The Papers of Philander Chase
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The Papers of Philander Chase

Slide 19

Original plan for Kenyon College

The original design for what is now called Old Kenyon was much different than what was built. The wings would be altered mainly because of a lack of funds. Nevertheless, this structure proved a mammoth building project. In fact, some local folks, upon hearing that this large stone building was being funded by English nobles, and with the War of 1812 not too distant in their memories, became convinced that the British were establishing a fort.

As one might imagine, life was not easy for those Chase hired to build his college. The rugged wilderness often made comfort unattainable. Thus, the laborers made a small request of their boss, Bishop Chase.


SIR, - We, the undersigned, being mechanics and laborers under your employ, have agreed, after mature reflection, and a consultation held upon the subject, to address you a line by way of petition, thereby to make known to you our united request, which request, we presume to think, and humbly trust, will not be by you considered unreasonable; and from many considerations we are inclined to believe it not only necessary, but certainly beneficial, both for the preservation of our health and the forwarding of the business in which we are engaged.

Request is as follows: That you will grant us the use of spirituous liquors three times in each day, while we may be occupied in your service, in quantity one small glass at each time; inasmuch as it has become a custom, not only in this state, but throughout the United States, to have it more or less at all places where public works are going forward, a moderate use of which, we are of the opinion, would greatly forward the business in which we are engaged. The principal reasons which we urge for asking the foregoing, are the following, to wit: Having to work the principal part of our time under the influence of the sun's rays, and our provisions, though very good, is principally of the salt kind, and not having constantly a supply of good fresh water at hand, and in consequence of the reasons here assigned, we have many times drank more than was really good for us, and to remedy this, we have made the preceding request. If it meet your approbation, we think the expense will be repaid to the institution tenfold; if not, we shall await your command, and abide the consequences with due respect. We have the honor to be yours, very respectfully.

Their request was denied.

In a letter to his wife in 1827, Chase continues the description of the construction:

Gambier, Kenyon College, August 2,1827.


I wrote you a few words when I was in Mount Vernon last Friday, and enclosed a draft of one hundred dollars. As soon as Chapman and Upsom's account is rendered, and we can settle with him, that shall be paid. I think I told you of Mr. T. leaving me, and of the distress I was in, both on account of having the business, with very little knowledge of what had been the proceedings, all thrown upon my hands, and on account of the matter of housekeeping. Above forty hands were to be provided for, and served with their meat and drink in due season; and inasmuch as Mr. T. had, of his own, a few beds, not only their place was to be supplied, but, owing to an increase of some twelve or fifteen hands, others were to be provided out of whole cloth. What could be done? God helped me; as I told you, I went with the wagon, I don't know how many times, to Mount Vernon, for a new set, and an additional quantity of kitchen and table furniture, and our wants, however numerous, were after a sort supplied. While these things were going on, the demands of the masons were to be attended to. The stone began to fail in quantity on the spot, and no teams could be had but at an enormous expense (knowing I was in great want) to draw them. What could be done and whither could I turn? God opened a door, and through it sent me twelve pair of fine oxen at a very reasonable price - so much so, that if they work till winter they will, at the prices at which I am obliged to hire, more than pay for their purchase money.

The chains and carriages are now nearly provided for them, so that we hope soon to have our business before us. You have little idea of the quantity of stone it takes; but think! as the walls are, they are raised, the one half of them to the top of the basement story, and the other half is about two thirds up to that height. But you will ask how we can accommodate so many hands with room in our present scanty allowance of buildings? Answer - We had to make three or four sittings down at table at our meals, and the men found their lodgings in the cockloft of the shop, this dwelling, and the floor of the dining-room. For a dining-room we are putting up a little log-hewn house, between that in which we now live and the street. It will rather join it, so that the stove-pipe of the new may pass into the chimney of the old building. The dining-room inside will be about sixteen by twenty-three feet. Part of the roof will project over, so as to produce a shelter as you pass from the kitchen into the dining- room.

If you ask how the little stone building comes on, I answer, but slowly. So few joiners have presented themselves, and so much work in making window-frames and other things to keep the masons going on well with the great building, that but little is done to this. The roof is on, and the joiners at work in it. The lower floor is laid, and half the chamber floor, and a part of the staircase and stairs up into the chamber are done.

Our saw-pit frame is reared, and hands are engaged in getting out joists. I am more and more pleased with the plan of the college. It will afford more conveniences than any building I ever saw. If carried into complete effect, the plan will be more admired for its perfection in the accommodation of both professors and students than any other which I have noticed in the United States. We feel the loss of the Wilson horse very much, but hope God will enable us to get on with our work notwithstanding.



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Last updated 15 January 2001