Western Campus

Take a Walk Through Time in Oxford

Walking Tour of the Western College for Women in Oxford, OH

The Western College for Women Historic District, designated by the City of Oxford, is a self-guided walking tour that covers several acres of what was chartered as the Western Female Seminary in 1853. In 1904, this private women's school was renamed The Western College for Women. 

Pick up the Walking Tour of Oxford's Western College for Women Historic District Brochure at the Enjoy Oxford Office. 

Stop 1: Peabody Hall

Image file PeabodyBW0_fb155a24-5056-a36a-0925e68ffeea1ccd.jpg

Called "Seminary Hall" for many years, this is the oldest building remaining on the Western campus. When the Western Female Seminary opened in 1866, and for almost forty years thereafter, the school had only one building. This sole building included classrooms, dormitory space, chapel, dining hall, kitchen, library, administrative offices, and living quarters for the female faculty. 

Stop 2: Heath Chime (now in the Molyneaux-Western Tower) 

The Heath Chime, a set of eleven bells, was a gift of Elizabeth McCullough Heath in 1924. The bells originally hung in the tower of Alumnae Hall, and called students to chapel, academic ceremonies, and special events for half a century. 

Stop 3: The Lodge

Constructed in 1926, this rustic building was a gift of Colonel A. E. Humphreys. The unseen spruce logs were shipped from Humphreys' property in Colorado, and a replica of his Rocky Mountain hunting lodge near Wagon Wheel Gap was constructed at the top of Western's sledding hill. 

Stop 4: Steam Plant

This two-story steam plant was constructed in 1924 and housed the steam boilers that furnished heat for the college. Beginning in the mid-1950s, Western's Theater Department used the upper level as its workshop for stage design and set construction. 

Stop 5: Sawyer Gymnasium

Construction began in 1913 on the red brick mission-style structure that would be furnished with state-of-the-art equipment including rowing machines, flying rings, and the first swimming pool in Oxford. Sawyer Gymnasium was named for Mary Alma Sawyer, who was acting president of Western at the time of the building’s construction and was instrumental in acquiring a pool for the College.

Stop 6: Ernst Nature Theatre

In a space between two small hills, the Ernst Nature Theatre was built into the landscape as an outdoor performance space in 1921. The site was chosen for the best acoustics and oriented so that the sun was not in the eyes of actors or spectators. One stage was cut into the hillside with another smaller stage above it, and the displaced soil was used to create sod terraces for audience seating. A drainage system and underground lighting conduits were installed a few years later. The space was used for theatrical performances and the annual Tree Day ceremony.

Stop 7: McKee Hall 

The first separate dormitory on the campus, McKee Hall was designed by architect Silas Reese Burns of Dayton. Built in 1904 in the Beaux Arts style, it was initially called New Hall and served as living quarters for some of the student body that was outgrowing the space in Peabody Hall. The attic was used as the school’s gymnasium until Sawyer was built. The red brick edifice was originally constructed with wide corridors, open stairwells, large windows, and rooms placed to have sun at least part of the day.

Stop 8: Boyd Hall

Designed by Charles Cellarius, the architect credited with giving nearby Miami University its Neo-Georgian style, this 1947 building was designed in a contemporary style. Within the Science Hall, as it was originally named, were classrooms, laboratories, an astronomy terrace, and a science library. The library was called the Oxford Room because people from the town gave money to furnish it with walnut shelves and paneling. 

Stop 9: Thomson Hall

This residence hall built in 1963 housed 166 women and provided offices for student organizations on the ground floor. A contemporary two-story building of red brick, its north and south end walls are faced with limestone. The design avoided long corridors and provided study and discussion areas in central locations. In the early 1970s the college allowed pets on the lower floor, but this experiment was pronounced a disaster and soon ended. 

