Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Wilson Hall

Wilson Hall was built through the bequest of George Francis Wilson for the use of the Physics Department. Wilson, in partnership with Professor Eben S. Horsford of Harvard, operated the Rumford Chemical Works. Born in 1818, he had early in life been apprenticed as a wool sorter and had learned a great deal about machinery. In 1854 he started a chemical merchandising company in Providence, but did not meet with much success. At this point he was able to interest Professor Horsford in the partnership in which Wilson would manufacture chemical products which Horsford developed. They began in Providence, but soon moved to a part of Seekonk, Massachusetts (which became part of East Providence) and incorporated the Rumford Chemical Works, so named because Horsford held the Rumford Professorship at Harvard founded by Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford. The neighborhood around the chemical works also became known as Rumford. The partnership became a very successful business as Wilson invented the machinery necessary to manufacture Horsford’s Acid Phosphates and Rumford Baking Powder. Wilson was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Brown in 1872. He announced to President Robinson his intention of bequeathing $250,000 to Brown to be devoted to scientific instruction. But a new will was written before he died, drawn up by a lawyer who was a Dartmouth graduate and who told Wilson that $250,000 was too large a sum to leave to a small college like Brown. Consequently, Brown’s legacy was $100,000 and $50,000 was left to Dartmouth for a library. The bequest to Brown was to endow a professorship named the Wilson Professorship or erect a building named Wilson Hall. Wilson died in 1883 and the bequest was paid in 1887. Wilson Hall was dedicated on June 15, 1891, a Romanesque style building of random ashlar sandstone with brownstone trim designed by Gould and Angell with a clock in the front side and a sundial on the south side. The building was first occupied in February 1891 before all the floors were laid or any of the doors hung. It was used by the Physics Department and all the mechanic arts, and for a while offered recitation rooms for mathematics and space for Professor Delabarre’s psychology laboratory in a room reserved for photography. When the Engineering Building (Lincoln Field Building) was built in 1903, the upper part of Wilson Hall was turned over to the Department of Mathematics and its fine library. The mathematics library moved to Metcalf Research Laboratory in 1938 and the department later moved to the old Delta Kappa Epsilon house, leaving Wilson Hall exclusively for the use of the Physics Department. That too moved in 1965 to the new Barus and Holley Building and Wilson Hall was reconstructed to provide classrooms and meeting rooms.