June 13, 2016
On June 9, 2016, the University of New England celebrated the reopening of the Portland Campus’ historic Alumni Hall building -- 182 years to the day after it first opened on June 9, 1834.
The structure, which was the sole building on campus when UNE’s predecessor Westbrook Seminary was established, was renovated several times over the years (in 1894, 1938, 1968 and 1986) before its most recent renovation, which began approximately ten months ago. Originally referred to simply as “the Seminary Building,” the Federal-style, two-story brick building was renamed Alumni Hall when it reopened after its first renovation, which was made possible by financial contributions from alumni. The tradition has endured, as once again, alumni of Westbrook College and Westbrook Junior College, two other iterations of the institution before it became UNE, have been responsible for funding most of the recent renovation effort.
When first built, the iconic structure was adorned by the bell tower from Portland’s Market House, which had been remodeled into Portland’s first City Hall two years prior. Over the years, Alumni Hall has housed classrooms, laboratories, chapel services, theater performances and study lounges, and all the while the toll of its bell has signaled the passing of time and heralded special occasions to countless students and faculty.
During the renovation process, an inscription in the bell tower that dates back to the year of construction was discovered. The individual who left his mark in 1834, Levi Quinby Pierce, is believed to be the man who became the husband of Cordelia Stevens, who taught painting and drawing at Westbrook Seminary. Another unexpected find was an old pair of shoes that had been hidden in the wall. A European tradition, putting shoes into the wall of a building during construction was a means of protecting the building’s occupants from evil influences.
The chairs, desks and tables in the renovated building were hand built by Richard Grell after he had researched the early 19th-century period.
UNE President Danielle Ripich expressed deep gratitude to the alumni who contributed to the renovation project. “The doors of Alumni Hall have been closed since 2004,” she said. “And we are sincerely grateful to the former students of Westbrook College and Westbrook Junior College who have given so generously to keep a major piece of the university’s history alive. The walls of Alumni Hall are graced with photos and memorabilia that hold countless memories for so many people, and I am extremely proud to proclaim that the bell of Alumni Hall will ring out again.”
The renovated building will provide office space on the second floor thanks to donations from Dorothy Wallace Dickson, Westbrook Junior College Class of 1941, and Lillian Corey, Westbrook Junior College Class of 1956. The first floor will house the Detmer Room, a classroom gifted by Zareen Taj Mirza in honor of her mother Josephine “Dodie” Detmer, Honorary Alumni from the Class of 2006; a sitting parlor made possible by a generous gift from the Davis Family Foundation, which will contain a book holding the names of Deborah Morton Society Members and alumni award recipients; and event space named the Newberry Room by President Danielle Ripich and her brother F. Jay Newberry in honor of their parents, lifelong educators Forde J. and June Curtin Newberry. The basement of Alumni Hall will house the Sternburg Room, a library annex for student study.
UNE held a private reception for donors to the Alumni Hall restoration project, which culminated in the ringing of the Alumni Hall bell.
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