Stop 10: Clawson Hall

The first building completed after World War II, like others before, was funded in part by alumnae donations. The architect was Charles Cellarius, who designed an asymmetrical plan for the fieldstone building of three stories with a central three-arched entrance of Bedford limestone. With slate roof, leaded glass entrance, upper level sundeck, and rear terrace, the dormitory also included a basement snack bar, a large dining room, and a kitchen that served the entire campus. Student enrollment reached 566 the year after the building opened in 1946.

Stop 11: Alexander Dining Hall

Completed in 1962 and attached to Clawson Hall, this twelve-sided dining hall was designed to seat a projected student enrollment of 750. It featured cafeteria-style service for the first time in Western’s history and was large enough to accommodate the entire college at one sitting. The contemporary building was constructed of native fieldstone with large walls of glass and a flared roofline.

Stop 12: Mary Lyon Hall

Constructed in 1925, this residence hall was originally planned as part of a quadrangle that was to include two other dormitories and a dining hall, but only this one was built. It was named for Mary Lyon in 1934 to honor the founder of Mount Holyoke College, who was still serving as its principal when Helen Peabody graduated in 1848. Designed by Hamilton architect Frederick Mueller and built by Oxford contractor Joseph C. Wespiser, the limestone dormitory included a ground floor recreation room and kitchens. Later classrooms and laboratories for the Home Economics Department occupied the space formerly used for kitchens.

Stop 13: Hoyt Library

By the late 1960s the library in Alumnae Hall was deemed inadequate, and students launched a fundraising drive for a new library. Oxford architects Small & Wertz, who also taught architecture at Miami, designed the modernist building, and Charles Adrian was the contractor. In 1971, two years after ground was broken, 70,000 books were moved into the new building. When it was dedicated the following year, it was called the Library Building, but after students petitioned the administration, it was named Hoyt Library in 1974 to honor the long-serving dean of the College. In 1981, Miami changed the name to Hoyt Hall be-cause it was no longer used as a library.

Stop 14: Stone Bridge

Between 1922 and the early 1930s, during the administration of President Boyd, Oxford mason Cephas Burns constructed ten handsome stone bridges across the ravines and small streams on the campus. Burns carefully selected cannonball stones from the local creeks for the bridges and lampposts, which he designed and built with his crew of African American workers. This 1922-23 bridge, which replaced an earlier wooden one, has 16 arches and six lampposts and was one of several of his bridges featured on postcards.

Stop 15: Stillman Kelley Studio

Western’s graduating class of 1916 raised funds to build this combination cottage and studio for composer Edgar Stillman Kelley, the first artist-in-residence at any college in the country. He and his wife had come to the College in 1910 when Western offered him a resident fellowship to write music. The one-and-a-half-story house shows Colonial-style influences in its clapboard siding, stone chimney, and gambrel roof. The Kelleys left Oxford in 1944, and in the following years the studio home continued to be used for faculty housing. Much of its charm, however, was later obscured by an obtrusive addition made by Miami in 1974.

Stop 16: Patterson Place

Built in 1898 on the site of a house that burned decades earlier, “Glenwilde” was initially the summer home of James Patterson. Constructed by local contractor T. C. Lloyd on the site of what students called “The Ruins,” the two-story house of dark brick with porches on three sides did not have central heat or hot water. The property, which included 70 acres, was acquired by Western College in 1914. After an addition to the rear and modernizing of the interior, the house was used as the home of all Western presidents until 1974. At that time it became the headquarters of a new alumnae association and still includes a museum of Western memorabilia.

Stop 17: Stancote House

This house was built in 1933 on Western property as the retirement home of Ida Windate, a Western professor, with the understanding that it would belong to the College after her death. The English style residence of rough-cut, mottled fieldstone was designed by architect Charles Cellarius of Cincinnati and constructed by Miami Valley Lumber Company of Oxford. Given an appealing and English-sounding name, “Stancote,” it originally had casement windows and an attached garage that was later made into a room.Beginning with the owner’s death in 1948 and until the school closed, the house was used as the official home of the Dean of Western College.

