1836 - 1934

The Boarding House

The first and, until 1901, the only dormitory at Wheaton, the Boarding House was begun in 1836, “talked into existence” by Mary Lyon and encouraged by Eliza Baylies Wheaton. Until its construction, students boarded with families in Norton Center, including the Wheatons.

The original Boarding House held 40 students and three teachers and cost $5,735. During the Seminary’s first year, room and board cost $1.67 per week, “including washing and lights.” Mary Lyon was adamant that only two girls occupy each room and that they not be allowed to speak after “lights out” after the theory that young ladies “may say things in the dark that they would never repeat during daylight hours.”

In response to growing enrollment and increased national demand for women’s education, two wings were added in 1851 that housed 20 students and several teachers. By allowing three students to occupy several larger rooms and having some students share with accommodating teachers, the Boarding House could room 65 students.

This proved inadequate, however, and, in 1857, a west wing opened, known as the New Boarding House, which could accomodate another 30 students. Both the “old” and “new” houses looked very similar to ordinary family residences, giving the Seminary a home-like atmosphere. The two houses were joined together by an “isthmus” which earned for the buildings the nickname of the “Siamese Twins.”

Several other enlargements resulted in a rambling wood frame structure parallel to Main Street. Additions at the rear of the structure included “The Sem,” which was moved back across Howard Street in 1868 and used as the laundry.

An indoor toilet system was added in 1870, although students still drew pitchers of water for drinking and washing in their rooms from a well in the basement each night. Central steam heat was installed in 1885.

A long-distance telephone was installed in 1897 and, in 1899, electricity reached Norton and the seminary. The dining room and classrooms were lit, and one bulb was placed in each student room. Students continued to study by kerosene lamps for more than a decade, however, as it was believed that electric lights were too hard on the eyes.

Often called “The Home,” the boarding house was named for principal, Caroline Cutler Metcalf, in 1901. Over the years, administrative offices, the bookstore, the post office, and the infirmary were all at one time or another located in the Boarding House.

In June 1932, the west wing as far as the “isthmus” was demolished to make room for the new Metcalf Hall. In February 1933, what remained of the Boarding House ceased to be used as a student dormitory and instead became administrative offices. The building was entirely demolished in the fall of 1934.

The original porch pillars were used to create Metcalf Temple beside Peacock Pond in 1935. Much of the lumber and fixtures from the Boarding House were used for repairs in other buildings.