, the building opened in 1936 with classrooms, laboratories, offices, and a lecture hall seating 300. The hall was built to unify the College of Home Economics in one building as the majority of women students at URI studied home economics between 1930 and 1960.
At the time it was constructed, Quinn was the largest building on campus, serving approximately 700 students an hour.
A 1960s renovation updated the building’s interior, changed classrooms, modernized bathrooms and added windows and doors.
In 1977, Quinn became the home of the College of Human Science and Services. A textile gallery was added to the first floor in 1999. Students were (and remain) curators of what is displayed in its exhibits.
Today Quinn is home to the College of Health Sciences, the Department of Textiles, Fashion Merchandising and Design, the Graduate School, and the Program in Gerontology.
Carlotti Administration Building
When the $475,978 Administration Building, surrounded by stately American Elm trees, opened in 1959 some considered it a fine example of American modern architecture. The building wasn’t designed to compete for attention among its stately neighbors, most notably its nearest neighbor Davis Hall.
The building, however, was not without its detractors. President Horn questioned whether the building was large enough for its administrative offices. There were also complaints about the afternoon sun coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows and overheating the first floor.
The building housed the offices of University Presidents, Provosts, and Vice President for Academic Affairs, General Counsel, and Enrollment Services.
In 1971, a group of students took over the Administration Building, protesting the lack of diversity and the recent decision to cut funding for the Talent Development Program. The protest was ultimately successful in securing funding for the program for subsequent years.
The building was renamed Albert E. Carlotti Administration Building, to honor the former chair of the Board of Governors for Higher Education in 1987. When a renovated Green Hall reopened in 2003, the presidential offices were moved there.
Today Carlotti’s tenants include the Transportation Center and Payroll Department on its ground floor. The accounting, controller, compliance, and Vice President of Administration offices occupy the first floor, and affirmative action, A financial lab and the Vice President of Research and Economic Development offices occupy the second floor.