Historic Preservation at Centre College
An activities center in an old hemp warehouse? A bookstore in a former funeral home? It may sound a bit unusual, but Centre College has a history of finding new uses for old buildings. As one of the nation’s oldest colleges—it was chartered by the Kentucky Legislature in 1819—Centre also has a long tradition of respecting the past.
The tradition begins with the College’s original building, Old Centre (1820; Greek Revival front portico and wings added 1841, back portico 1940). Now the main administration building, it is one of two Centre buildings listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. (Centre has a total of 14 National Register buildings listed either individually or as part of historic districts.) Over the years Old Centre has housed classrooms, student rooms, a dining hall, and a grammar school, as well as a law school (1894-1912) and library. During the Civil War, Confederate and Union troops both commandeered the building for a hospital (though not at the same time).
Old Carnegie (1913) is also listed individually in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built as the library (the industrialist Andrew Carnegie provided $30,000 toward its construction), a purpose it served until the construction of Doherty Library in 1967. It now houses the offices of international study and career services as well as a special-occasion dining room.
Horky House (ca. 1842-1850), an imposing Greek Revival structure on the edge of campus, was built by Robert Russel Jr., the noted Danville architect/builder also responsible for Old Centre. By the time Centre bought the house in the 1980s, however, it had become a falling-down wreck. After substantial renovation and remodeling (the back extension is new), it reopened in 1992 as Centre’s admission and financial aid offices.
In developing Greek Park and the surrounding area on Walnut Street, the College was able to save several existing buildings, including Breeze House (ca. 1900), a private residence turned boarding house for railroad employees until its 1997 renovation as student life and communications offices, and Walnut House, now a dormitory and campus post office but known to old-timers as a coffee shop.
Stuart Hall (ca. 1915) formerly known as the Centre Shoppes, the building housed the Centre bookstore and a coffee shop/cafe since 1992. It previously served as a private residence, a fraternity house, and a funeral home. There is a highway marker from the Kentucky Historical Society in front of the hall commemorating John Todd Stuart, a friend of Abraham Lincoln who persuaded Lincoln to pursue a career in law.
Other Important Buildings
Other historically important Centre buildings include the brick Italianate Craik House (ca. 1850s, with Greek Revival portico added in the early 1900s), home to Centre presidents since 1938; Chenault Alumni House (1904); Breckinridge Hall (1892, substantially rebuilt after a 1908 fire); and Sutcliffe Hall (1915, expanded 1962 and 2005).
Two Former Warehouses
The buildings with the most unusual histories are probably two old warehouses given new life. The Combs Center, often called the Warehouse (ca. 1902) is a turn-of-the century hemp warehouse converted into a modern student center. Original plank flooring, brick walls, and one-foot-square oak columns that run from the basement to the third floor remain. Nearby is another former warehouse, the green and white striped Jones Visual Arts Center (ca. 1930s) once owned by the Jackson Chair Company. After extensive renovation, it reopened in 1998 as the home for Centre’s art program and includes a state-of-the-art hot glass studio and the Aegon Gallery.
The oldest site of interest on campus is Sinking Spring, an early Indian camp site and possible location of Thomas Harrod’s cabin of 1774-1776. Sinking Spring was part of the College’s original seven acres (purchased from John Cochran for $400 in March 1819). Centre students and faculty began archeological explorations of the area in 1999.