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  • Emily Cusack, Devon Mayse

A look into the Archives: the ghosts of buildings past

In 1885, a red brick building was donated to Olivet College. Mather Hall, named for its benefactor, Roland Mather of Hartford, Connecticut, was to be the college’s new science hall. Located where the Mott Academic Center now stands, Mather Hall boasted from the beginning an impressive museum.

According to “The History of Olivet,” by the Rev. Wolcott B. Williams, in 1874 W.B Palmer donated to the college a complete set of “Ward’s Reproductions” casts of fossil remains. To display this collection the upper floor of Colonial Hall (located where Dole Hall now stands) was removed to allow for adequate space.

From that point Olivet College’s museum collection grew. Williams writes the college soon purchased what was considered the largest collection of shells in the country from Brown. Some 50,000 shells were included in the collection. Known as the Brown Cabinet, the collection arrived in Olivet on April 3, 1879. A science hall was soon recommended according to Williams.

Mather, a wealthy banker and philanthropist from New England, donated about $16,000 to Olivet College for the construction of the science hall, along with the clock that is featured on the Olivet Congregational Church’s bell tower today, according to junior archive assistant Devon Mayse, The hall was completed with two floors full of laboratories and lecture rooms for chemistry, physics, geology, biology, physiology, the offices of the college president and secretary and two large recitation halls.

With the construction of Mather Hall complete, the museum was moved to the second floor of Mather where the majority of biology classrooms were located, and Colonial Hall soon became the gymnasium. According to the 1900-1901 college catalog, the Cabinet hosted many extensive collections of zoology, botany and minerals, but clearly states that the “museum [was] for work rather than for mere exhibition.”

For the next 80 years Mather Hall served as the science hall to Olivet College.

By the 1960s Mather Hall was almost obsolete due to its relatively small size and outdated equipment; the decision was made to build a new building. In the 1965 edition of the Oaks, the dedication page to Mather Hall states that “to make room for the new modern edifice, it is necessary for … Mather Hall to go.” On Monday, Sept. 20, 1965, Mather Hall was demolished to make way for the Mott Academic Center.

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