Bentley Hall

Designed by Alexander Temple with assistance from Timothy Alden, founder and first president of the College, Bentley Hall was the first building on Allegheny College's campus. Considered one of the finest extant examples of Federalist architecture in the country, it was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. The building's mixture of Federal and Greek Revival elements is charming and vibrant, with a cupola directly copied from an Asher Benjamin pattern book.

Construction took place from 1820 to 1830. Bentley Hall is three stories above grade with an elevated first floor. Two wings with massive pillars flank the three-story central part of the building, which is topped by a bell tower. The walls, constructed of local brick, are 18 inches thick atop a stone foundation. The foundation blocks were quarried northeast of campus. To obtain ten thousand bricks from local resident, Carson Davis, Alden made a deal that Davis could use Bentley’s extensive library, which held over 7,000 volumes.

Once housing all of the college’s functions, the building has been almost continually altered since its opening in 1830. Significant alterations were undertaken in 1852-1854 when Ruter Hall was being constructed and the Library and Chapel were moved out of Bentley Hall and in 1882 when windows were replaced and gas lighting was added. In the twentieth century significant alteration to interior rooms occurred in 1904, 1914, and 1925 and a new portico and steps were designed and installed at the center north entrance in 1943. French drains were installed along the north and west foundations in 1996 and 1999. The original six-over-six wood double-hung windows remain, but aluminum storm windows and window air conditioners diminish the original stately appearance. The building's interior has been modified with new finishes, systems, and lay-in ceilings, but retains much of the original room, corridor, and stair configuration. The third floor currently is unoccupied due to safety code restrictions.

Bentley's bell tower, the most recognizable symbol of Allegheny and part of the College's logo, is visible from miles away from several different highways. It is also visually prominent from the perimeter of College grounds and from vantage points throughout the campus. A gift from trustee Willow Wilcox Brost and her husband, Gary M. Brost (both Class of 1974) enabled the College to restore the tower in 2000 and to replace an electronic carillon that was originally installed in the 1970s but had fallen into disrepair. The story persists that William McKinley put a full-grown cow into Bentley’s bell tower when he attended Allegheny College in the 1860s, and the trick resurfaces periodically.

In 1825, the Marquis de Lafayette stood on Bentley Hall’s steps and called the location “the loveliest valley in the world”. Bentley Hall is the enduring heart of Allegheny College.

Images

Bentley Hall.  1820.  Architects Alexander Temple and Timothy Alden

Bentley Hall. 1820. Architects Alexander Temple and Timothy Alden

View from April, 2008 | Source: Image courtesy of William N. Owen. View File Details Page

Bentley Hall cornerstone

Bentley Hall cornerstone

On July 5, 1820, the cornerstone of Bentley Hall was laid. As part of the ceremony, President Alden placed a coin, wine, and oil on the cornerstone. Underneath it was buried a piece of Plymouth Rock, marble from Dido's Temple in Carthage, Mortar from the Tomb of Virgil, brick from the tower of Babel, and parchment with the Trustees' names. The popular public event was accompanied by soldiers, a choir, and a band. | Source: Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Laying the cornerstone of Bentley Hall, Centenary Pageant, 1915

Laying the cornerstone of Bentley Hall, Centenary Pageant, 1915

Allegheny College celebrated its centennial with three days of festivities in June, 1915, including an alumni conference and the re-enactment of significant events from its history. To celebrate its bicentennial, Allegheny College will commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and dedicate a new Bicentennial Plaza on Bentley lawn, among other events. | Source: Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

The Bentley Bell

The Bentley Bell

On July 3, 1834, a bell was donated by Reverend Zerah H. Coston from Wheeling, Virginia. It was rung by hand for classes, football game victories, and even air raid drills during the 1940's. Numerous bell pranks were recorded. In the 1800's, students would fill it with water so that a frozen b ell couldn't ring at class times. On April 1, 1938, the bell was stolen and not returned by the Class of 1938 until four decades later in 1978. Today, the sounds of the bell are created by an automatic, electrically-timed clapper. | Source: Jonathan Helmreich, Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Signed portrait of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States

Signed portrait of William McKinley, 25th president of the United States

According to tradition, when McKinley was a student at Allegheny in the early 1860s, he led a cow into Bentley's bell tower and was subsequently expelled. Although we do know that McKinley never graduated from Allegheny, published accounts suggest that he left because of ill health. | Source: Parker, Washington, D.C., Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Up on the roof

Up on the roof

The legend of the cow in the tower is alive and well in 1966, as President Pelletier (1955-1980) pets a small calf on the roof of Bentley Hall. | Source: Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

President's Office, 1900

President's Office, 1900

This space in Bentley Hall was used by President William Henry Crawford (1893—1920) | Creator: Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Classroom on the third floor of Bentley Hall.

Classroom on the third floor of Bentley Hall.

Source: Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Commencement ceremonies 1930

Commencement ceremonies 1930

In good weather, College commencement ceremonies take place on Bentley lawn as here, with the speaker on a platform and the College band below. | Source: Stanton Studios, Meadville, PA. Image courtesy of The Wayne and Sally Merrick Historic Archival Center, Allegheny College View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Rachel Raczynski, “Bentley Hall,” NW PA Heritage, accessed March 27, 2017, http://nwpaheritage.org/items/show/7.

Share this Story