March 11, 2024

Thanks to the thoughtful renovation of Venable Hall, Hampden-Sydney College students will soon reside in a 200-year-old dormitory while enjoying every contemporary amenity they could want.

Hallowed Hall

historic photo of Venable Hall, 1880sFrom the Record, Fall 2023
By Alexandra Evans

Hampden-Sydney College is a study in juxtaposition. We educate 21st-century men in the pursuit of an 18th-century mission. We employ an ancient educational framework to instruct students on modern day subjects. And now, thanks to the thoughtful renovation of Venable Hall, H-SC students will reside in a 200-year-old dormitory while enjoying every contemporary amenity they could want.

Visitors to campus would be hard pressed not to notice the renovations and new build projects happening all across the Hill. Hampden-Sydney began a full-scale facilities upgrade campaign in 2019 with the construction of the Grove Residence Hall Complex. Other projects include the Pauley Science Center, which opened in 2022; the newly reopened Rivers Apartments, formerly known as the Alphabets; and major ongoing construction on TigeRec and the Kirby Field House. Arguably the most exciting project, however, is the historic restoration of Venable Hall.

When the project entered the planning stages in 2019, it was limited in scope to painting and replacing the HVAC, windows, and flooring. Serendipitously, Kevin Miller had just taken the role of director of facilities management. “After getting the project quote, I went to look around Venable to get a feel for the building before work started. I immediately noticed elements indicative of Jeffersonian architecture and thought we might want a second opinion on this project,” Miller says excitedly. A Charlottesville native and self-described lover of history, Miller took his theories and suggestions to President Larry Stimpert and Vice President for Business Affairs and Finance Ken Copeland, who agreed to let Miller investigate an alternative course of action.

a view of the deconstructed interior of Venable Hall - brick, wooden beams and masonryMiller brought in Mesick Cohen Wilson Baker Architects (MCWB), whom he had worked with in previous roles at Sweet Briar College and the University of Virginia (UVA) to consult. MCWB—with offices in Albany, New York, and Williamsburg, Virginia—has special expertise in historic renovations and preservation. The company’s portfolio includes restorations of numerous National Historic Landmarks such as Monticello, Poplar Forest, Montpelier, and Mount Vernon. With Venable Hall qualifying for historic tax credits to offset up to 45 percent of the project costs, the firm’s experience in historic renovations is especially pertinent.

MCWB’s initial analysis confirmed Miller’s hunch. “We found exciting parallels to other Federal-style buildings like Poplar Forest, Monticello, and various buildings at UVA,” says Eric Kuchar, MCWB senior manager. These revelations convinced the College that only a full-scale renovation of the second-oldest building on campus would be appropriate, restoring Venable to its 19th century glory while simultaneously bringing it up to 21st century student standards.

Through exhaustive research that Kuchar characterizes as forensic architecture, MCWB dove into the history of Venable to understand how it has changed over time, deciphering what elements are original to the building and determining what to restore, remove, or recreate. “There weren’t schematics or drawings in the 1800s,” Kuchar says. “Master craftsmen made their way from Charlottesville through the valley to Hampden-Sydney to build Venable using a basic set of parameters and methods they had learned from Thomas Jefferson.”

Thus, the detectives at MCWB relied on archival documents, personal letters, local newspaper articles, and College publications like the Record, the Tiger, and the Kaleidoscope to get an idea of what Venable looked like through the years. Then, with the aid of technology such as drone imaging, laser scanning, core sampling, and Matterport imaging, MCWB was able to marry physical evidence and documentary evidence to prove their hypotheses and provide Hampden-Sydney with a robust and historically sound renovation proposal.

construction worker removing plaster to reveal a fireplace

“Authenticity is paramount in what we do,” explains Kuchar. “We don’t guess at what was there. We don’t make any recommendations or begin any work until we have evidence to support our theories of how the building originally looked and operated.”


MCWB Partner Tom Burgess points out that Venable set the precedent for how the campus looks today. The gravity of its importance to campus inspired College leadership time and again, such as in the 1920 central campus plan created by architect James L. Burley, who made the axial relationship established between Venable and Cushing 100 years earlier the anchor of his plan.

architectural drawing of the interior atrium in VenableAnd today, yet another century later, evidence of Venable’s ongoing influence on the architectural aesthetic of the College sits just across the street. The Pauley Science Center—whose construction restored the original sightline between Venable and Cushing halls following the removal of Bagby Hall—with its 21st century Federal exterior mirrors that of the 19th century Venable Hall, offering yet another morsel of juxtaposition on the Hill.

