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Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology

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Morse Hall (1890 - 1923)

In 1888 - 1889, the erection of a new building solely for the Department of Chemistry was authorized and funds for this were appropriated. The building was named Morse Hall in honor of S.F.B. Morse, the inventor of the electric telegraph. Morse Hall was located on a knoll at the northwest corner of the campus, west of and adjacent to Franklin Hall. In 1890 the Department of Chemistry moved into Morse Hall, leaving Physics as sole occupant of Franklin Hall.

The original Morse Hall consisted of a sub-basement, used for storage, a basement floor at the ground level of the west end of the building but largely underground at the east end, and two floors above the basement. The basement floor housed Qualitative Analysis, Organic Chemistry, Gas Analysis, Applied Chemistry, the Agricultural Experiment Station, and a small photographic dark room used by Professor Spencer Newbury in his researches on photographic emulsions, as well as offices, balance rooms, and a stock room. On the first, or main, floor were Quantitative Analysis, the office of the department head, the library, laboratories for the analysis of iron and steel, Sanitary Chemistry, Spectroscopic Chemical Analysis, a lecture room seating eighty students, a room for analysis by combustion, as well as a stock room, a balance room, an instructors office, a locker room, and a women's rest room. The second or top floor housed the laboratory for Introductory Inorganic Chemistry, a room originally intended for special analyses but which later became the laboratory for physical chemistry, a large lecture room seating 352, a storage and preparation room for and adjacent to the lecture room, a large room for a museum, and the office of the Professor of General and Applied Chemistry. The ventilating fans were in the attic. The building was of mill construction, with brick walls. It was designed by C. Francis Osborne, with the advice of Professors Caldwell, Newbury, and Dennis. Architecturally it was consistent with Cornell tradition; it was inconsistent with the other buildings on the campus. The apportionment of space indicates that analytical chemistry in its various aspects was, even in 1890, the field of major importance.

In a few years more space was needed to accommodate the increasing number of students and new courses that were being offered in both old and new fields. In 1899, a new building, the North Hall, was built. This was 125 feet long and 70 feet wide, parallel to the South Wing or Old Morse and joined to it, across a court, by a two - story passageway or bridge. In 1910 a second addition, made possible by a gift from Andrew Carnegie was built and some alterations were made in the older buildings. The Carnegie Addition extended north and south across the west ends of the older units and the separating court.

In February, 1916, fire destroyed all of the upper two stories of Morse Hall and most of the basement, but enough of the brick walls remained so that a roof could be built over the ruin to give a one-story building with basement and sub-basement. In this makeshift building, some of the work of the Department was continued on a restricted scale. Some of the lectures and laboratories were transferred to other buildings.


When chemistry left, the ruins were turned into an Art Gallery. The makeshift Morse Hall was finally torn down in 1954 and eventually the site was occupied by the Johnson Art Museum in 1973.