Archives Diary: A New Campus, Clifton Church Photographs of Boston College

Devlin Hall, Gasson Hall, and St. Mary's Hall from the Lawrence Basin, photograph by Clifton Church.

Devlin Hall, Gasson Hall, and St. Mary's Hall from the Lawrence Basin, photograph by Clifton Church.

Materials recently added to the Flickr site for the Burns Library include a set of striking photographs taken by Clifton Church from about 1917 to 1934. Clifton Church was a landscape photographer who worked in Jackson, New Hampshire, and Dallas, Texas, as well as other places.

Church’s photographs capture the newness of the campus in the Chestnut Hill section of Newton, Massachusetts. The property had been worked as a farm for many years, and some of the photographs show the fields and farm buildings. Boston College was chartered in 1863 and the first students entered in September 1864. By the end of the nineteenth century the college needed more space but could not expand near its original location in Boston’s South End.

In 1907 Father Thomas I. Gasson, SJ, was appointed president of BC, and he continued the search for a new location. In December of that year the Board of Trustees authorized the purchase of four lots in Chestnut Hill, and the Boston College community planned its move to “University Heights.”

Gasson Hall on Boston College's early Chestnut Hill campus, photograph by Clifton Church.

Gasson Hall on Boston College's early Chestnut Hill campus, photograph by Clifton Church.

The campaigns to raise money to pay for the property and erect buildings proceeded slowly, and the photographs of Clifton Church reflect the gradual implementation of a plan for the new campus. His early photographs of the first structure, the Recitation Building, show it before there was any greenery on its perimeter. This building, later called the Tower Building and now called Gasson Hall, stood alone in the midst of the fields when it was opened in 1913.

In 1917 work was completed on St. Mary’s Hall, the residence for the Jesuit community. The usual difficulties with fund raising delayed the completion of the next two buildings until 1928, when the Science Building (Devlin) and the Library (Bapst) were opened. The only other construction shown in Church’s photographs was the addition made to St. Mary’s Hall, which was opened in 1931.

When Boston College announced the purchase of the former Lawrence farm in 1907, there was an enthusiastic outpouring of support from many people in the Boston area. John Doyle, a lawyer, said “It would be hard to find another such spot in the East comparable with the site you have chosen for the new home of Alma Mater. Fortunate, indeed, the fellows who will have the privilege of studying amid such surroundings; theirs will be days of noble inspiration and beautiful memories.” Like other alumni, Doyle enclosed a check to support the purchase.

Bapst Library, the fourth building constructed on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, photograph by Clifton Church.

Bapst Library, the fourth building constructed on Boston College's Chestnut Hill campus, photograph by Clifton Church.

The photographs of Clifton Church show the buildings that grace this much-praised location. His earliest images show several external views of Gasson Hall, built in the English Collegiate Gothic style as designed by the firm of Maginnis and Walsh.

Returning over a period of several years, Church photographed the campus as St. Mary’s, Devlin, and Bapst were added. His pictures reflect the campus in winter and show the proximity of the reservoir which was drained in the 1950’s. (You might notice his initials in a distinctive logo on his photos.)

The letter quoted above praised the choice of the site. The photographs by Clifton Church show the first buildings that helped to provide “…noble inspiration and beautiful memories…” of the expanding university.  For more information about the history of Boston College, take a look at the Sesquicentennial Digital Library section of the University Archives Research Guide.

  • David E. Horn, Burns Library, Boston College

About John J. Burns Library

The University’s special collections, including the University’s Archives, are housed in the Honorable John J. Burns Library, located in the Bapst Library Building, north entrance. Burns Library staff work with students and faculty to support learning and teaching at Boston College, offering access to unique primary sources through instruction sessions, exhibits, and programming. The Burns Library also serves the research needs of external scholars, hosting researchers from around the globe interested in using the collections. The Burns Library is home to more than 250,000 volumes and over 700 manuscript collections, including holdings of music, photographic materials, art and artifacts, and ephemera. Though its collections cover virtually the entire spectrum of human knowledge, the Burns Library has achieved international recognition in several specific areas of research, most notably: Irish studies; British Catholic authors; Jesuitica; Fine printing; Catholic liturgy and life in America, 1925-1975; Boston history; the Caribbean, especially Jamaica; Nursing; and Congressional archives.
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