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.