Bennington College Joins National Register of Historic Places
Two recent designations elevate the College’s architectural and historic significance.
From the 1785 Shingle Cottage to the expansive gray-stone mansion of the Jennings Estate, the wood-framed Colonial Revival houses to the mid-century modernist structures, Bennington College’s buildings have been a point of pride and a home to a broad range of iconic alumni and faculty through the years. A new designation from the National Register of Historic Places honors that history. At the same time, an award from the Vermont chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Vermont), highlights how the college integrates its vibrant intellectual and artistic history with its need for innovation.
"The unique and striking beauty of Bennington's campus arises from the dynamic interaction between our diverse and remarkable architecture, the landscape that grounds and inspires them, and the community that inhabits them,” said Bennington College’s Vice President for Facilities Management and Planning Andrew Schlatter, AIA. "It is our privilege to preserve these buildings, even as we adapt their uses to meet the ever-changing needs of the present day.”
As a result of a year-long effort by Schlatter with cooperation from Paula Sagerman, historic preservation consultant, and Vermont Division of Historic Preservation (VDHP) State Architectural Historian Devin Colman, the Bennington College campus has been added to the National Register of Historic Places. The nomination work was funded in part by a Certified Local Government Grant from VDHP, which Bennington College applied for jointly with the Town of Bennington.
The inclusion of Bennington’s campus in the National Register recognizes the significance of both the buildings themselves, as well as the landscape in which they are situated. The documented history of the Bennington College site can be divided into three distinct historical periods: the nineteenth-century agricultural use by a group of small farms, the late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century estate built around these farms, and the advent and evolution of Bennington College upon this landscape beginning in the 1930s. Composed of fifty-seven individual structures, the newly designated Bennington College Historic District reflects the evolution of Bennington throughout these periods through its varied collection of historic architecture.
The college was founded in 1932 by a pioneering group who sought to establish a women’s liberal arts college designed to dissolve the formal barriers between curriculum and co-curricular life and between faculty and students. The concept allowed students to develop their individual interests without bounds. The first buildings constructed specifically for the college were the central Commons building and twelve student houses surrounding Commons Lawn in a symmetrical, formal plan.
At the same time, the existing agricultural structures and the Jennings Estate buildings were adapted to fulfill the needs of the College while retaining their original character. Beginning in 1959 with the Edward Clark Crossett Library designed by Pietro Belluschi, campus development has been characterized by modern, strongly geometric architecture situated on the land in a less formal arrangement. These newer buildings, while making an architectural statement in their own right, provide contrast and counterpoint to the vernacular buildings of the “farm” era and the colonial revival structures of the early college.
Concurrently with the historic designation, AIA Vermont awarded Centerline Architects of Bennington with a Merit Award in the Historic Preservation, Adaptive Reuse, and Rehabilitation category for The Barn at Bennington College. The project rebuilt a portion of the structure, which burned in 2019. The exterior remains true to its original agricultural appearance, while the interior has been transformed into a 21st-century academic office building. The juried award was bestowed to only five projects in the state.
Bennington College has received various architectural awards for past projects, including an AIA NY Honor Award for the Commons Renovation in 2020. The campus receives high rankings in college review guides, including being listed as a “Most Beautiful Campus” by The Princeton Review and among “The Top Ten Colleges with the Best Architecture'' by Architectural Digest. In addition, the campus holds a gold ranking from the American Association for Sustainability in Higher Education Stars Program.
“Bennington College's historical architecture, brilliant restorations, and new buildings reflect Bennington's history of design and creativity,” said Bennington College President Laura Walker. “We are delighted with both these honors, because they acknowledge our drive to embrace our history and look to the future.”
Photos of Bennington College’s historic architecture, including The Barn, are available here.