Advisor: Professor Linda Docherty
Yearlong Independent Research Project
Fall 2007-Spring 2008
As a recipient of a Surdna Fellowship, I had the opportunity to pursue a yearlong independent research project that developed out of my own interest in architectural history and my professor’s expertise in American art and architecture. Working closely with Professor Docherty to develop a research plan, I delved deeply into subject matter that I would not have been able to study so extensively in a Bowdoin course. For my project, I researched the architectural and social history of Bowdoin College and the Brunswick community through an exploration of three buildings on a corner of the Bowdoin campus. Focusing upon on the Packard-Smyth House (now the John Brown Russwurm African American Center) as representative of the Greek Revival style, the Boody-Johnson House as Gothic Revival, and the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) House (now the Bowdoin Admissions Building) as Colonial Revival, I reconstructed the history of these residences. I studied the architectural styles as expressions of the individuals for whom they were built, and how the homes developed to fit the needs of their later inhabitants. I further explored the relationships among the three buildings, tracing their impact upon the physical and social evolution of the Bowdoin and Brunswick communities. I also worked on a way to present my findings in a manner that would encourage others to interact with the material and use it as a resource for future study. Most importantly, I tried to recreate the intimate story of this corner of campus at Bowdoin College, bringing the buildings and their inhabitants to life.
The Packard-Smyth House is one of Brunswick’s first double-houses. It was built in 1827 by local housewright Samuel Melcher III, who, with his brother Aaron, designed many of the early campus buildings. The house house exemplifies the simplicity and affordability of the Greek Revival style with its clean edges, plain columns and pedimented gable. Melcher had used the style previously for Professor Samuel Newman’s house, which occupied the adjacent lot on College Street (now the site of the DKE House). These modest Greek Revival residences contrasted with the more imposing Federal style home of Professor Parker Cleaveland, built in 1806 by Melcher on the opposite side of campus. In fact, the double-house house seems to have been designed in opposition to Cleaveland’s desire for Professors Packard and Smyth to take up residence near him on Federal Street. Professors Alpheus Spring Packard (class of 1816) and William Smyth (class of 1822), of a younger generation, married the same year, moved into the two sides of the double house, and raised families that became inseparable and intimately tied to the college. Through the years, the house was owned or rented by several Bowdoin professors until it was finally donated to the college in 1969. The house was later renamed the John Brown Russwurm House, after Bowdoin’s first African American graduate (class of 1826), and currently serves as Bowdoin’s African American Center. Its current function would have pleased Professor Smyth, who was an ardent abolitionist .
The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity was founded at Yale in 1844; when two brothers left Yale and came to Bowdoin later that year, they established the second chapter in the country. The Bowdoin chapter house was built by Boston architects Chapman and Frazer in 1901 and designed in the grand Colonial Revival style. With its two-story portico, Palladian window, hipped roof and dormer windows it remains one of the college’s most elegant frame buildings. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Colonial Revival style was deemed fitting for a New England campus; it harked back to the values of early America and inspired feelings of nationalism. Professor and Librarian George Little (class of 1877), who lived in the neighboring Packard-Smyth house was a member of DKE as was his son Noel (class of 1917). Stanley Chase (class of 1905), who later lived across the street in the Boody-Johnson House, was also a member of the fraternity; he came to Bowdoin just after the chapter house was built. Following the demise of the fraternity system the DKE house was transformed into Bowdoin’s Admissions Building, in which capacity it retains some of its residential character.
Henry Hill Boody (class of 1842), professor and later politician and entrepreneur, built this elaborate residence in the Gothic Revival style, which was novel at the time in Brunswick, Maine. From his early days as a student, Boody had surpassed his peers at the College in ability and ambition, and he may have wanted a home that similarly distinguished him. The house was designed by New York architect Gervase Wheeler, who had come to Brunswick to work on fellow English-emigrant Richard Upjohn’s College Chapel. Its steeply pitched gables, decorative bargeboard and board-and-batten construction add color, texture and variety to the exterior. These features blend with the surrounding nature, from which Gothic Revival architects drew inspiration, and constrasted sharply with the Greek Revival buildings across Maine Street. Andrew Jackson Downing published Wheeler’s design as an exemplar of a “cottage-villa” in his Architecture of Country Houses (1850). The actual house cost Boody $5000, twice the amount he had anticipated. In 1892 Professor and Museum of Art Director Henry Johnson (class of 1874) and his family moved into the house in Maine Street, having previously lived in the Packard-Smyth House for eight years. Johnson expanded the house to meet the needs of a larger family. When his two daughters grew up, each married a Bowdoin graduate. Daughter Helen married Stanley Chase (class of 1905), who returned to teach at his alma mater. The couple lived next door and, after Helen’s parents’ deaths, in the Boody-Johnson house. The most important addition to the building was the barn chamber, designed by Felix Arnold Burton (class of 1907) and added by the Chases. The barn came to serve as a meeting place for the professor and his students, exemplifying his deep connection with the college and with the buildings that surrounded the campus.
Click images for larger versions.
Packard-Smyth House (John Brown Russwurm African American Center)
Admissions Building (Samuel P. Neuman House) or Delta Kappa Epsilon House