The restoration of Venable pays homage to the vision of the College’s leadership throughout the years as well as the master craftsmanship of Cosby and Perry. From under layers of plywood and vinyl emerged original heart pine flooring; original fireboxes and hearths were unearthed and restored in bedrooms; original closets and doors flanking the fireplaces were restored; and third-generation Prussian blue paint was discovered, recreated, and once again cheerfully colors the trim throughout the bedrooms.

architectural drawing of Parents and Friends loungeTo achieve modern convenience, a four-story, 10,000-square foot addition was constructed to the rear of the original Venable Hall footprint. The addition boasts an airy, skylit atrium that welcomes students home while also serving as breakout spaces for community members using the Parents & Friends Lounge. Brand-new bathrooms with accessible fixtures, increased privacy, and ample storage are also housed in the rear addition, allowing the College to reclaim several bedrooms in the original building that were converted to bathrooms in 1987.

Parents & Friends Lounge is also getting a facelift and an upgrade. The Lounge will remain largely architecturally untouched due to Department of Historic Resources guidance, but a cosmetic refresh will welcome communitymembers to a beautiful meeting space. For conferences and speakers, discreet and retractable audio-visual equipment can be deployed from either side of the stairways and live streaming equipment will broaden the reach and accessibility of College programming. For social events, the space will be able to accommodate up to 120 guests for dinners, socials, reunions, weddings, and more with the option to use student rooms for overnight events when the College is not in session.

finished student dorm room mock upOn the third floor of the atrium will be a faculty- or staff-in-residence apartment inspired by the legacy of former Professor of Classics and College Historian John Brinkley ’59. Brinkley, along with his cigar and cane, was a preeminently visible fixture on campus for more than 40 years. By creating a faculty- or staff-in-residence apartment, the College hopes to create more opportunities for faculty and staff members to become that well-known, go-to member of the community, thus building bridges between College employees and students and visitors. Similar programs have been tested at other institutions with significant, positive impacts to students’ GPA, degree completion, and overall college experiences.

“After many years of thoughtful research, planning, and design, the historical restoration of Venable will most certainly elevate it to one of the premier residence halls in the country,” says Dean of Students Richard Pantele ’13.

After many years of thoughtful research, planning, and design, the historical restoration of Venable will most certainly elevate it to one of the premier residence halls in the country.

Richard Pantele ’13, Dean of Students


architectural drawing of the exterior of Venable HallWith two-thirds of students reporting that campus facilities affected their choice of college or university according to a 2022 Student Voice survey conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse and sponsored by Kaplan, the planned improvements to H-SC facilities are an investment in the College’s future.

With enrollment trending upward, the College is taking advantage of open beds to complete renovations now in preparation for reaching capacity. Additionally, record endowment growth over the past few years has allowed the College to take on minimal financial risk to pursue this plan that President Stimpert calls “bold, yet prudent.”

The residence hall renovation plans are a piece of the larger campaign to improve facilities across campus. Along with completed projects such as the Brown Student Center, the Pannill Center for Rhetoric and Communication, the Pauley Science Center, and the Rivers Apartments (formerly the “Alphabets”), other planned upgrades include updates to Pannill Commons, the transformation of Kirby Field House, and the expansion of the TigeRec Fitness Center, and renovations to Gilmer Hall.

More importantly than the College’s future, though, these upgrades are an investment in the futures of Hampden-Sydney students. While the stately exteriors and well-appointed décor capture the eye, it is the quality-of-life and accessibility upgrades that the Facilities team has taken great care and consideration to include that pay due respect to the H-SC mission to form good men and good citizens in an atmosphere of sound learning.

Miller explains that the job of the Facilities team is to support students as they are able in order to ensure other teams like Student Affairs and the faculty can support students in their own ways without fighting against the students’ living environments. A whole team approach to educating the whole man.

