By BDP Staff
Published March 2016
A college or university doesn’t need to be a massive state school or a large urban private school to boast impressive landmarks. As the small colleges on this list prove, architectural gems, touching monuments, and historical significance can be located on even the smallest school’s campus.
Based on our review, the following 30 landmarks represent some of the best American small colleges (under 10,000 students) have to offer:
1. Vanderbilt Arboretum – Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University’s 330-acre campus is well known for its large areas of trees and other foliage — not bad for a university located smack dab in the middle of a large metropolitan city. In fact, Vanderbilt’s entire campus is recognized as an arboretum where almost 200 varieties of shrubs and trees grow. The crown jewel of the beautiful arboretum is undoubtedly the Bicentennial Oak, which dates back to before the American Revolution. Other notable trees include the September elm, which is common only in Tennessee; the giant Southern Red Oak, which was planted just after the University’s founding in 1873; and the Japanese Zelkova tree, which was planted by the man who convinced Commodore Vanderbilt to donate the money to found the university.
2. Library – Evergreen Valley College
Community colleges aren’t exactly known for their amazing architecture, but California’s Evergreen Valley College seems to be an exception. The school’s unique library/technology center has no specific front or back; instead, “branches” support an elevated ceiling, while a variety of windows allow the space to be flooded in natural light. Shortly after it opened, the building, designed by Steinberg Architects, was awarded an Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects.
3. Francis Field – Washington University in St. Louis
At first, Francis Field at Washington University in St. Louis may just seem like another college stadium. Indeed, it’s used by the school for track and field and cross country meets, as well as football and soccer games. But Francis Field also has an exciting past. Built in time for the 1904 World’s Fair, Francis Field acted as the main stadium for the 1904 Summer Olympic games. Though recent renovations have significantly lessened the stadium’s capacity, there were once seats for more than 19,000 people! Even today, Francis Field is one of the oldest used venues west of the Mississippi.
4. Sun Yat-Sen Hall – St. John’s University
Located at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, the impressive Sun Yat-Sen Hall is the home of the Institute of Asian Studies. Built in traditional Chinese style, complete with dragons holding watch and a pagoda, Sun Yat-Sen Hall was fully renovated in 2006. Currently, the Hall houses the Dr. M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Art Gallery, which displays items from China and Japan (including a samurai sword!). The highly anticipated yearly faculty art show is also held in Sun Yat-Sen Hall.
5. Student Center – Savannah College of Art and Design
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) added a whole lot of history to their campus when they acquired only a few years ago the building that is now their student center. More than 100 years old, the building was originally the Congregation B’nai B’rith Synagogue and, later, the St. Andrew’s Independent Episcopal Church. Built in a unique mishmash of architectural styles, the Student Center features balconies, carved wooden pillars, stained glass, and Moorish domes. Currently, the Student Center offers SCAD students a relaxing place to hang out and study, complete with a cafe, workstations, and Napping Pods.
6. Cadet Chapel – United States Air Force Academy
Faith has always been an important cultural aspect of the military, and the United States Air Force Academy provides its cadets with a beautiful space in which to practice their individual faiths. At 150 feet long, the Cadet Chapel actually houses three separate chapels — Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish — and two worship rooms appropriate for those of any religion. The architecture of the Chapel is unlike anything one might expect from a house of faith. Architect Walter Netsch, Jr. built the structure from aluminum, glass, and seventeen steel spires.
7. Peace Monument – Rollins College
Though smaller than most of the landmarks on this list, Rollins College’s Peace Monument is just as powerful as even the largest building. Erected and dedicated on Armistice Day in 1938, the Peace Monument consists of a German artillery shell surrendered by Germany at the end of World War I. Though the top half of the monument was stolen by vandals during World War II, the bottom half of the monument is what survives. The monument, which includes a touching inscription, can be found in the Mills Memorial building.
