McWethy Hall

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Down the hill from the Thomas Commons sits the building known today as McWethy Hall, home to the Cornell College art department and the Peter Paul Luce Art Gallery. However, when the building was first constructed in 1909, it served a very different purpose: that of the college’s first gymnasium.

The Cornellian first reported in 1907 that students desired an indoor facility to help student athletes train for their spring season, as many felt the reason for their often poor starts was owing to the lack of proper facilities to begin practicing as early in the season as many of their opponents.[1] During a meeting with faculty, trustees, and alumni, the idea of a gymnasium was proposed and a fundraising campaign began, seeking pledges not just from the alumni but from the students as well.[2]

Saturday, October 10, 1908, was “[a]n evening fraught with a great deal of significance” with the laying of the cornerstone for the new gymnasium.[3] January 15 of 1909 marked the dedication of the new building, located in Ash Park near the football field, where students were able to begin using the building for collegiate and intramural sports almost immediately.[4] According to a college press release, the new gym boasted two full basketball courts, showers and lockers for both men and women (and a special locker room for visiting teams), a swimming pool, an indoor track, and wrestling room, among other amenities.[5] Today, it is the only building on campus that was designed by an alumnus of the college.[6]

The Royal Purple of 1911 contains many pictures of the interior of the new Alumni Gymnasium, depicting both men and women making use of the gym, and noting that most students were very pleased with their new space and the variety of physical activities it offered. In addition to the various spaces for athletics, coaches had offices within the building as well, allowing for student-athletes to meet with their coaches at times other than practice.

The building could seat 1600, and the pool area could seat 300, allowing for students and family to come cheer on their teams.[7] During this time, intramural sports as well as intercollegiate sports blossomed, and participation in many of the different athletic offerings increased.

In 1953, with the building of the Field House in Ash Park, Alumni Gym was remodeled for the “department of health and physical education for women.”[8] There was an emphasis placed on women’s health in the new building, and many of the new amenities catered specifically to women, as all the men’s sports had moved to the new Field House. During this time, Cornell offered varied intramural sports for women such as field hockey, synchronized swimming, and basketball; women now had a facility of their own in which to practice for their competitions.

Over time, as the women’s athletics moved out from the Alumni Gym to the Field House, and then to the Richard and Norma Small Multi-Sports Center, the building fell into disuse. The Cornellian took a tour of the dilapidated building in the early 1990s, noting that while maintenance had done some work to clean up the dead pigeons and the sludge that now replaced the water in the pool, the building was certainly not something that could readily be put to use with the supplies on hand. At this time, the art department was sharing Armstrong Hall with the music and theatre departments, and with all three growing, more space was needed.

Trustee James McWethy, Class of '65, gave a $2 million challenge grant to help raise money for a new space for the art department, and with his generous donation and the donations of others, Cornell was able to refurbish the old Alumni Gym to host the art department, keeping some historic aspects, like the hardwood gym floor, but taking away others, such as ceiling insulation, in order to reveal the structural elements of the building. In honor of McWethy’s donation, Alumni Gym was renamed McWethy Hall in 2002, and it has hosted the art department and the Peter Paul Luce Art Gallery ever since.[9]

Images

Then-Now McWethy Hall

Then-Now McWethy Hall

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Alumni Gym

Alumni Gym

A Cornell College student practices gymnastics in the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

from the C Book of Van Sant Jenkins '12 (postcard)

from the C Book of Van Sant Jenkins '12 (postcard)

Women line up in the gymnasium for exercises. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown (Cornell Collegez) View File Details Page

Gymnasium, Cornell College, Mount Vernon, IA (postcard)

Gymnasium, Cornell College, Mount Vernon, IA (postcard)

A postcard of the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown (Cornell Collegez) View File Details Page

E Gymnasium, Cornell College, 1920

E Gymnasium, Cornell College, 1920

Photo of the gym floor with the elevated track above it. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

E Pool, Cornell College, 1920

E Pool, Cornell College, 1920

The indoor swimming pool attached to the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Alumni Gym Pool

Alumni Gym Pool

Two girls converse while swimming at the pool. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unkown View File Details Page

McWethy Hall/Alumni Gym

McWethy Hall/Alumni Gym

The exterior of McWethy Hall/Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Royal Purple 1911

Royal Purple 1911

Pages from the 1911 edition of the Royal Purple depicting the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Royal Purple photographers (z) View File Details Page

Royal Purple 1911

Royal Purple 1911

Pages from the 1911 edition of the Royal Purple depicting the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Royal Purple photographers (z) View File Details Page

Royal Purple 1911

Royal Purple 1911

Pages from the 1911 edition of the Royal Purple depicting the Alumni Gym | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Royal Purple photographers (z) View File Details Page

Women's Alumni Gym #21, Job 1896

Women's Alumni Gym #21, Job 1896

A copy of the pledge cards used to raise money from the student body for the construction of the Alumni Gym. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Edith Dayton View File Details Page

Alumni Gym Cornerstone 1908

Alumni Gym Cornerstone 1908

The cornerstone of the Alumni Gym, taken shortly after the cornerstone-laying ceremony. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Unknown View File Details Page

Alumni Gym Pool

Alumni Gym Pool

The interior of the Alumni Gym pool area, with the bleachers in the background. | Source: Cornell College Archives | Creator: Photo by Hugh M. Roberts, Mt. Vernon, Iowa View File Details Page

Alumni Gymnasium Cornerstone

Alumni Gymnasium Cornerstone

The two sides of the cornerstone, located in the south-east corner of McWethy Hall (formerly Alumni Gym). | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

McWethy Hall

McWethy Hall

The front of McWethy Hall, as seen from the Thomas Commons | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

McWethy Hall

McWethy Hall

McWethy Hall, as seen from the Thomas Commons (with the Cornell College sign in the foreground). | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

Second floor, McWethy Hall

Second floor, McWethy Hall

Originally the basketball courts, the second floor is now two art rooms. The original wood flooring is still intact, albeit a little covered in paint and other artistic materials today. | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

Third Floor, McWethy Hall

Third Floor, McWethy Hall

The third floor of McWethy, originally the track, used to go all the way around the building. Today, it stops part way on both sides of the building, providing studio space for art students during the school year. | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

James McWethy

James McWethy

James McWethy, a board of trustees member who gave the initial challenge grant of $2,000,000 for the construction of a new space for the art department. In 2002, Alumni Gym was renamed McWethy Hall in recognition of McWethy's generous gift. | Creator: Hannah Robertson '18 View File Details Page

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Cite this Page:

Brad Kane '18 and Hannah Robertson '18, “McWethy Hall,” Mount Vernon History Tours, accessed October 29, 2020, http://ccomeka.com/mtvhistoryFINALCLONE/items/show/19.

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