Political correctness has downplayed symbols of Dartmouth College’s original mission of educating Native Americans — the Indian mascot was scrapped some years ago. Yet, the legend of Dartmouth’s founder, Eleazar Wheelock, bringing Latin, Greek, and religion to the tribes of northern New England is cherished in a magnificent weather vane atop Baker Library.
Almost 9 feet long and 7 feet tall, the 600-pound copper weather vane depicts Wheelock instructing a pipe-smoking Indian. Behind Wheelock is a cask of rum, supposedly the undoing of the experiment at “instruction of the youth of Indian tribes in this land.”
Baker Library is not Dartmouth’s oldest building; the college was founded in 1769, but the library dates from 1928. Yet, this red brick Georgian Revival pile is the college’s most recognized identifier, its chief icon. The source for Baker is neither academic nor New England, but a recreation of Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
The New Hampshire college’s library was a key element in President Ernest Martin Hopkins’ desire to reshape Dartmouth into an intellectual powerhouse and to downplay its jock school reputation. After a visiting Oxford University debater declared that Dartmouth had “the largest gymnasium and the smallest library of any college in America,” Hopkins was determined “to see the college filled with visible symbols of spiritual and intellectual things.” For starters, Baker increased the college’s book holdings fourfold.
The architect responsible for reshaping Dartmouth’s physical image was Jens Fredrick Larson, a dashing World War I veteran of the Royal Flying Corps. Harvard trained, he was fluent in the language of Georgian, skillfully employing massing and details to get drama out of what is primarily a domestic style. Larson became a prolific collegiate designer and campus planner. His interpretation of Independence Hall featured prominently on most of his campuses, including Colby College in Maine, Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, and Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
Dartmouth was the first and the best of Larson’s signature American Revolutionary aesthetic, however, and for its crowning the architect held a contest among the men in his office to design a weather vane for Baker Library. Engineer Stanley Orcutt came up with this winning whimsical tableau. For his efforts, Orcutt was awarded, appropriately, a pipe.
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