This is a photograph of the Memorial Hall on Bowdoin College Campus as it appeared in 1947. Despite fiscal distress following the Civil War, there was a widespread urge in New England to build Civil War memorials — for colleges the task was to invent suitable buildings while towns simply raised statues or mounted cannons.

The choice of the site was considered carefully during 1866. It was to be west of Massachusetts Hall and on a line with the north end of Winthrop Hall. This decision meant the abandonment of the row concept and the beginning of the quadrangle. William Smyth, class of 1822, a professor of mathematics at the College and a man of conviction, dedicated himself to the building of Memorial Hall. Between l865 and 1867, he raised $ 20,000 towards its construction.

Although he died in 1868, with only the foundation dug, his original impetus continued to 1870, when the walls and roof were in place. Professor of Engineering, George Vose, when asked how to increase the heat in the building with cloth stretched over the openings, replied that they had better remove the fabric and heat the out- of doors. In 1873 both gymnasium and President Chamberlain’s military drill were moved into the unfinished Memorial Hall. Fiscal problems ensued but deliverance came in 1879 when Mrs. V.G. Stone of Malden, Mass. donated $20,000 and later a further $5,000.

The building was dedicated in 1882. It contained two classrooms and a large lecture hall on the first floor. The second floor was a large meeting hall that could hold the entire college. Memorial Hall was called, during its construction, “ French Gothic” a romantic rather than a specific descriptive phrase. The entranceway, window mullions and roof were darker than they are now, adding a play of light and shade, if not actual color, to a rather simple building. It is a reminder that tastes for Gothic, Mansard and Italianate existed concurrently in the United States.

In the early years of the College plays were forbidden. The ban was lifted but there was still an attempt at censorship. However, from 1909, with the founding of the Masque and Gown, the student drama group, there was a need for a proper stage. By 1952, a generous donor, Frederick W. Pickard, class of 1894, had made possible the complete remodeling into a theater with rehearsal rooms and all the spaces necessary for theatrical productions.

In 1959, Victoria Crandall, affectionately known as Vicki, opened her summer playhouse in the Pickard Theater with a production of “ The Song of Norway.”In the 1970’s the theater changed to a nonprofit organization focused on its commitment to develop and expand its intern program that would educate and train young artists in theater crafts. In 1988, The Brunswick Music Theatre celebrated its 30th Anniversary and was renamed the Maine State Music Theatre. In 1998, MSMT turned forty and in the Fall, an $11 million renovation project was undertaken and completed in time for the 2000 summer season. While retaining its historic elements, the theater was thoroughly modernized from within. Airconditioning was installed along with new seating and other amenities.


Photograph and information: Memorial Hall & Pickard Theater and Maine State Music Theatre websites.

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