|Maine Forester | Message from the Dean | Bright Papers | Hannibal Hamlin and UM | Cassidy Papers | Staff News | Events | Archives | Current Issue|
|VOLUME 18 NUMBER 1, SPRING 2010|
by Brenda Howitson Steeves, Special Collections Department
Hannibal Hamlin Hall on the campus is of course named in honor of Maine’s only
native son to serve as vice president of the United States. With the two
hundredth anniversary of the birth of both Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin
in 2009 and with the sesquicentennial of the Civil War fast approaching, it is
time to reflect on one of Hamlin’s other roles, his involvement in the founding
of the University of Maine.
Hamlin served as vice president during Lincoln’s first term of office but failed to be
re-nominated for a second term. He left office on March 4, 1865, returning to Maine where his chief duties, according to a biography written by his grandson, “were to take care of his little farm ... he fell naturally into the life of a country squire, and repeated his old time saying, that when he entered politics he ‘spoiled the making of a good farmer.’ ” Hamlin seems to have been a bit modest in his assessment of his activities as he was also at this time advocating for the establishment of a new college of agriculture and mechanic arts in Maine, one that would be supported by the provisions of the Morrill Act signed into law while he had been vice president. Although he had not attended college himself Hamlin had served for many years as a trustee at Colby College, two of his sons had attended Colby and one had attended Bowdoin College. Still he thought there was room for another college in the state, one that perhaps would prepare its graduates for more practical fields of endeavor than the so-called classical institutions.
The legislation establishing the new State College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts was passed in 1865 and it listed Hannibal Hamlin as one of those to serve as trustees of the institution, one member coming from each county in the state. The first meeting of the new board was held in Augusta on April 25, 1865, with Hamlin present. At this meeting, he was elected president of the board, a role in which he would serve until resigning early in 1866. The first order of business for the trustees was to secure funding and a location for the new college. Hamlin was appointed to a committee of three to confer with the governor on the sale and disposition of the land scrip granted to the state under the Morrill Act, the proceeds of which would establish an endowment to fund the college. But the issue of where to put the new institution remained an open question. Minutes of the meetings of the trustees in April, May and June show the trustees receiving offers of land and farms in Orrington, Fairfield and Topsham; Hamlin is recorded as visiting many of these farms along with his fellow trustees. Finally on January 25th, 1866, at a meeting in Augusta, an 8 to 7 vote of the trustees chose the White and Goddard farms in Orono as the site for the new campus, Hamlin voting in favor of the Orono location. Later in the same meeting, Hamlin tendered his resignation from the board thus ending his official association with the newly-established college. Other duties called him: at the recommendation of Charles Sumner, he had been appointed collector of the port of Boston in August 1865 and had assumed his post in September. He went on to serve again in the U.S. Senate from 1870 to 1881, then was appointed minister plenipotentiary to Spain from 1881 to 1882. After that he returned to Bangor, living there until his death in 1891.
In 1909 a new men’s dormitory building, later to be named Hannibal Hamlin Hall, began to be planned on campus in response to the urgent need to accommodate an increasing number of students. Designed by Boston architect William Hart Taylor in the Collegiate Gothic style, the building was to be one of the best equipped dormitories at any college in Maine. The contract for the new building, awarded to Smith & Rumery Co. of Portland, called for a four story brick structure with suites for students containing two bedrooms with an adjoining study room. A dining room large enough to seat 300 was planned for the basement with the first floor having an apartment for the professor in charge of the building and rooms for the university’s Y.M.C.A. chapter. A feature noted at the time was the installation of fireproof walls that would divide the building into three parts with connecting corridors that could be closed if necessary. The building was finished and fully occupied in 1911; the trustees’ report for that year notes that “as an expression of the great honor and respect in which we hold the name of Hannibal Hamlin, we have dedicated and named for him the new dormitory completed during the last year ... in recognition of the great service of this illustrious son of Maine.”
By 1944 Hannibal Hamlin Hall was serving as a dormitory for soldiers in the Army Specialized Training Program put together by the Army and the American Council on Education. On the night of February 13, 1944, a fire broke out in the north section of the building, home to some 73 student soldiers. Two students died in the fire and a third was seriously injured. Despite rumors of arson that circulated immediately after the blaze, the investigation held to determine its source found no evidence of such and reported “cause or causes unknown” as its official finding. The fireproof walls dividing the building seem to have prevented an outcome that could have been much worse. In May 1944, a contract was awarded to repair the damage: the north section of the building was not to be rebuilt but smoke screens on stairways and fire doors were to be installed.
Hannibal Hamlin Hall continued to be used as a dormitory for many years after the disastrous fire. It currently serves as home to the Intensive English Institute, the Office of Multicultural Programs and the university herbaria. Hamlin himself would no doubt be proud of the various needs the building has filled and especially of the multi-faceted university that has resulted from his service as trustee so many years ago.
Home | Olive Tree | Spring 2010 Issue
Copyright 2000-2010, Raymond H. Fogler Library, The University of Maine,
Orono, ME 04469-5729
Fogler Library Home | Resources | Services | Search | Help | Site Map | Campus