Carleton's Early Years

Tour curated by: Carleton College

Established in 1866 by two Northfield businessmen, Charles M. Goodsell and Charles Augustus Wheaton, Carleton College was originally just one building—Willis Hall. Classes, men's and women’s dormitories, the chapel, and the library were located in one structure. However, as the college grew, its physical landscape changed as well. This tour charts the “early years” of Carleton through some of its older buildings. Not only do they reveal Carleton’s connection to the town (e.g. the chapel faces Northfield as if to invite townspeople into the life of the college), but they also comprise some of the most important structures on campus. Buildings like Gould Library, Skinner Chapel, Sayles-Hill, and the Great Hall act as the nucleus and glue of college life.

Locations for Tour

In 1957, the year in which Scoville Memorial Library was turned into a classroom building, a student named Bruce Herrick, class of 1958, found a bust of the late eighteenth century German poet Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller in the storage…

Finished in 1872, Willis Hall was the first permanent building erected at Carleton College. It was named after Susan Willis Carleton, wife of William Carleton, a Boston gas lighting manufacturer who donated $10,000 to pay off the college’s debt on…

Built in 1928, Severance Hall completed the u-shaped set of dormitories (Davis, Burton, and Severance) that housed male students. This collection of collegiate Gothic buildings, tucked behind Scoville Library on the south and Willis Hall on the…

Built in 1910 as a gymnasium that also housed a running track and swimming pool, Sayles-Hill was transformed in 1979 into the Carleton student center. The hub of campus life, it now contains a snack bar, bookstore, game room, post office, radio…

In 1982, a truck arrived behind the Gould Library carrying the parts to a brand-new German-made tower crane. It was to be used for the construction of an addition to the 1956 Carleton library that would double its size. The problem was that its…

The large open space between Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel and the Gould Library is affectionately known as “the Bald Spot.” Encircled by academic and administrative buildings, it functions as a social and recreational gathering place for…

Ten years before he was elected president of the United States, Barack Obama spoke at Carleton's Skinner Memorial Chapel on “Politics, Race, and the Common Good.” His address on February 5, 1999, was part of the college's series of weekly…
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