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Brief History


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A Brief History of the UD Green

By Carol E. Hoffecker, Richards Chair and Professor, Department of History

With the completion of the P. S. du Pont Hall extension, we are witnesses to the fulfillment of a dream that had its beginnings over eighty years ago. In 1915, there was no University of Delaware. There were two small, single-sex colleges under the aegis of one board of trustees: Delaware College, with an enrollment of about 225 male students, was centered at Old College on a campus constricted by the tracks of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and Main Street, and the Women’s College of Delaware, then in its first year, was located on a separate campus near the corner of South College Avenue and Park Place. The half-mile strip that separated these two institutions was known as “no man’s land.” It was mainly agricultural and included peach and apple orchards, some marshy lowland, a few scattered houses and an old tavern.

But, a renaissance was under way. Hugh Rodney Sharp, a Delaware College graduate recently appointed to the Board of Trustees, believed that his alma mater had the potential to achieve greatness, and he enlisted the support of his brother-in-law, Pierre S. du Pont, to help realize his vision. In 1915, du Pont anonymously purchased “no man’s land” for the college. Sharp and President Samuel Chiles Mitchell then moved quickly to hire the nation’s most distinguished architects of collegiate structures, Frank Miles Day and his partner, Charles Z. Klauder, to provide a development plan for the newly acquired land.

Day and Klauder had earned their reputation by designing buildings in the then-popular Gothic style for such prestigious clients as Princeton, Yale, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. But, the architects proved equally at home in the colonial Georgian idiom that Rodney Sharp thought suitable for the First State. Rodney Sharp loved Delaware’s rich architectural heritage. Throughout the state, venerable buildings of brick and wood recalled their 18th-century builders’ respect for classical antiquity and its supreme virtues of symmetry, proportion, and balance. At Sharp’s suggestion, Frank Miles Day traveled Delaware’s dusty roads to make notes on architectural design motifs that he would later incorporate into buildings along this Green.

The most important first step in the transformation of “no man’s land” was not the design of any particular building, but rather the design of the new campus itself. Drawing on the concepts of symmetry and balance so dear to the 18th century, especially as they had been so elegantly and impressively realized in Thomas Jefferson’s design for the Lawn at the University of Virginia, Frank Day conceived of the plan for The Green to begin at Main Street and converge on a large central building that would be capped by a massive rotunda. The Green was to extend beyond the central building to unite the men’s campus with the women’s campus. Today, you see before you the Day and Klauder plan of 1917, only slightly revised in this version of 1928, which is remarkably like the finished product.

Once the layout of The Green had been defined, construction could begin. Within a year of the land purchase, the first two structures were under way, both financed by P. S. du Pont and named for Rodney Sharp’s favorite teachers: Harter Hall, a dormitory, and Wolf Hall, which was to house science laboratories and an auditorium. When the construction of these buildings was completed in 1917, students helped to plant the rows of elm trees along The Green, many of which, in defiance of Dutch elm disease, continue to define The Green today, their overarching branches providing shade in summer and a graceful, yet rugged, beauty in all seasons. A photograph taken at the time shows the young trees, their tops hardly higher than the first floor of Wolf Hall.

In 1918, at Rodney Sharp’s suggestion, the board hired Marian Cruger Coffin to provide a landscape plan for the entire campus. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Marian Coffin was among America’s outstanding landscape architects and The Green that we see before us today represents the ideas and aesthetics that guided her, Frank Miles Day and their patron, Rodney Sharp.

At the beginning of the 1920s, the coordinate colleges were joined in name as the University of Delaware, a development that reinforced the way The Green had linked the two colleges spatially. The first building constructed for the use of students of both Delaware College and the Women’s College was the Memorial Library, dedicated in 1924 to honor those Delawareans who gave their lives in the First World War. It was fitting that this unifying structure was chosen to occupy the central position on The Green. The building was financed by small gifts from Delawareans, including school children, capped by a substantial donation from Rodney Sharp. In the late 1920s, two buildings were designed to face one another to define the cross-axis of The Green. For that purpose, they were recessed from other existing and proposed structures along The Green. These buildings were Mitchell Hall, the University’s first auditorium for the performing arts, dedicated in 1930, another gift from Rodney Sharp, and Evans Hall, its partner across The Green, built by the state to serve as classrooms and laboratories for the school of engineering.

In the Depression decade that followed, the University was fortunate to find a new benefactor whose gifts made it possible to continue developing The Green. Harry Fletcher Brown, a Harvard-educated executive at the Du Pont Company, was devoted to improving educational opportunities for Delawareans. In 1937, Brown financed the construction of the chemistry laboratory that now bears his name. The following year, he provided the matching funds, which, together with federal support from the Public Works Administration, financed the construction of the building’s twin, now called Hullihen Hall, which was designated to house the central administration and the humanities departments. These two buildings, notable for the distinctive oval indentations on their façades that have been painted white for emphasis, were connected to the Memorial Library by archways. These additions, designed by Charles Z. Klauder, harmoniously completed a major focal point in The Green’s overall design.

Although the post World War II period was one of dramatic growth at the University, it was not until 1958 that The Green saw its next addition. Du Pont Hall, financed by the Good Samaritan and Longwood Foundations for the College of Engineering, acknowledged the many gifts that P. S. du Pont had provided to the University during his lifetime. In 1962, the state provided the funds to construct Sharp Laboratory, which honors another magnificent friend to the University, to house the Department of Physics.

One third of a century passed before the final portion of The Green was completed. In 1995 the W.L. Gore family offered funds to construct a much-needed major classroom building to stand in the last, large empty space along The Green. This magnificent structure completed the west side of The Green. Gore Hall faces P. S. du Pont Hall, a building that had been designed in a utilitarian style that differed from that of its colonial revival surroundings, and had a setback out of keeping with The Green’s cruciform plan. University officials recognized an opportunity to correct these problems by constructing a new façade for Du Pont Hall to be designed by Allan Greenberg, the eminent colonial revival architect who had created Gore Hall. With the completion of the much-enlarged and dramatically altered Du Pont Hall in 2002, the original plan for The Green envisioned some eighty-five years ago by University alumnus and trustee, H. Rodney Sharp, philanthropist Pierre Samuel du Pont, University Presidents Samuel Chiles Mitchell and Walter Hullihen, architects Frank Miles Day and Charles Z. Klauder, and landscape designer Marian Coffin has at last been fulfilled. We think that they would all be pleased and proud of their accomplishments.