Maybe it’s the white clock face, or the towers wearing flat caps.
Maybe something in us responds to red brick with blue slate icing. Or maybe there’s an inner architect in each of us that recognizes that nobody builds in the Second Empire style anymore.
At West Virginia University, the iconic Woodburn Hall is everywhere. If it’s hard to miss from many vantage points in the city, it’s equally hard to miss on note cards, blankets, postcards, photographs and the World Wide Web. It even has an architectural mimic in The Erickson Alumni Center across town.
And for years, the 135-year-old symbol has put on its holiday best to light the black December sky.
The hall will once again be lit for the holidays after a previous season of spotlights in Woodburn Circle as the University restored one of its most recognizable architectural gems.
This year, LED lights will wash over the building, scattering shafts of blue and gold before changing to white in mid-January to begin a new tradition to highlight the iconic building year round. Lights will continue to be added to the other faces of the building to enhance the visibility of Woodburn throughout Morgantown.
This year’s Woodburn Hall lighting ceremony will take place Friday, Dec. 9, at 6:30 p.m. First Lady Beth Clements, Student Government Association President Jason Bailey and Mountaineer Idol participants will be in attendance. Following the lighting, attendees can partake in hot cocoa and visit with Santa in the Vandalia Lounge of the Mountainlair.
Brody Wilmoth, 4, of Morgantown, will represent the WVU Children’s Hospital at the lighting. Brody was born prematurely to Deedee and Brent Wilmoth and quickly developed a pulmonary hemorrhage, a condition in which only 30 percent of those affected survive. He also suffered from severe acid reflux. After treatment at the hospital, he eventually recovered and is developing as a healthy child.
A hall of history
Though Woodburn Hall’s central section was built in 1876, it had a precursor in the old Woodburn Female Seminary building, which burned down three years earlier. Originally known as New Hall, Woodburn was built for $41,500 through a state 5-cent tax on every $100 of taxable property. It housed the WVU library under the name University Building and later saw almost every academic area taught inside its rooms.
Engineers, journalists, lawyers, doctors and musicians trained in Woodburn. The Athenaeum and the Cadet Corps had offices there. The first women at WVU took classes in Woodburn, agriculture students gardened in the green lawn out front, and commencements were held in the third floor auditorium.
Before the turn of the 20th century, Woodburn was assigned to be the main home of the College of Arts and Sciences, a task it still carries out today.
And the building underwent physical changes throughout the years. The Seth Thomas clock once part of Martin Hall was moved to Woodburn in 1910 after the north and south wings were in place. The Woodburn Hall name came in 1901.
In 1950, the building avoided demolition and in 1974, Woodburn, Martin and Chitwood halls were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Interior renovations and multiple exterior renovations have taken place, including last year’s restoration.
Just like new
How do you restore a building on the National Register of Historic Places?
Daniel Batson, WVU’s associate director of design and construction, said the most recent restoration of Woodburn Hall restored features to preserve the historic nature of the building. Although differences exist, like the missing wrought iron finials that used to line the rooftop, through photographs, the contractor was able to replicate features like the finials for the towers.
The $3.9 million project began just following the 2010 May commencement and will be complete with the addition of the LED lighting. The completion will allow the yearlong lighting of the universities signature building.
To keep the project green, LED lights were selected to increase the bulb life cycle, reduce maintenance costs, and reduce energy consumption.
The restoration included a new roof, restored stonework, new copper-lined gutters, restoration of architectural wood elements with Spanish cedar or synthetic material, and safety features for employees working on the rooftop.
Painted surfaces were stripped to the bare wood which was then coated with linseed oil, primer and two coats of oil-based paint.
Details, both small and large, are critical with historical restorations. Areas like slate color and pattern, determination of original paint colors and matching stone and limestone to original stones required creativity to find materials and restore others to reflect the building’s historical nature. Throughout the project, staff worked with the historic preservation committee on campus.
The team hired for the project had proven records of restoring buildings of comparable size and age to Woodburn.
“Everybody who worked on the project showed pride in their work and understood the historical significance Woodburn Hall has to WVU alumni and all the faculty, staff and students who see the building every day.,” Batson said.
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