“Kevin [Miller] brought a lot of great insight to the student experience that was valuable to the whole process,” says Kuchar. “It’s always great to work with clients who are so passionate. It brought a lot of perspective to our team to allow us to deliver what the College needs.”


students signing a suport beam from Venable HallThe passion and interest at every level of the Hampden- Sydney community—from senior-level College staff members to Trustees to campus residents to new students and even local contractors who bid for the work—caught Burgess and Kuchar’s attention.

“Everyone who has been a part of this project has been excited and had a drive and a passion for a college building like we don’t often see,” Kuchar says. “Feeling the excitement from the community made us even more excited.”

Community members were able to tour Venable in late October 2022 to experience the nearly 200-year-old architecture. The original walls, ceilings, fireplaces, and staircases were opened to the public one final time before renovations continued.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Miller says of the project. “We got to uncover history, return it to its original condition, incorporate today’s design standards, and then turn it back into operation. I don’t think we would be good stewards to the community if we let this project just sit behind a construction fence. It’s like a living museum; why should we be the only ones who get to experience that?”

Students, alumni, faculty, staff, and community members also had the chance at the beginning of the fall semester to sign beams that were then placed in the rear addition—a symbolic tribute to the enduring supportive power of the Hampden-Sydney community.


What began as a $3 million refresh has blossomed into a $25 million testament to an institution that has withstood wars, pandemics, and centuries. Whether he lives in it or not, every student who matriculates at Hampden-Sydney is touched by Venable Hall. From opening convocation to commencement, Venable bookends a Hampden-Sydney man’s time on the Hill. A thoughtful renovation is a fitting tribute to not only the second oldest building on campus but also a building that is embedded in the legacy of the College. It is a legacy like no other, and now, Venable Hall is a residence hall like no other.

“For our current students and alumni, some of our most cherished memories on the Hill are the results of experiences in and around the residence halls we call home for our four years on campus,” says Dean Pantele.

Those memories create threads of connection that bond together generations of Hampden-Sydney men both living and departed. The halls of Venable that all these men trod, whether they were heart pine or vinyl-clad, are the same and reverberate with the spirit of Hampden- Sydney. “There’s a certain feeling when you walk into older buildings that’s experiential,” says Burgess. “There’s a weight of those who came before you that’s impactful.”

“This building tells stories from 200 years ago that are worth retelling.” Kuchar adds.

Tomorrow’s Hampden-Sydney man is in charge of retelling that story now. Venable Hall—and the College as a whole—existed long before each of us. With such intentional stewardship as demonstrated through this renovation, may both endure long after each of us as well.


Built in two major phases between 1824 and 1831 by Dabney Cosby and John Perry—two masons who were proteges of Thomas Jefferson—Venable was originally part of the Union Theological Seminary and housed dormitories, classrooms, a library, and a chapel. When the seminary moved to Richmond in 1898, Major Richard Venable, Class of 1857, purchased Venable along with Penshurst and Middlecourt (which Cosby also helped construct), Winston (now Brinkley) Hall, Maples, and several other seminary-owned buildings located to the east of the intersection of College Road and Via Sacra for $10,000 and donated them to the College.

At the same time that Cosby and Perry were constructing Venable, their colleagues Reuben Perry and William Phaup were working on Cushing Hall. As MCWB notes in the feasibility study prepared for the College, “owing to the close friendship between the workmen of the two buildings, a strong axial relationship was formed, linking the two separate campuses as one.”

drawing of the Seminary, 1840sSeminary, 1840

Venable restoration project details

Make Your Mark on History at H-SC

From convocation to commencement, Venable Hall bookends the Hampden-Sydney experience, occupying a singular and storied space in the memories of our alumni. And thanks to the current restoration project, generations of Hampden-Sydney men now have the rare opportunity to honor the past and celebrate the future. The College invites alumni, parents, or friends to make a gift to name an individual room or one of the special spaces inside these hallowed halls in perpetuity.

Naming opportunities begin with pledges of $50,000. If you’d like to have your name or a family member’s name grace a restored room or another space in Venable, please contact Heather Howarth in the Office of College Advancement for details. Heather may be reached at

We also invite all Hampden-Sydney alumni who once called its halls home to take a trip down memory lane. No matter when you lived in Venable, you are part of a treasured line of students who laughed, studied, and debated there, forming lifelong bonds within Venable’s hallowed walls. We plan to compile a history of the men of Venable Hall and invite you to share where you lived and when you lived there.

Contribute to the Venable Hall Story