The Past: The Barn and Bennington’s Roots
The story of Bennington College’s connection to the land and community is written in the walls of the Barn. More than thirty years before the College was conceived, the Barn was the central hub of a working farm. The essential character of the building—with its strong gabled profile, dramatic parallel wings, and iconic red color—looked then much like it does today. Everyone who has ever set foot in the Barn has walked along the same beloved creaky floors and looked out to the same views of the Green Mountains.
If you have memories of the Barn, we would love to hear from you!
When Bennington College was established in 1932, the Barn was its native home, the structure around which a thriving campus was built. In those early days, the Barn was adapted to serve the many needs of this burgeoning institution, beginning a cycle of growth and change that has continued for nearly 90 years. Multiple additions in the 1930s and 1960s expanded the Barn’s footprint, extending its wings to accommodate the growing needs of the College without compromising any of the building’s original aesthetic. Nearly a century and innumerable small renovations later, the identity of the Barn remains intact.
Throughout this physical evolution, the Barn served as a central location for countless storied Bennington moments and contributions to American culture. Faculty who taught in the building include Peter Drucker, Camille Paglia, Bernard Malamud, Mary Oliver, Erich Fromm, Theodore Roethke, and Kenneth Burke. The Barn has been host to such notable speakers as Jonathan Lethem, Buckminster Fuller, Clement Greenberg, Mary Ellen Mark, Michael Fried, and James Tenney—many of whom are also alumni. Anyone who has ever studied at Bennington has a memory of the Barn.
On Tuesday, April 30, 2019, a fire broke out in the Barn. No faculty, staff, or students were hurt, and most of the building was saved, thanks to the extraordinary work of firefighters from more than a dozen local towns, with help from members of Bennigton’s own faculty and staff. The damage was contained, but it was not without significant losses. The fire destroyed faculty offices and academic materials. It displaced countless Bennington people, classes, and resources.
The fire was a crushing event for our community—as both a logistical upending and a symbolic blow to a space that embodies Bennington’s history, values, and sense of place. But every day since the fire, Bennington people have done what they always do: rallied together to find strength in a shared purpose and emerge stronger on the other side. We recognized this moment as an opportunity to develop a holistic rehabilitation and revitalization for the Barn that can help bridge the gap between its 19th century agricultural roots and our 21st century College. It is time for the Barn to change again, and so we look to the future.
We hope you will join us with your financial support, input, and engagement as we write the next chapter for the Barn.