As Gilman Hall reopens after a two-year renovation project, let’s look back to the early 20th century, when Gilman was first built. While Hopkins acquired the Homewood Campus in 1902, little was built for eleven years. Homewood Field was laid out – with grandstands – and the greenhouses behind Gilman were completed in 1908 and 1911, but no major construction began until 1913. Plans were in place to build around two quadrangles, so future sites were known. On June 11, 1912, the Board of Trustees stated “plans for the first building – the Academic Building – to be known as the Gilman Building, in memory of the first President of the University … are being drawn by the architects and work on this building will begin this Autumn.”
Construction was delayed until the spring of 1913, and a contract was signed in May in the amount of $509,063 (somewhere between $10 and $11 million dollars in today’s money). The Trustees documented construction progress, often in meticulous detail. The Minutes for June 21, 1914, record a request to approve an additional $85.00 “for changing [electrical] outlets in book-stacks,” and $129.00 “for additional lights in reading room.” For those unaware, prior to the completion of the Milton S. Eisenhower Library in 1964, the library was located in Gilman Hall, with stacks around the inner perimeter of a hollow square (now covered by the glass Atrium roof), with offices and classrooms around the outer perimeter.
Gilman Hall took two years to complete, and was dedicated on May 21, 1915. Some offices moved up from the original campus that summer, but most functions relocated in the summer of 1916. While ground was broken for Maryland Hall at the same time as Gilman, and Maryland was completed earlier, and both were dedicated on the same day, Gilman Hall is recognized as the first major academic building on the Homewood Campus. Perhaps because of its iconic clock tower, Gilman Hall is considered the “signature building” on this campus.
One more point of interest: While mention of the Academic Building in 1912 stated it was to be named for our founding president, something “fell through the cracks.” The Minutes for May 1, 1917, note that it had just been brought to the Trustees’ attention that the building had not been formally named. The omission was quickly rectified, two years after the building was dedicated. Better late than never.