8. Pennsylvania Hall – Gettysburg College
Pennsylvania Hall, also known as Penn Hall or the Old Dorm, is the main administrative building at Gettysburg College. It’s also the oldest building on campus. But what makes it really special is its Civil War history. During the Battle of Gettysburg, the Hall was used as a hospital for wounded troops from both the Union and Confederate Armies. Today, Pennsylvania Hall is used for convocation and commencements events at the beginning and end of each academic year.
9. Greek Amphitheater – Point Loma Nazarene University
Point Loma Nazarene University is located high atop a hill with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. Previously the site of a Theosophical commune, much of the campus’ architectural elements date back to that time, including a stunning Greek theater. Completed in 1901, it was the first of its kind constructed in the United States. Today, the amphitheater is used for meetings, student performances, and some outdoor classes on especially nice days.
10. Crown Hall – Illinois Institute of Technology
Built in 1956 by the German Modernist architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Crown Hall is considered to be one of the most architecturally significant buildings of the 20th century. Characterized by its industrial simplicity, the Hall is made mostly of glass held together by a steel frame. Such an aesthetic allows for natural light and uninterrupted views of clouds and sky. It is centrally located on the campus of Illinois Institute of Technology, and is appropriately the home of IIT’s School of Architecture. Interestingly, Google honored Mies van der Rohe’s 126th birthday in 2012 with a “Google doodle” of Crown Hall.
11. Higgins Hall – Pratt Institute
In its early years, Pratt Institute’s Higgins Hall was almost completely destroyed by a fire that gutted the building’s central and north wings. Luckily, the Institute sought to rebuild what is now an historic landmark, and succeeded in creating a visually stunning, architecturally impressive new School of Architecture. Higgins Hall, which is characterized by an industrial feel both new and old, won a number of awards after its unveiling, including the Lumen Lighting Design Award, Interiors Magazine Design Award, the AIA National Honor Award, and a Building Brooklyn Award, to name but a few.
12. Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel – Thomas Aquinas College
In the grand scheme of college chapels, Thomas Aquinas College’s Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel is one of the most impressive. Major and minor order Corinthian columns, the decorative paint scheme, framed paintings of beloved saints, and a tympanum bas-relief of the Coronation of Mary all add up to a breathtakingly beautiful chapel reminiscent of classical European churches. The Chapel sits at the head of the campus quad, symbolic of both the College’s fidelity to Rome and its beautiful California location.
13. Stata Center – Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Leave it to MIT to create one of the most state-of-the-art buildings in the entire country. The Institute’s Computer, Information, and Intelligence Science Center contains research facilities, classrooms, a fitness center, auditoriums, various social centers (including an “interior student street”), and a childcare center. Though the building has reportedly suffered a series of structural issues totaling $1.5 million in repairs, there is no doubt that the Strata Center is one of the most visually and functionally stunning college landmarks.
14. Ochre Court – Salve Regina University
Owned by Salve Regina University, Ochre Court is one of the most amazing landmarks in the United States, let alone one that is part of a college campus. Commissioned by Ogden Goelet, a banker and real estate investor who was part of the American Goelet dynasty, the chateauesque mansion was built at a cost of $4.5 million in 1892. The construction was modeled after those chateaus of France’s Loire Valley. It’s characterized by high roofs, turrets, tall chimneys, dormers, ceiling paintings, heraldry, statues, and stained glass. Today, Ochre Court is the centerpiece of Salve Regina University.
15. Immaculata Church – University of San Diego
Immaculata Church is the most beautiful building on the already gorgeous campus of University of San Diego. Constructed by the Diocese of San Diego in 1959, one need not be a Catholic to appreciate this architectural marvel. The church’s entry boasts a door made of solid bronze, while the red-tiled roof and mosaicked dome pay tribute to San Diego’s Spanish influence. Today, Immaculata Church is used for various school events and religion courses.
