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In 1823, Reverend Thomas C. Brownell served as the founder and first president of Washington College in downtown Hartford, which in 1845, was renamed Trinity College (despite no religious affiliation.) A memorial document prepared before breaking ground on College Hill asked “to grant an act of incorporation for a college with power to confer the usual literary honors, to be placed in either of the cities of Hartford, Middletown or New Haven.”[1] In addition to this proposition, the college was to be named in honor of America’s first president. Hartford was chosen, and Washington College was quickly built and comprised of classical Greek architecture that was ready for use by the fall of 1825.

As a new institution in the early ‘20s, the school had only three buildings, in Greek revival style, for the administration, academia, and for residence. In the school’s founding years, it enrolled less than twelve students. The college was just the second institution of higher education in Connecticut behind Yale University. However, the school grew rapidly to one hundred students. Around fifty years after its founding year, Trinity College left downtown Hartford once the City of Hartford decided to purchase the land on which it was situated in order to build a capitol. Solomon Willard drew up the architectural plan for the buildings, which were eventually named after Samuel Seabury, Connecticut’s first Episcopal Bishop, and Abraham Jarvis, Samuel Seabury’s successor. [2] Both the scheme of Yale and several other pre-Civil war universities influenced the plan of the school. Seabury Hall faced east and sat centrally on the campus and had “a nicely proportioned three-story, pitched-roof brownstone edifice distinguished at the front by its four column, Ionic portico with plain entablature and closed pediment above, and at the rear by its two-stage, square bell tower with corner finials on two levels. It is thought to have been the architectural planning of either Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph and avid painter, or Solomon Willard, whose drawings for the building are still in existence. Seabury housed a chapel and “library, mineralogical cabinet, philosophical chamber, laboratory and recitation rooms.”[3] After housing these impressive collections, the building was demolished in preparation for the campus to be moved to the Rocky Ridge location.

As Seabury Hall was built, Jarvis Hall, the college dormitory, was erected simultaneously. Situated facing east and adjacent to Seabury, Jarvis was “also built of brownstone masonry and displaying the Greek Ionic order in its detailing, Jarvis was an equally functional, imposing, well-scaled structure, four stories in height, 148 feet long and 43 feet wide at its midpoint, and contained forty eight rooms, including a resident faculty suite. Student rooms, the largest measuring 12 by 20 feet, were considered spacious and even luxurious compared with the off-campus, temporary quarters first occupied by Washington College students.”[4] Solomon Willard was thought to have been the architect for Jarvis Hall. To complete the master plan, Brownell Hall was added on the other side of Seabury Hall, to mirror and duplicate the exterior of Jarvis Hall, with the same dimensions and style. The interior “contained a smaller number of rooms, with thirty-eight for student housing, an apartment for the occupancy of a faculty member and family, and a recitation hall(…) Unlike Jarvis, which had entryway corridors, Brownell possessed a central entry and long corridors extending the length of each floor. The Brownell interior plan is believed to have improved illumination of the interior rooms by natural lighting through the windows. This likely encouraged occupants to view the impressive outside gardens, with their variety of trees and shrubs, as well as a nearby formal garden with a greenhouse.”[5]

Unfortunately, these buildings do not exist today, as the campus on College Hill in downtown Hartford was bought to house the Connecticut Capitol building, and the old Trinity College campus was subsequently destroyed. 

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[1] Tolles Jr., Bryant F., “Architecture and Academe: College Buildings in New England

Before 1860,” UPNE (January 11, 2011): 137.

[2] ibid

[3] Tolles Jr., Bryant F., “Architecture and Academe: College Buildings in New England

Before 1860,” UPNE (January 11, 2011): 138.

[4] ibid

[5] Tolles Jr., Bryant F., “Architecture and Academe: College Buildings in New England

Before 1860,” UPNE (January 11, 2011): 140.