Hardin Hall was my home-away-from-home on the Clemson University campus for six wonderful years. While I was an undergraduate and graduate student in History from 1989 to 1995, I roamed the halls almost daily. At that time, Hardin had a very “historic” feel, but we loved our building with all its charming peculiarities. The halls were cramped and bent at odd angles. The floors were tiered with steps in unfortunate locations. The staircases were creaky and slightly unstable. And, the roof leaked. A lot.
The history of Hardin’s roof is a well-known tale among History majors. Part history and part myth, the story has many embellishments. The original building was built in 1890 and is the oldest academic building on campus (History). Chemistry was the first department to occupy the building, which is now home to the Department of History and Geography and the Department of Philosophy and Religion (History). The original structure featured a beautiful gabled roof (History). During World War II, an overzealous chemist blew the roof off the building (Myth). The roof was actually destroyed after World War II during a fire on 10 August 1946 (History).
I prefer the mythic version. I always imagined a young scientist trying to invent an awesome weapon to win the war getting a little overzealous in his application of chemicals.
A shortage of supplies and funds meant that the original roof was replaced by a cheap, flat tar roof (History). That tar roof remained until the 2002 restoration (History). The roof leak in the mid-90s targeted Dr. Steirer’s office so that he would tidy his office (Myth).
I had heard about the restoration, but had not had the opportunity to see it until now. As we approached Hardin, I felt as though the photos from the archives were brought to life. The original gables were restored to their former glory. We could see where the new bricks joined the old, but it was great to see so much of the original facade remained. As part of the restoration process, the bricks are no longer load-bearing, but function like a veneer shell around a new, modern building.
As I toured the building with Brian and Tom Kuehn, my academic advisor and current department chair, I was amazed at the changes, but also at the respect for the building’s origins. The building interior is modern with carpets, sitting areas, and smart classrooms. The large lecture hall where I took and proctored Western Civilization courses now has tables with computer outlets and wifi. Alongside the smart classrooms, one historic classroom is outfitted with 19th century desks, wainscoting, and blackboards. Yes, actual blackboards. The desks are restored, but the student graffiti remains. As I ran my fingers over the graffiti, I remembered sitting in the same chairs listening to lectures on medieval and Renaissance history and making my own doodles. That moment connected my past with the experience of current students. It is a powerful connection that every generation of Clemson students shares with the next one.
It is no coincidence that Hardin’s restoration took place under President James F. Barker, a Clemson alumnus and trained architect. During Barker’s tenure, Clemson has added more than 3 million square feet of campus buildings. Hardin’s restoration is part of that legacy. Barker seems to understand as only an alum would the powerful connection that alumni have to the campus. That connection links us to other alumni and even to the buildings, to their very foundations. And, I, for one, am glad to see the foundation of Hardin Hall restored.
So, thank you President Barker for all that you have done. May you have a wonderful retirement.
For those of you interested in honoring President Barker’s legacy and thanking him for giving us our roof back, please donate to the Barker Scholars Endowment. In the U.S., text BARKERS to 50555 to give $10 to Clemson University.