16. All Saints’ Chapel – Sewanee: The University of the South
Almost every building on Sewanee’s 13,000-acre campus is a beautiful example of magnificent Neo-Gothic style, but none is as impressive as the All Saints’ Chapel. Designed by legendary American architect Ralph Adams Cram, All Saints boasts a tower, a rose window, and arched ceilings reminiscent of such icons as Notre Dame de Paris and University Church at Oxford. Though the Chapel was begun in 1905, it was not finished until 1959, when the university’s vice chancellor used the initial blueprint to complete the now postcard-perfect Chapel.
17. Henry B. Plant Museum – University of Tampa
University of Tampa’s Henry B. Plant Museum is a beautiful building unique to even eclectic Florida. The Moorish revival building, which is listed as a National Historic Landmark, boasts six minarets, four cupolas, and three stainless steel domes. Originally built as the Tampa Bay Hotel, the building was acquired in 1930 by the Tampa Bay Junior College, now the University of Tampa. Interestingly, the building contain’s Florida’s first, and oldest continuously operating, elevator.
18. Sunken Garden – College of William & Mary
The Sunken Garden is one of the most beautiful spots on the campus of the College of William & Mary. It was designed in the 1920s by Charles M. Robinson, a Virginia-born architect, and consists of a long stretch of grass, gravel walkways, fountains, and an English-style garden. Not surprisingly, the Sunken Garden is a very popular hang out for students, who use the space as everything from a relaxing study spot to an Ultimate Frisbee field.
19. Touchdown Jesus – University of Notre Dame
Visible from Notre Dame’s legendary football stadium and reminiscent of a referee signaling a touchdown, Notre Dame’s iconic “Touchdown Jesus” is actually nothing of the sort. It’s actually called the “Word of Life” mural. Designed by Millard Sheets, the mural is made up of 324 panels comprised of 6,700 separate pieces of granite from 16 different countries. What has become known as Touchdown Jesus is actually meant to be Christ the Teacher with his arms outstretched. Either way, Touchdown Jesus is one of the best known landmarks of any college campus in the United States.
20. Christopher Wren Building – College of William & Mary
As if the Sunken Garden weren’t iconic enough, the College of William & Mary can also boast possession of the Christopher Wren Building, the centerpiece of its beautiful campus. Construction on the building began in 1695 and finished in 1700. It was named in honor of Sir Christopher Wren, the English architect responsible for London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, and is made of red brick that was typical for official buildings in the colonies in the 17th and 18th century. Interestingly, the Wren Building experienced several fires and renovations, and was actually the very first restoration project funded by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in the 1920s.
21. Nott Memorial Hall – Union College
Union College, located in upstate New York, is a beautiful campus all around, but it’s the College’s centerpiece that people come to see. Nott Memorial Hall is a 16-sided memorial to Eliphalet Nott, who ran the school from 1804-1866 and whose tenure is still the longest of any American college president. Still impressive at more than 130 years old, Nott Memorial Hall is listed as a National Historic Landmark and currently houses the Mandeville Gallery for exhibitions on art, science, and history.
22. Various Memorials and Monuments – United States Naval Academy
Wandering through the U.S. Naval Academy’s vast collection of memorials and monuments is like taking a tour through American naval history. More than ten impressive monuments grace the Academy’s campus, including the Bridge of Nations Bell, various battle ensigns that include some flags taken from enemy ships by the Navy,
the Macedonian Monument, the Tecumseh Statue, and the Mexican War Midshipmen’s Monument, to name but a few. Perhaps the most famous of the monuments is the Herndon Monument. Originally commissioned by the Navy as a tribute to Commander William Lewis Herndon after his loss in a hurricane, the Herndon Monument has been famous by the annual “Herndon Climb,” a traditional part of year end festivities.
