Connecticut’s Historic Brownstone

South College. Memorial Chapel. Judd Hall. Though Wesleyan’s campus is defined by its eclectic architecture, a number of key buildings share the same familiar building blocks: brownstone.

CPTV’s “Connecticut’s Cultural Treasures” series looked into the story behind Wesleyan’s brownstone, which came from the nearby Portland brownstone quarry. Providing insight into the history of this industry is Alison Guinness MALS ’85, CAS ’91. She completed her master’s thesis at Wesleyan on Portland brownstone, and took CPTV on a tour around campus to appreciate the different styles of brownstone architecture.

“The need was created in the early 1800s, when major developing urban centers like New York and Boston were concerned about the risk of fire, and they created ordinances and building codes requiring stone or brick to be used,” explained Guinness. “All of the buildings were pretty much brownstone for a long period of time.”

Brownstone was critical in the founding of Wesleyan.

“They endowed the university with the sale of stone from quarries, and the stone that came out of the quarry could also be used to create more buildings,” said Guinness.

Professor of History Ron Schatz also was interviewed about the immigrant workers who took dangerous, but high-paying, jobs in the quarry.

“They worked very hard, they drank very hard, they drank at work. You and I would too if we were doing it under those conditions,” Schatz.

Watch the special here.