Carnegie Hall: through the looking glass

Maryville College’s campus is packed with hidden nuances and rich history. Students throughout the college live in buildings where their predecessors have lived, died and created indelible memories. Of the many buildings that fit this description, Carnegie Hall — a residence hall popular with upper-class students, according to the Maryville College website — has an immeasurable amount of history that went into its building, destruction and ultimate resurrection to make it a place habitable for students. 

Carnegie Hall has faced many trials and tribulations throughout the years of its life. From a fire that wrecked the building until its ultimate rebuilding with help from members of the Maryville community to the use of the residence hall as a makeshift hospital for influenza victims, the residence hall has seen it all. 

When Carnegie Hall was first built in 1910, it was out of necessity. Maryville College’s campus was steadily growing, reaching numbers that called for the building of two new residence halls to add to the two that were first built 1871. In the fall of 1910, Carnegie Hall was constructed as a men’s-only dormitory that sat on College Hill. In addition to Carnegie Hall, Pearsons Hall was built around the same time as a women-only dormitory.

The residence hall sitting on College Hill was designed by Knoxville architects R.F. Graf and Sons, who decorated it in the Georgian Colonial style, according to the National Register of Historic Places. Their architecture firm went out of business soon after designing Carnegie.

In a 1906 letter from Dr. Samuel Tyndale Wilson, Maryville College’s fifth president, to Andrew Carnegie, a leading figure in the expansion of the steel industry and the person for whom Carnegie Hall is named, Wilson thanks Carnegie for the donation of a large sum of money to get construction started. While Carnegie was not the only benefactor of the dormitory, he contributed the largest donation.

At the time of Carnegie’s construction, administrators predicted that Maryville College would grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. However, in an unsigned letter by members of the MC community to Carnegie around the time of its construction, it was clear that administrators were unaware of just how much the institution would grow over the next century.

“The steady and phenomenal growth at Maryville is such that it seems probable that within a few years a thousand students will be in attendance,” the letter states.

The original construction of Carnegie was the groundwork for the destruction the building would face following it. A fire broke out in 1916, leading to the demise of the building that had only been open for six years. The origins of the fire are unknown, but due to the age of the building, it might be assumed that it was a result of electrical work that had gone poorly. According to Martha Hess (‘67), volunteer archivist at the Maryville College Archives, the fire was not only impactful to the community, but also financially.

“I think what is most important about this period of time is that the insurance that was available to fix Carnegie was not enough to rebuild it,” Hess said.

Due to the lack of funding that was available for Carnegie Hall, there was a push from the community to raise money for the rebuilding of the historic building. Hess expressed admiration for this, explaining the impact that Carnegie Hall had on the people of Maryville.

“The community helped,” she said. “The people in the community, they had been proud of Carnegie Hall sitting here on College Hill. They could see it, you know, from the main street of town, and it meant a lot to them.”

Carnegie Hall still sits above College Hill, able to be seen from the Court Street entrance to the college. It is the first thing visitors see when driving through the historic district. 

In a letter from New Providence Presbyterian Church in Maryville, Rev. Hubert S. Lyle wrote, shortly after the fire, “It would be a fine thing for the citizens of Maryville and Blount county – businessmen, graduates, ex-students and students – to take the lead in raising a fund of $5,000 to replace Carnegie Hall on the campus of Maryville College.”

Hess goes on to explain how the community put together a committee for the purpose of raising funds for the rebuilding of the residence hall. In a historic pamphlet about Carnegie Hall, it is said that “the building was destroyed by a devastating fire in the spring of 1916, but by December of the same year, it had been rebuilt with insurance settlements and contributions from faculty and Maryville residents.”

In a Highland Echo article from 2015 titled “The many faces of Carnegie Hall,” writer Allison Franklin Goley (‘18) said that there was a parade held in Blount County in May 1916 to raise money for the restoration of the dormitory. 

The building that replaced the original Carnegie looked almost identical to the first, except for two extra stories, making it five instead of three. Since the fire, there has been no major damage to the residence hall. While it has faced a multitude of non-structural incidents, such as being a temporary home to World War II veterans and a makeshift hospital for Influenza victims, it has remained structurally sound. 

