Every morning, I would pass by a building named Bucknell Hall, unaware of its purpose or history. I rarely saw students walk in or out of it, and when I asked fellow Bucknellians what the building was used for, they also replied with uncertainty. This inquiry inspired me to research the building which shares our university name, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the construction of this particular building began an era of reform and prosperity for the University.
In the early 1880’s, the University at Lewisburg (the former name of Bucknell University) was experiencing financial concerns. In need of improved architecture, William Bucknell, who was a trustee from 1846-1863 and Chairman of the Board from 1882-1890, gave a gift $50,000 to the University (about $1,300,000 today). The first building they erected with such an outstanding gift was Bucknell Hall. The gift was also used to construct or renovate other buildings, such as the observatory, the Bucknell Cottage (currently Larrison Cottage), an original chemical laboratory (the Art Building), the Academy annex (Taylor Hall), and also provide large sums to scholarships.
According to a description of the building at the time, Bucknell Hall was to be “an auditorium that would serve as a chapel, recital, and lecture hall, and the heart of the university.” Originally called Reunion Hall, its construction began in 1885 and was complete in 1886. They chose to build Bucknell Hall on Loomis Street next to the President’s House because it was equidistant from the Female Institute, the College, the Academy, and the School of Music. Upon its opening day on June 23, 1886, the trustees and University showed their extreme gratitude for this gift and William Bucknell’s other contributions by interrupting their annual meeting proceeding to not only attend the Bucknell Hall dedication, but to unanimously resolve that “the name of this institution be changed from the University at Lewisburg to Bucknell University.”
Under this proud name, the University and Hall have prospered. For many years, the entire student body, as well as staff and faculty, would attend the hall each morning for chapel services, but by 1935, the student body had outgrown Bucknell Hall. Due to the increase in secularization of the University and the construction of alternative spaces, the demands on Bucknell Hall have been regularly reshaped, especially in regards to its basement. From the 1930’s-1959, the psychology department was housed in the basement, and the hall space was for meetings, performances, and the occasion classroom. From 1959-1966, ROTC was housed in the basement, and later joined in the 60’s by the music department. In 1978, Bucknell Hall was placed on the Pennsylvania Inventory of Historic Places, and finally, in 1988, renovation began on the hall which at that point was in great disrepair, to preserve it as a “as a center for rhetoric, including poetry, and for the performing arts.”
Bucknell Hall then became the home of the Stadler Poetry Center; of which it still remains today. Slight renovation was done again this past year to maintain the hall as a place of honor and beauty, and it continues to be used for rhetoric and the performing arts. Now as I walk by this unique university landmark, I smile. Understanding its historical significance among Bucknellians of the past, present, and future, I hope to attend a performance in the hall before I graduate this upcoming May. I encourage all those who are a part of the Bucknell community to do as well and embrace all the hall has to offer!