Stop 18: Langstroth Cottage 

This house was built in 1856 by the Rev. Edward Root, who was minister of Oxford’s Second Presbyterian Church and of Western Seminary. The nine-acre property was the ideal location for his beekeeping work, with room for hives and orchards. By the early 1900s, Western owned the property and used the dwelling to house work men, and later faculty, after various remodeling efforts, including the addition of front and back porches. Professors of music, theatre, and writing were among those who lived there until the late 1960s when it was remodeled for use as the home of the Dean of Students. The house was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1982, given an Ohio Historical Marker in 2002, and added to Oxford’s Western College for Women Historic District in 2012.

Stop 19: Presser Hall

Completed in 1931, Presser Hall, reminiscent of the Tudor style, was designed to house the music department of the College and included practice rooms, offices, classrooms, studios, recital rooms, a music library, and an auditorium. The building’s name was chosen because half the construction expense was paid for by the Presser Foundation in Philadelphia, a philanthropic organization dedicated to music.

Stop 20: Alumnae Hall

From 1892 until 1977, Alumnae Hall stood on what today is a grassy open space. A memorial that includes bronze plaques and the building’s cornerstone marks the site. This imposing edifice was the first to be constructed on the campus after the main building.The red brick building, accented with stone, included a turret in which the Heath Chime was installed in 1924. The new science labs, art galleries, lecture rooms, and art studios enhanced the college offerings, and a window designed by Mary Tillinghast and shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, was installed in the twelve-sided library. The name for the building was chosen because alumnae donations, led by Olivia Meily Brice, paid for its construction, plus later enhancements and repairs. After a new science hall and library were built, the basement of Alumnae Hall was used as a student center for a few years. It was razed by Miami in 1977 and the foot- print of the building was later outlined with a border of flowers that bloom every spring.

Stop 21: Kumler Chapel

Dedicated in 1918, the Norman Gothic style chapel of gray stone was designed by Carriere and Hastings of New York and was inspired by a parish church in Normandy. After the tower collapsed during construction, a structural improvement was made, and eight years later buttresses were added to the nave. Each stained glass window, including the Tillinghast Window, moved from Alumnae Hall, has its own unique story. Kumler Memorial Chapel replaced the chapel in Peabody Hall and was used for church services, ceremonies, commencements, concerts, weddings, and lectures by such notables as Carl Sandburg and Thornton Wilder. 

Stop 22: Freedom Summer Memorial 

In June 1964, after Western students had gone home for the summer, their campus gained national attention when over 800 young civil rights workers came to train for what was then called the Mississippi Summer Project. Led by SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), with support from COFO (Council of Federated Organizations), the young volunteers were taught survival skills before going to register black voters in what was considered the most racist state in the country. Three of the young people were murdered by law enforcement officials and KKK (Ku Klux Klan) members soon after arriving in Mississippi. These men, Michael Schwerner, James Cheney, and Andrew Goodman, along with the other civil rights workers, were memorialized with the amphitheater in 1999 designed by Miami University Architect Robert Keller. An Ohio Historical Marker was added in 2000.

Stop 23: Summer House

Before 1860, the Western grounds had a small, square structure with hip roof that students enjoyed as a shelter from rain and sun and as destination for campus strolls. The roof was originally supported by posts made of tree branches, but in the mid-1930s these were replaced with stone. The stairs on the west side of the Summer House lead to a small bridge from which the pond can be viewed. In earlier days, a foot- path led from the Summer House to Patterson Avenue.

Stop 24: Western Pond

The Western Pond appears in some of the earliest references to the Seminary and was used to supply ice in the years before refrigeration. A stone structure for storing ice stood at the southeast edge of the pond for many years until it was replaced by the boat house. The stone boat house was built by Cephas Burns in the early 1920s and has a flat top from which students can look out over the pond. Over the years, the pond was dredged and enlarged. Used for ice-skating in winter, the pond attracted ducks in warm weather, and swans were sometimes placed there.