From 1941 to 1945, Maryville College was home to many troops who were training to go to war. According to the digital Archives exhibit “MC At Home” via the Lamar Alexander Library, young men lived in Carnegie Hall and attended classes with other Maryville College students. 

“A familiar sight in those years was the troops mustering and marching around campus all day,” according to the exhibit.

Prior to this, in 1910, there was a hospital built on Maryville College’s campus, located in what is now the International House. This hospital’s purpose was to house students and faculty who had fallen ill with the Spanish Flu, a global pandemic that killed roughly 50 million people in 1918. There were so many patients who contracted the illness that the hospital ran out of space. Due to this, the second floor of Carnegie Hall was used as a secondary hospital.

“Wilson stated in the 1919 president’s report that, ‘about two-hundred and fifty had it before the holidays and several since then. One hundred and twenty-five were in bed at the same time,’” according to materials in the exhibit. “With so many students and faculty sick, the campus hospital became full. When the hospital began to overflow with Spanish Flu patients, the campus turned to Carnegie to house students with milder symptoms. The second floor was predominantly used as sick rooms.”

In the 1980s, Carnegie Hall faced another bout of internal and external issues, this time simply resulting from old age. The campus had grown, and there were more residence halls available to students. The school had no other choice but to shut down Carnegie Hall for a time to make repairs. According to Hess, dormitories Gibson and Lloyd were built around this time, providing extra space for students to live. Carnegie Hall was not a necessity at this point. 

After a little while, Carnegie Hall reopened better than ever. There had been internal updates and repairs to make it as habitable as possible for students. After this remodel, the residence hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. Carnegie Hall is among many on Maryville College’s campus to be added to the register.

According to the Tennessee government’s website, “listing in the National Register acknowledges a property’s significance in history, design, or archeology and makes the public aware of places that are worthy of preservation.”

Today, Carnegie Hall is notorious among the student community as the residence hall with the most issues. This calls for regular damage repair and maintenance, but due to the building’s place on the National Register, making large changes is tricky. 

Lou Coco, director of Facilities Operations at Maryville College, explained that so far, he has not faced issues from the National Register and has never had to contact anyone for permission on a project. 

“I know that I have to ask a higher authority what kind of changes I can make on the outside,” Coco said. “But, I am under the impression that protected buildings are literally just the outward facade. We try to maintain the bricks, we try to maintain the windows – can I switch a window and it’s going to be the same shape, so from the outside there’s no difference? I believe I have about that much wiggle room before I would have to petition some type of governing authority.” 

Coco explained that if there is any internal damage, such as piping issues or electrical work, there is no question of whether or not maintenance is allowed to work on the issue. When it comes to student safety, the building is updated whenever it needs to be. 

Through all of the repairs, students are torn between whether or not the building should remain standing today. There seems to be issues that arise with the historic residence hall incredibly frequently, which raises concerns for students. Chapel Shortt, a junior who has lived in Carnegie Hall all of her three years at Maryville College, has strong opinions on the building.

“The building has had multiple-story floods twice,” she said. “On top of that, there are constant maintenance issues all across the building. I heard from the head of maintenance that Carnegie residents submit the most maintenance requests compared to all the other residence halls on campus.”

While Shortt’s view of Carnegie Hall is not an unpopular one, there are other students who find the history of the residence hall endearing. Student Calista Jones, a junior, explained where her love for Carnegie Hall stems from.

“Every room is different, and every room has a beautiful view of campus or the city,” she said.

Emma Henson, another junior, shares a similar view, acknowledging that, while not in the best shape compared to other dormitories on campus, it feels comfortable.

“I love how Carnegie has such a homey atmosphere — no other dorm on campus offers that,” Henson said

Although there are many differing opinions on the state of Carnegie Hall as it lives on Maryville College’s campus, the dormitory is not going anywhere, anytime soon. Now that the building is protected under the National Register of Historic Places, it is unable to be torn down.

Through the years, Carnegie Hall has offered thousands of students a place to live that is safe, comfortable, and rich with history. Although there have been many occurrences that should have led to Carnegie Hall’s demise, its integrity was upheld each time. 

Community members, students, faculty and parents have worked for over a century to keep the Colonial-style residence hall at the top of College Hill, so that every time they are on their way to Maryville College, they are reminded of the years of tribulations, war and sickness that the campus pushed through, coming out stronger than ever. 

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