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Long Walk Restored As Trinity's Showpiece


September 07, 2008

It's been just over three years since a worker at Trinity College leaned on a roof dormer to steady himself while making routine repairs, and a stone wall moved.

Something was seriously wrong with Long Walk, Trinity College's oldest and most celebrated building, and the very essence of Trinity's identity. Long Walk, which opened for classes in 1878 and was added to over the years to achieve a length of 925 feet, was feeling its age.

The original slate roof was still just barely in place and the building's masonry was showing other signs of age. Trinity quickly erected scaffolding to protect passers-by from any falling debris, and Long Walk underwent a $32.9 million rebirth, designed by Smith Edwards Architects of Hartford, that now is essentially complete.

The effect is stunning. Long Walk's masonry walls have been strengthened and re-pointed, its slate roof and ridge tiles replaced, new copper flashings installed, and its old windows restored or replaced with new cast iron ones modeled on the originals.

The building's interiors have been completely redesigned, with new plumbing, electrical, communications, and heating and cooling systems installed, all guided by a strong sense of history and respect for this building's many-storied life.

In the course of restoring and rejuvenating Long Walk, an old cornerstone bearing the date 1845 was unearthed from beneath one of the building's basement staircases, long forgotten. But Long Walk wasn't constructed until 30 years later. Architects Tyler Smith and Craig De Jong explained to me that the cornerstone is actually from one of Trinity's first buildings, Brownell Hall, which occupied the hill where the State Capitol now stands.

After the discovery, it was decided to display the cornerstone in the archway of Downes Memorial Hall, near Trinity's chapel, with a plaque that tells some of the history of Trinity's first campus, College Hill.

Trinity occupied the College Hill campus, the future site of the Capitol, until 1872, when it sold its land to the state to move to its present site on Summit Street (you can see a carving of the old campus above one of the doors of Jarvis Hall on the east side of Long Walk).

For its new campus, Trinity engaged the 19th-century English architect William Burges, who designed a huge complex of quadrangles and halls, modeled on Oxford University. Trinity built only a fraction of Burges' design, which was revised by Hartford architect Francis Kimball.

Ultimately, Long Walk grew to encompass Jarvis Hall, Northam Towers and Seabury Hall. Trinity still has the original drawings, carefully preserved by college archivist Peter Knapp, who made them available to the members of the project team so they could learn more about what they were getting into in restoring Trinity's landmark.

The buildings that make up Long Walk have undergone many modifications over the years. Jarvis, built as a dormitory, was laid out as student suites, complete with valet quarters. In the 1970s, changes in the fire code resulted in blasting a corridor through the suite walls, creating very long hallways double-loaded with dorm rooms.

Part of Long Walk's rebirth has been the restoration of the suite layout, modified to meet current codes. The result is a return to shared living rooms surrounded by a number of bedrooms and baths (sorry, no valet quarters). Many of the old details, such as fireplaces and window seats, are restored to give these dorms the height of charm. There are now 44 suites on three floors, with the basement level dedicated to club rooms and other student-related offices.

On the other side of Northam, Seabury Hall's lecture rooms and faculty offices have been brought up to contemporary standards without losing the unique qualities that make these spaces memorable. For example, an old science lab has been transformed into a lecture hall with retractable screens and projectors (there's even a wall-mounted flat-screen so a professor can watch the lecture in action as it appears from a student's perspective).

But the old wood paneling and late 19th-century blackboards are still in place, along with a small sink that was used for lab experiments. An old chapel on the second floor has been restored as a lecture hall, still outfitted with stained glass windows.

It is this balance of new and old, of history and the latest teaching technology, that makes Long Walk's renovation and restoration a remarkable achievement. Trinity has regained its landmark while achieving a 21st-century learning environment.

Outside, Long Walk (which is technically the name of the sidewalk that extends along the building's east side) now has a walkway worthy of this important American college building a structure that has been copied on other campuses around the U.S. and that helped spread the Collegiate Gothic style in this country.

The new walkway takes a gentle curve, bowing toward the east, swelling in width near Northam Towers where pedestrian traffic is heaviest. Light poles with a Victorian flavor follow the arc of the walk. It's a subtle design feature that recognizes and helps to accommodate the daily flow of foot traffic on Long Walk, once again the best address on Trinity's campus.

Michael J. Crosbie is an architect from Essex, chairman of the Architecture Department at the University of Hartford and a member of the Place Board of Contributors.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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