As the social dorms have just been torn down this summer, replaced for the moment by a giant construction site, let’s take a moment to look back at their beginnings. The five social dorms (Pond, Coolidge, Crossett, Davis, and Stone) were built as part of a $17 million development plan (the Amherst Capital Program) which included building Frost Library and the Valentine Annex, among other projects. Construction began in 1962, they began housing students in 1963, and the last of the dorms were completed by 1964.Construction was not without hiccups- several dorms were without hot water for the first months of school when they opened in September of 1963, and the entire complex was without heat for two months.
The social dorms were built to alleviate overcrowding in Amherst’s housing- to accommodate more students from the growing student body, and provide more comfortable, private, effective accommodations. A 1930s faculty committee tasked with a study of the student environment stated that:
“Without discounting matters of age, individual variation, maturity, or custom, it does not seem unreasonable to associate much of the immature irresponsible behavior of some of our students with the physical conditions under which they live. Crowded, impersonal, barracks-like accommodations are too apt to invite a lack of respect both for those surroundings and for their other inhabitants… To be housed like a schoolboy or a recruit is for many to behave like one.”
The creation of the new dorms, which were organized around a suite-style model, with singles clustered around a common room and bathroom, were intended to address such criticism and provide space for students to not just sleep, but also work, as school work was increasingly carried out in student rooms instead of the library. The dorms were quite popular with students at the outset, and their layout and design were widely praised. They were seen as largely quieter than the fraternities during the 70s and early 80s, but with the abolition of fraternities in 1984, they began to become more a center of student activity and partying.
The dorms were named for a variety of Amherst graduates. Coolidge Hall was (obviously) named after President Calvin Coolidge (AC 1895); Stone was named after Chief Justice Harlan F. Stone (AC 1894). Davis Hall was named after Arthur Vining Davis (AC 1888), former chairman of the board of the Aluminum Company of America, who gave funds for the dormitory’s construction. Crossett was named after Edward C. Crossett (AC 1905), a long-time beneficiary of the college. Pond is the namesake of Peter Pond, an 18th century fur trader, soldier, and explorer who once served under Lord Jeffery Amherst and was an ancestor of the anonymous donor for the dorm.