A version of this story first appeared in the Shippensburg University Magazine. 

Stewart Hall, Ship’s iconic building at the entrance to campus, has been restored to its former glory through a major renovation project funded by an alumni giving campaign. As state guidelines allow, the building will function as a welcome center, special events venue, and a gallery showcasing precious Ship memorabilia. During the pandemic this fall, Stewart Hall also functioned as a stunning socially-distanced classroom.

“They did a beautiful job of capturing Stewart Hall’s history, but making it look contemporary,” said Jen Haughie ’94-’98m, associate vice president for enrollment management. “It’s a mix of yesterday and today. It’s appealing to both students and parents, especially if they are alumni.”

“We are so happy with the results,” said Mary Jo (Kreider) Grove ’69-’70m. “I can’t wait until everyone else gets to see it.”

Mary Jo and her husband, Dr. Gary Grove ’68-’70m, met and began dating while attending Ship in the 1960s. They are among countless students who have learned, created memories, and built lifelong friendships within Stewart Hall’s walls.

“I have many fond memories of Stewart Hall,” Mary Jo said. “We feel very connected to it because we spent so much time there. It was the social center of campus.”

The couple attended dances there on weekends. As a commuter, Gary spent time between classes in the Day Men’s Lounge located in the basement of Stewart Hall. “I went there to study,” Gary said. Mary Jo added, “But, there was also poker, ping pong, and TV.”

The couple lost touch with campus for several years while pursuing their careers and raising a family. They reconnected when their daughter, Elizabeth (Grove) Wickersheim ’94, attended Ship.

“When we visited Stewart Hall after so many years, we cringed,” Mary Jo said. “It did not look like the building we remembered. You couldn’t see the beautiful ceilings, and there were holes in the track. We knew how beautiful it used to be, and we had to do something.”

The Groves soon learned they were not alone. As national co-chairs of the Charting the Course, Lighting the Way comprehensive campaign through the Shippensburg University Foundation, Gary and Mary Jo met and talked to many alums who also had fond memories of Stewart Hall and wanted to support its restoration.

The Groves pledged the lead gift toward the project, and helped the SU Foundation raise in excess of $1.5 million for the renovation.

Restoring Stewart Hall’s History

Stewart Hall was constructed as the campus gymnasium in 1894. It was a cutting-edge facility for its day. A prominent feature was the second floor running track, suspended from the trusses of the roof. At one time, the track provided a training ground for future Olympian Jim Thorpe, known as “the world’s greatest athlete.”

Since then, Stewart Hall has been repurposed numerous times. The building served as housing during the post-World War II student boom, then became the student union building for two decades. The Communication/Journalism Department occupied Stewart Hall in the 1970s and ’80s, and most recently it housed a children’s theatre.

The building was dedicated with its namesake in 1950, in honor of faculty members John Keats Stewart and Harriet Wylie Stewart. It also was at this time that the last major interior renovations were made to Stewart Hall.

The focal point of the new Stewart Hall is the Gary and Mary Jo Grove Exhibition Hall on the main level. Partitions that once divided the room into classrooms have been removed, leaving it open from the main level floor to the second floor ceiling.

A drop ceiling that obscured the running track and original wood beam vaulted ceiling was removed. “The ceiling beams were just waiting to be exposed,” said Terry Starr, associate director for planning, design, and construction who oversaw the Stewart Hall renovation.

The ceiling was restored to its original form, and a mix of track lighting and suspended chandeliers now cap the room. Starr said they were able to find light fixtures that closely matched Stewart Hall’s original gaslight chandeliers.

Unfortunately, the original suspended track on the second floor was damaged beyond repair and had to be replaced. Just one section of the original track was preserved and is the floor outside of the small meeting room added to this level. The track now serves as a mingling space.

The gymnasium floor was rebuilt with reclaimed oak, maintaining an authentic look to the building. The room is surrounded by the original exposed brick walls, restored after the painstaking removal of multiple layers of paint.

All of Stewart Hall’s windows were replaced. The tall, custom-made windows, empty of treatments, illuminate the room with ample natural lighting.

