Venable Hall


Venable Hall

1825, 1830, 1988
Via Sacra
Hampden-Sydney, VA 23943


Union Theological Seminary, an elaboration of the religion department of Hampden-Sydney, was founded in 1823. John Holt Rice, the first rector of the Seminary, taught classes during the early years in the east room of the kitchen building behind the house of President Cushing. In 1824 the decision was made, following successful fund-raising campaigns in the North (especially New York City and Boston, Massachusetts), North Carolina, and Virginia, to build a permanent home for the Seminary. Specifications called for a large classroom/dormitory building (including a chapel, the present Parents and Friends Lounge) and two houses for professors - Middlecourt (Boston House) 1829, and Penshurst (North Carolina House) 1830.

The eastern end of the classroom building, now the Stagger Inn section of Venable Hall, was built first in 1825. The current Parents and Friends Lounge section of Venable (the former Chapel) was also constructed, but as a three-story free-standing building, including what is now the third-floor dormitory space. In the 1830s the West End of the building was constructed, along with the section joining Stagger Inn with the Chapel. The mark of the join can still be detected in the doubling of the chimneys on the roof and behind a downspout between the fifth and sixth windows from the east end. Before that time, a two-story "lean to" existed between but not connecting the two buildings. Also in the 1830s the third story of the Chapel was turned into a separate floor (it was literally hung into the Chapel). One should note that the windows of Venable have 6 panes, 5 panes, then 4 panes as the distance between the floors is reduced.

The former chapel, for many years the College Dining Hall, and now Parents and Friends Lounge, was remodeled in 1963 through the generosity of parents of students and friends of the College. At that time the grand staircases were added, leading to the balustraded gallery, formerly accessible only from outside stairs when the chapel was a free-standing building, and then from the stairhalls of the dormitory proper, and not at all from the room itself. Almost all of the woodwork, columns, cornices, and balustrades, with the exception of the staircases and the accompanying columns, is original. One can test the columns by knocking on those closest to the door and those at the stairs. The old columns, made of solid trees, give a solid sound. The new columns give a hollow sound.

The entire building was renovated between 1986 and 1988 and opened again as an upper-classman residence hall in fall 1988.