Cornell Library

Drew University Archives

At the center of every university stands the library. The Rose Memorial Library (built 1939) aimed to take architectural ques from the 1836 Mead Hall and was part of a soon abandoned plan to redesign the campus. The Learning Center (built 1981) expanded both learning and library space for the campus. 

When Drew Theological Seminary opened in November of 1867 a small library was placed in Mead Hall in what is today called the Wendel Room (to the right after entering the main hall). At the opening ceremonies Rev. Dr. John McClintock, the schools first president, outlined the plans for a more permanent library, “which is to be fireproof, and to stand midway between the main seminary building and the dormitories.” McClintock continued, stating; 

“This will be the depository of all the records of Methodism. We trust that it will be the historical center of Methodism. We shall aim to make the library so complete in every branch of theological science that students and writers will find here better means and materials for their use than can be found elsewhere in the United States.”

Perhaps inspired by McClintock’s ambition, and already having donated the $250,000 to purchase the campus and set up the Seminary, Daniel Drew announced that he would give an additional $25,000 towards establishing the library. 

Over the course of the nineteenth century the concept of college and university libraries changed significantly. In the first half of the century it was more common for the faculty (or even individual students and campus clubs) to develop private library collections for research and teaching purposes. By the time of Drew Theological Seminary’s founding in 1867 this tradition was waning and academies, colleges, seminaries, and universities had begun developing library collections of their own. As a result of the shift towards a “college” library as opposed to private libraries schools like Drew began a vast campaign of book buying that saw the movement of material from the Old World to the New. 

It was with the funds from Daniel Drew and other contributors that Drew Theological Seminary began building up its own collection. After his untimely death in 1870, McClintock’s personal library was sold to the seminary. Shortly thereafter the collections of Rev. John D. Blain and Dr. Thomas Carlton were added as well. Seminary trustee Anderson Fowler purchased the library of British Methodist scholar Rev. Dr. George Osborne in 1877. Dubbed by the press the “Fowler Collection of Methodist Literature,” the collection included Wesleyiana along with rare works that were then “the only copies in existence,” and added an additional 1,600 works to the burgeoning library. By 1881 the library had grown from the initial donation of Daniel Drew and the purchases of other private collections to include some 26,000 books and 6,000 pamphlets.

Drew University Archives

In the fifteen years that followed the founding, the library remained in Mead Hall and the librarian was granted an apartment in the building that had formerly been occupied by McClintock and the early seminary presidents. The private collections that were donated in the early seminary years added considerably to the school’s holdings and the need for a dedicated library building could not be ignored any longer. In 1882 the trustees resolved to move forward with plans to finish what McClintock and the seminary founders had outlined at the opening ceremonies and formed the Library Building Fund. Leading the cause was trustee president John B. Cornell, a prominent New York City industrialist, who served as chair of the new fund and who reportedly donated $25,000. The committee represented a who’s who of well connected alumni, scholars, industrialists, clergy, and laymen including William Hoyt, Stephen Greene, William White, Samuel W. Bowne, Payne Pettibone, Dr. William Griffin, John M. Cornell (J.B.’s son), Anderson Fowler, George J. Ferry, Charles Scott, Mark Hoyt, Clinton B. Fisk, Mrs Fisk, Mrs M. M. Greene, Thomas B. Cope, Mrs P. L. Bennett, and more. 

Within three years the Library Building Fund had raised over $75,000 and on September 5th 1885 a groundbreaking ceremony was held. Designed by renowned architect R. H. Robertson, the new library at Drew Theological Seminary took cues from the influential Richardsonian Romanesque style that had gained popularity over the previous decade. Built of locally sourced material, the building was of imposing brownstone from the Belleville, NJ, quarries with details in puddingstone found in the mountains around Rockaway, NJ, with a traditional red tile roof. Laid out in the form of a cross, the interior included two rooms off the entrance. The central reading room with stacks included an iron spiral staircase, railings, and architectural details – likely a nod to the library benefactor that helped the project come to fruition. The central room spanned two floors and was flooded with light tinted from olive green glass in casement windows and natural light through skylights in the roof and ceiling. The front façade, in true Richardsonain Romanesque style, was dominated by a large tower with an arched entrance foyer and cupola. 

Drew University Archives

A cornerstone ceremony was held on May 19th, 1886 and the building was opened on November 20, 1888. Although he had been instrumental in the funding of the new library John B. Cornell had died a year before the dedication, and the decision was made to name the library the Cornell Library in his honor. Shortly after the opening of the library, Mrs. John B. Cornell donated the South Window in her late husband’s honor – this window, now called the Rose Window, is currently installed in the Learning Center. Shortly thereafter, John M. Cornell (J.B.’s son) gave ornamental iron gates that were installed at the entrance.

For just over fifty years the campus library was housed in the Cornell Library but the enlarged library space did not end the ever-expanding collection of books, pamphlets, and research material. Rev. Samuel Gardiner Ayers, a recent Drew graduate, began a twenty-three year tenure at the library and worked to build up the collection. The plan had been for the Cornell Library building to hold 40,000 books but the library quickly filled the stacks and more room had to be made. The Drew Students’ Hand-Book published in 1904 boasts that the library had doubled in size to a record 80,000 volumes – claiming it to be the “largest library in any theological seminary.” Along with bound material, the booklet notes that the library contains an additional 75,000 pamphlets. Tipple notes that by 1917 the library had doubled again and contained 130,000 volumes. Included in the library were the private collections from McClintock, Strong, Randolph S. Foster, George R. Crooks, John P. Newman, James M. Freeman, and other collectors and benefactors.

Drew University Archives

Drew Theological Seminary continued to expand alongside the Cornell Library; in 1920 the seminary accepted its first female students and in 1928 established Brothers College, reorganizing as Drew University. The space that had served the seminary and later university for over fifty years was deemed too small and the gift of $500,000 by Mr. Lenox S. Rose in memory of his late wife gave the new university a chance to expand. The project grew to include lofty plans by renowned university architect Charles Z. Klauder would have shifted the campus layout and created a quadrangle taking architectural cues from Mead Hall by mirroring the 1830s home and demolishing most of the buildings from the university’s previous life as a seminary. Fortunately for the architectural heritage of the campus, the Rose donation only covered the cost of the library and future benefactors were hesitant to fund such ambitious plans. The new library was designed to contain 400,000 volumes.

Construction of the Rose Library began the countdown for the old Cornell Library, in June of 1938 the cornerstone was placed and the following year the new library was opened. Built directly in front of the Cornell Library, the Rose Library soon dwarfed the old and a makeshift entrance was made into the Cornell Library while construction commenced. As soon as the Rose Library was finished the books were transferred and construction crews turned to demolition the old. The pile of stone that remained was supposedly spread along the outskirts of “the forest” and the structure quickly faded into memory.