Miller Hall makes way for Special
By Matt Kelly
by Matt Kelly
artist Edward Thomas paints the destruction of Miller Hall
from the front of Alderman Library. He paints local scenes
daily and enjoyed capturing a sight as dramatic as a building
Hall was part old building and part older building. As of May
13, it became no building, demolished to make way for the new
Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History, Literature
and Culture, home of the Albert and Shirley Small Special
original building was put up in 1868 under the supervision of
chemist John W. Mallet, chair of the School of Chemical Technology
and Agricultural Science. It served as the Universitys first
chemical laboratory and lecture room. Until Memorial Gymnasium
was built in the 1920s, what would eventually be named Miller
Hall represented the western edge of Grounds.
floor plan drawn in 1916 indicates a strictly functional interior
with irregular and asymmetrical partitions. The main entry was
through a narrow off-center greenhouse. Early photographs of the
buildings interior show students working in a purely utilitarian
the analytical chemistry building, it housed a valuable and extensive
collection, including Southern munitions from the Civil War, silk
items and bronzes from the Orient and Europe, armor plate, steel
from the Krupp works in Essen, Germany, and an array of chemical
clear away the roof of Miller Hall to remove two oak-and-glass
display cases from the attic. Originally built in 1876 by
Henry Ward in Rochester, N.Y., the cases were part of the
natural history display housed in Brooks Hall. The cases will
be restored and returned to Brooks Hall.
collection was lost when, at 4 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 26,
1917, the old hall was rocked by a series of explosions and a
devastating fire. The stored gunpowder went off in three explosions
about 15 minutes apart.
third-year student named Spottswood Dabney Crenshaw III, the son
of a prominent Richmond businessman, was arrested and charged
with stealing $2,400 worth of platinum and torching the analytical
chemistry building to hide the burglary. Crenshaw pleaded insanity
and was housed for a while at the State Hospital for the Insane
at Williamsburg. Three later trials each ended with a hung jury.
the fire and explosions wreaked havoc, part of the building survived.
In 1920, its shell was doubled in size with the addition of a
second floor to house the biology program. The renovated structure
was designed by Charlottesville architect Eugene Bradbury, whose
office also designed the building which currently houses the Womens
Center. (That building had originally been designed as a tea room
and post office.)
design fit the Universitys Jeffersonian style, including
a new portico similar to the neoclassical portico of One West
Range. Bradburys design was called restrained and
respectful of its setting on the Grounds of Mr. Jeffersons
University, in a report commissioned by the Office of the
Architect. Bradburys second-floor addition included a slate
roof, reminiscent of the original hipped roof.
organized the building with a central entrance hall leading to
a double stair, a corridor separating offices on the east side
from laboratories and lecture hall on the west.
remains of Miller Hall are loaded into the back of a truck
on the morning of May 14. Workers hosed down the rubble to
minimize the dust. They also saved 5,550 bricks from the original
building to be used for an interior walkway.
B. Millers name was placed on the building in the early
1920s after the School of Chemistry moved to Cobb Hall and the
School of Biology was placed in the newly renovated building.
Miller started life as a penniless, illegitimate child in Albemarle
County, but died in 1869 as one of the richest men in the country,
leaving money to U.Va. that eventually funded a biology professorship.
the renovation, the growing department soon became cramped and,
in 1929, there was a proposal to add a significant wing. The Board
of Visitors nixed the idea, instead declaring Miller Hall temporary,
to be replaced with something more in keeping with the architectural
character of future buildings planned for grouping around that
yard. The only significant change in the structure thereafter
was the addition of a one-story block that housed two restrooms.
was a student there in 1961, and when you came through the front
door, there were these display cases, said Alton L. Taylor,
professor of education at the Center for the Study of Higher Education
and director of the Summer Session. They had birds and natural
history artifacts in them, but they were not very attractive because
they werent being kept up.
cases were later stored in the buildings attic. A crane
removed them through a hole in the roof before the building was
demolished. They are to be restored and possibly relocated to
recalled that there were lecture rooms to the left of the entrance,
faculty offices on the right and labs across the front of the
building underwent minor changes in 1963 when the biology department
moved to Gilmer Hall and Miller Hall became the Peabody annex
of the School of Education. The Office of Undergraduate Admissions
and the Office of Financial Aid moved there in 1972 after outgrowing
space in the Rotunda, and remained there until moving to Peabody
Hall last year.
its history and in a large part because of it Miller
Hall is not considered a significant structure. The building has
gone through too many changes and so little remains of the original,
utilitarian structure that the Board of Visitors again declared
it expendable and ordered it demolished to make way for the new
$26 million Mary and David Harrison Institute for American History,
Literature and Culture will contain the Albert and Shirley Small
Special Collections Library, which will house the Universitys
300,000 rare books and 12 million manuscripts, valued at $350
will include four stories, two of them underground. On the lowest
level, materials will be stored in 70,000 linear feet of compact
shelving in a climate-controlled environment. The other underground
floor will include reference and reading rooms, production facilities,
administrative offices, an auditorium and a display of one of
25 existing copies of the Declaration of Independence, donated
by the Smalls.
two floors above ground will contain an entrance hall, exhibit
gallery, gift shop, seminar and study rooms and offices for visiting
information, see http://www.lib.virginia.edu/press/01-02/harrisonsmall.html.