23. Grey Towers Castle – Arcadia University
Wander around Arcadia University’s campus and you may wonder if you’re in Philadelphia or medieval England. In fact, Arcadia’s centerpiece, Grey Towers Castle, was designed by Horace Trumbauer and inspired by England’s Alnick Castle (complete with gargoyles!). Built more than 110 years ago, Grey Towers houses the Mirror Room, where school balls were once held; a Grand Hall complete with an ornate wooden staircase; and some student residences. Every October, Arcadia decorates Grey Towers as the locale for their annual Haunted Castle event.
24. Peale House – La Salle University
Not very many colleges can claim a building more than 300 years old, but La Salle University can do just that with its incredible Peale House, named so because it was once home to the painter Charles Willson Peale. It’s hard to pinpoint just one reason that the Peale House, officially known as the Belfield Estate, made it onto the National Historic Register. It could be because it was once visited by “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” author Harriet Beecher Stowe and Julia Ward Howe, who wrote “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Or it could be because a 300-million year old fossil was discovered on its ground. Then again, the fact that the house has connections to both the Underground Railroad and a utopian community is pretty impressive too. Currently, the House is used as an office for La Salle’s president.
25. Usen Castle – Brandeis University
Is that Windsor Castle? Nope, it’s Brandeis University’s Usen Castle! Built to replicate the Queen’s largest castle, Usen stands tall on Boston Rock, the highest point in the area. The interior of the castle is just as fascinating as the exterior. More than one stairwell or hallway results in a dead end, while no two of the many dorm rooms look exactly alike. Interestingly, Cholmondeley’s, better known as Chum’s, was likely the inspiration for Central Perk on “Friends” (the show’s creators are Brandeis alumni).
26. “Child of the Sun” Frank Lloyd Wright Collection – Florida Southern College
Florida Southern College boasts an incredible 12 buildings designed by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Collectively called the “Child of the Sun” collection, the buildings were built between 1941 and 1958. The collection includes the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel, the three Seminar buildings that have since been combined into one building, the Buckner Building, the Ordway Building, the Danforth Chapel, the Polk County Science Building, the Watson/Fine Building, the Water Dome, and the Esplanades — all of which have been named to the National Register of Historic Places. Interestingly, five of the buildings were actually built by students.
27. Bell Tower – Furman University
Furman University has repeatedly been called the most beautiful college campus in the country. Undoubtedly, Furman’s most iconic landmark is its gorgeous lake, around which sit the campus’ Georgian-style buildings. Standing tall on a tree-lined jut of land is the Bell Tower, which appears in the University’s insignia. Nearly all students and almost all visitors take the time to climb the Bell Tower at least once, in order to take in the stunning views of the lake and surrounding South Carolina countryside.
28. Heritage Walk – Hillsdale College
Hillsdale College has long been respected as a bastion of Conservative thought and education, and as such, attracts large numbers of Conservative students and visitors each year. Dotting the beautiful Michigan campus are a number of impressive statues making up the so-called “Heritage Walk.” Included in the Walk are statues of American icons such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln, as well as more modern influences on political thought like Margaret Thatcher, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan.
29. Ponce de Leon Hotel – Flagler College
The eye-catching Ponce de Leon Hotel is now the centerpiece of Florida’s Flagler College. The former hotel oozes elegance, just as it did when it was built in 1885. Much of the building’s intact interior was contributed by the legendary Louis Comfort Tiffany, while many of the murals were painted by George W. Maynard and Virgilio Trojetti. The Hotel even has a fascinating history. It was one of the first buildings in the United States to have electricity. During World War II, the Coast Guard used the hotel as a training center and a brig. And during the civil rights movement in 1964, the hotel was the site of the first mass sit-in in St. Augustine.
30. Duke University Chapel – Duke University
Duke University has been called a “wonderland” because of all of its collegiate gothic architecture, the most impressive of which is the Duke Chapel. Philadelphia architect Julian Abele designed the Chapel, which consists of four towering spires, pointed arches, countless oversized stones, and a picture-perfect bell tower constructed of limestone and North Carolinian stone. The Chapel was completed in 1932, and still provides Duke’s students and visitors with a beautiful place in which to worship.