Historic Preservation Notes +
Plans to destroy the Epworth Building have been discussed by college leaders for several years. Many claim that the building has limited visual appeal and that the cost of upgrading the building’s systems would be prohibitive. Unless a generous alumnus or someone who feels a special connection to the building comes along, Epworth Hall is certain to be destroyed.
What is lost is something profound. Designed as a fireproof building and completed in 1916, the funds needed for this building was raised from Methodist youth in Epworth Leagues throughout the State of Michigan. The decision was made to destroy the McMillan Chemical Laboratory in the 1980s for similar reasons proposed for demolishing the Epworth Building. Only afterwards did people reflect what a mistake this was aesthetically and historically (McMillan was a US Senator who gave funds for construction).
Wouldn’t it be nice if college leaders recognized the value of this building before destroying it instead of vice-versa? Perhaps it could be used as a community center, an annex to the library, or a storage space. Would a “Museum of Education and Industry in Albion” be unreasonable? After all the mixture of technology (fireproof construction) and education (former laboratory space) represent the two dominant forces of industry and education that have shaped Albion for decades and made it what it is today – a factory town with a college. Why not honor this heritage by creating a museum to attract people throughout the state and nation, and to honor Albion’s glorious past among American small towns.
The first hints of plans for a complete physics laboratory were announced in the1913-1914 college catalog. The catalog reports that the Epworth Leagues of the state were busy raising money to pay for building the laboratory. The amount needed was placed at $40,000.
The proposed building, was to be three stories high, 75 feet long and 50, feet wide. By the time the structure was completed during the academic year 1915-1916however the length was increased to 80 feet. Other dimensions remained as proposed.The 1913-1914 catalog explained that the new building would “contain laboratory rooms and modern equipment for Mechanics,Sound, Light, Heat, Magnetism and Electricity, in addition to suitable lecture andrecitation rooms.
By the time the 1914-1915 catalog was issued, other details could be printed concerning the contents of the building. These would include a lecture room, apparatus room, “director’s office,” departmental library,household physical science laboratory, heat laboratory, electrical laboratory, mechanical laboratory, molding room, battery room,dynamo room, physical shop, drafting room, laboratory for sound, laboratory of light, and recitation room. The building was expected to be as nearlyfireproof as building methods of the period would permit.
The fund raising campaign was launched August 1912 and was completed successfully as planned by June 1915. The catalog states “the liberal cooperation of former students, members of Epworth Leagues, and other friendsof the College made possible the successful culmination of the program.”
Most of the credit for the success of the campaign must go to Dr. Clarence Wilson Greene, professor of physics at Albion for 16 years between 1904 and 1920. Prof. Greene visited virtually all the Methodist churches of the state in his efforts topersuade Epworth Leagues to donate funds. Dr. Greene in 1960 was a resident of Wayne, Michigan after a long career in higher education. He has been president of three colleges, Hedding College, Abington, Illinois;Albany College, Albany, and later Portland, Oregon, and Parsons College, Fairfield, Iowa. During World War II, he designed theinstruments used for the nuclear physics work on the Manhattan Project.
Walls are made of “Bedford cut sandstone, pressed vitrified red brick, roof of Spanish tile.” Even partitions were made of fireproof material. Floors were made of steel covered with concrete and supported by heavy beams and columns of steel. Maple flooring was laid on top of the concrete. The lecture room was equipped with “a large Spencer Lens Company Delineascope.”
Source: Gildart, Robert. Albion College, 1835-1960, A History. Chicago: Donnelley Lakeside Press, 1961.
Source: Isaac Kremer, August 2003.
From the Albion College Archives
Epworth Physical Laboratory
The Epworth Physical Laboratory was dedicated on Monday, June 12, 1916, erected at a cost of $40,000 during the spring term. The speakers at the dedication that took place in the chapel included President Samuel Dickie, Reverend A. Raymond Johns, Professor Clarence W. Greene, who gave the presentation speech, and Bishop Joseph Hartzell, D.D., LL.D. Speeches given during the day of dedication ceremonies were “New Field Open to Specially Trained Physics Men” by Harrison M. Randall, Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, “The Detroit Conference” by Reverend Luther Lovejoy, and “Michigan Conference and the College” by Reverend William H. Phelps, D.D. Professor Greene and his wife were especially lauded for the enormous amount of work and sacrifice that went into the campaign to raise funds for the building. Raising one half of the funds from the Methodist Church, they sold “brick certificates” for 25 cents to over 500 Epworth Leagues in the state.
On the main floor of the building was located the Mechanics and Heat Laboratory; the Sound and Light Laboratory; the dark room, for optical work; the library of the Department of Physics, and the office of the Professor of Physics.
The basement story extends nearly eight feet above the ground level and contained the Electrical Laboratory, the Battery Room, the Physical Shop and Dynamo Room, and the rooms for Drafting and Molding.
The Epworth Building, as it is now referred to, houses administrative and business offices for the College. It is not known what will happen to the building now that the new Ferguson Building is complete.
All photographs are from the Albion College Archives Photograph Files, unless otherwise noted.
Source: Albion College Archives, 2003 [Downloaded July 3, 2003]