September 19, 2013

Whipple Hall

Amos H. Whipple
In 1916 the town of New London did not want a new public library. It wanted a new town hall. So when the conditional bequest of Boston hotelier Amos H. Whipple (1856–1916) offered land and $15,000 for a library, the selectmen asked its executor to alter the terms, and Whipple Memorial Library became Whipple Memorial Town Hall—named for Amos's parents, both deceased.

Sherman L. Whipple (1862–1930) was executor of his older brother's estate. Sherman was by then an eminent Boston trial lawyer, having earned in a single case the extraordinary fee of $225,000. An alumnus and longtime trustee of Colby Academy, he maintained ties to New London, where he was born and raised. The new town hall, he knew, would benefit not only the townspeople, as his brother wished, but also Colby Academy students, who used the performance stage and auditorium regularly over the next 40 years. Sherman chose a Boston architectural firm, Strickland & Law, newly formed in 1916. It may have been Sidney Strickland's first public commission, but he was prepared.

Whipple Hall lantern
Sidney T. Strickland (1880–1954) graduated from MIT's architecture program, completed a three-year course of study at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, and then worked as a draftsman for the respected Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, three assistants of Henry Hobson Richardson (1838–1886). When Strickland's father-in-law, Charles Rutan, died in 1915, that collaborative dissolved, and Strickland was on his own.

Strickland's undergraduate thesis of 1905 was entitled "Design for a City Hall...". He considered the special requirements of civic spaces and developed guiding principles that he could apply even to a much smaller project like New London's town hall. We also know that Strickland studied Colby Academy's nearby Colgate Hall, which in 1912 replaced the ruins of an earlier building, burned in 1892.

Whipple Memorial Hall included a jail cell, selectmen's office, records archive, kitchen and dining area, performance stage and auditorium, and a moving picture projection booth in the gallery. It had electric lights and two wood furnaces for steam heat. Unanticipated later uses included municipal court offices and courtroom, a basketball arena, a civil defense and ham radio installation, a police station, and now a recreation department.

Despite all of those activities, the building remains intact in most respects. Two additions were made at the rear (in 1985 and 1999), but the front facade remains intact, even if its formal entrance is disused and overgrown. Above it all is the cupola, or properly "lantern" because of its large, arched windows. Last overhauled in 1957, the character-defining feature once again requires a preservation effort—repairing windows, replacing lost trim, and painting the exterior. The restoration of its original weathervane, last seen in photographs from the 1960s, might also be included in such a project.

We hope to list the building on the State Register of Historic Places for its significance as an example of Classical Revival architecture, for its reflection of the town's development during the 20th century, and for its association with the family of Dr. Solomon and Henrietta Whipple, whose accomplished boys left the state for greater opportunities but cherished their New Hampshire roots, even to their dying days.

View of Sargent Common and Bandstand from Whipple Memorial Hall