Improvements to Stewart Hall’s heating and water systems have made the building more energy efficient. Two large ceiling fans were installed to circulate air, and LED lighting is now standard throughout. This includes the historic light fixture above the front entrance, which was refinished and refitted for LED.

A new staircase just inside the front entrance leads to both the upper and lower levels. Guests can also travel via an elevator, added at the rear of the building along with a handicapped accessible entrance. Previously, Stewart Hall did not have an elevator. This, along with other updates, brought the building up to current code.

On the exterior, Stewart Hall’s distinctive turrets and arched entryway were maintained, as were the double set of winding steps leading up to the front door.

A brick patio was added to the front lawn, and will make it possible to host outdoor events at Stewart Hall. The patio was constructed with engraved bricks purchased by alumni, faculty, campus groups, and others through a campaign by the SU Foundation.

Raider Day Visits

For the Admissions Department, Stewart Hall is a wish come true. They now are able to welcome potential students and their families in the exhibition hall for Raider Days, pending COVID-19 guidelines.

“We see thousands of students every year through our Raider Day visits,” Haughie said. “It is one of our main recruitment events.”

Previously, Raider Day visits opened in Old Main or Rowland Hall, depending on the number of guests. “The rooms were functional but not the most welcoming,” Haughie said. “There was no ‘wow’ factor.” She added that the rooms were difficult for newcomers to locate.

The admissions process is extremely competitive today, Haughie explained, and expectations of college visits have increased dramatically. “Other colleges have newer, beautiful welcome centers. As much as we want to say this should not be a deciding factor, it is. Stewart Hall gives us an edge, and makes a great first impression of Ship.”

Raider Day groups can vary in size from ten to more than 100, and Stewart Hall is equipped to host both, although visit sizes are limited during the pandemic.  “We use the large screen and projector for large groups, but for smaller groups, we use a large screen television along the side of the room, and sit on couches,” said Maya Mapp, director of admissions. In addition, several virtual visit opportunities are available to prospective students.

Soon, both floors of Stewart Hall will be transformed into an exhibition gallery showcasing some of Ship’s extensive collection of memorabilia.

“Some families arrive early to campus, and some parents are alumni,” Mapp said. “They will be able to see the historical displays and things that make Ship so unique.”

“The admissions staff is honored that we get to showcase this building as part of our campus,” Haughie said.

The admissions staff commits to mask and social distancing guidelines at all visits during COVID-19, in addition to numbering the amount of guests on-campus at one time.

Alumni Celebrations

For Lori Smith ’95-’07m, director for alumni relations, “It’s the beauty of Stewart Hall. No other space on campus looks like this.”

Smith is particularly impressed by how Ship managed to preserve and showcase the proud history of Stewart Hall, while making it modern and operational for today’s students.

Smith will proudly begin holding multiple alumni-related events in Stewart Hall as soon as state guidance allows. Pre-pandemic, the Alumni Association hosts at least a dozen events on campus annually, ranging from small receptions to larger gatherings such as Homecoming and Alumni Weekend.

“It’s always been a challenge, finding available space on campus for events,” Smith said. “There is a lot of competition, even among campus groups, for space.” Once campus is open again this spring, Stewart Hall will be available for the campus community, including students, to reserve for meetings and events.

Another perk, according to Smith, is the built-in, user-friendly audio-visual technology. The main hall includes a projector and large screen, as well as two flat screen televisions. “This helps when your guests are arriving and you don’t have time for a long tutorial on how to work the equipment.”

A small kitchen in Stewart Hall now allows campus catering a space to operate when serving dinners and receptions. Increased parking alongside the building provides better access for guests.

Smith and other Alumni Relations staff maintain their offices at the nearby Rife Alumni House on Prince Street.

Ship is excited to celebrate the completion of Stewart Hall’s renovations with students, alumni, and the community. COVID-19 forced Ship to postpone the grand opening, initially planned for Alumni Weekend this past June 2020. But please watch for more information regarding a rescheduled celebration as soon as safely possible.