The building that now hosts the Admission and Financial Aid offices is celebrating its 125th birthday this year.
In 1888, at the annual meeting of the alumni association, the alumni voted to create an “alumni fund” to help supplement the college’s endowment. They quickly raised $5,000. However, a few weeks later, they learned that the Board of Trustees was planning to build three houses on the campus, at $1,500 each, to house students. At that point, the college had no dormitory, and some 33 students were actually living in Main Building. The alumni association called a special meeting at which a motion was approved requesting the trustees to allow the alumni to build a suitable building. They revoked their plan to enhance the endowment, devoting the funds already raised and additional money to their building plans. The trustees accepted their offer, and quickly the alumni association appointed committees, raised funds, and began construction of the new Alumni Hall on the Church Street end of the campus.
A ceremony to lay the cornerstone took place on Founder’s Day, Oct. 19, 1888, and in an address to commemorate the day, John B. Cleveland presented a thoughtful biographical statement about Ben Wofford. Construction continued, and by the end of the school year, the building was complete. As the Journal wrote in June 1889, “Today there stands, in the center of that portion of the campus fronting on Church Street, a noble and enduring symbol of the love and willingness of “the boys” for the old battle-ground on which they had fought many a hard fight with Homer and Horace.”
The building, constructed of brick, was four stories high and covered with slate, and contained forty rooms and a large dining hall. It had broad stairways (which would be news to anyone working in that building today!) An external kitchen was connected to the building. It was fitted with all the modern conveniences of gas and water, and steam heat would be added before the next winter. Completed, the building cost about $10,000.
By 1895, the Wofford Fitting School, a preparatory school that the college had established to prepare students for the freshman class, had moved into Alumni Hall. And then, since most college have some story involving fire, the night of January 17-18, 1901 saw Alumni Hall severely damaged by a fire. No student was injured, and most of them were able to get their things out of the building, though some faculty members saw their libraries damaged. The college only had about $5,000 in insurance on the building, so funds had to be raised to repair it as well as build a new Fitting School building next door, which became Snyder Hall. The college could only afford to rebuild it to two stories, which it remains today.
With the closing of the Fitting School in 1924, the college began using Alumni Hall, renamed Archer Hall after the principal alumni donor, as a residence. It was used fairly sporadically over the next thirty years, largely as a residence for students, but also as a meeting place for social fraternities. It looked terrible, and no doubt some college officials were thinking about demolishing it when the Black family agreed to support its restoration. The building was actually in better shape than it appeared, with solid beams and trusses. It was renamed the Hugh S. Black Building in recognition of that family’s significant contributions to the college.
For the remainder of its life, it has been used for administrative offices, most recently as the home of Admission and Financial Aid. Another renovation and refurbishment in the late 1980s replaced the air conditioning and heating, repaired the roof, and otherwise updated the walls, moldings, and flooring to match the newly-constructed Papadopoulos Building. It’s unlikely that the large number of prospective students who come through the Hugh S. Black Building each day realize that they’re visiting a structure that’s over 100 years old and that has had so many uses throughout the life of the college.