A hidden home at Stephens College

Senior Hall, home to thousands of students over the years, actually started out as just that — a home.

Built in 1841, Senior Hall is actually built around an 1840s house, built for Oliver Parker, of New Hampshire. He moved to Columbia in 1821 and opened and operated a general merchandise store. He died the year after he built the two-story home at the center of Senior Hall.

Parker’s widow resided in the family home until March 4, 1856, when she sold it to Moss Prewitt for $5,000. He then transferred it, at the same price, to the newly formed Columbia Baptist Female College, which would be renamed Stephens College in 1870.

So how did a two-story home become Senior Hall?

The first enlargement of the building took place in 1870, designed by St. Louis architect C.B. Clarke. He’d originally planned a three-story, square tower on the east side and a two-story, round tower for the west side. But only the east tower was built.

Then in 1890, the college hired architect M. Frederick Bell of Fulton to design another addition. His planns called for adding a three-story round tower at the northwest corner and a three-story ell, adding a third floor to the older Parker House, giving the building a uniform three-story front, the nomination explains.

If Bell’s name sound familiar, that’s because he was the major architect responsible for rebuilding the University of Missouri’s Red Campus, the Francis Quadrangle, following the 1892 fire.

Until 1918, Senior Hall was the only dormitory at Stephens College. The list of famous residents includes Mrs. George Caleb Bingham and daughter Clara, actors Patricia White Barry and Tammy Grimes among others.

Senior Hall under went renovation in 1990 and today it is home to the Harriette Ann Gray Dance Studio, the Music Program, a board room, recital hall and parlors, according to the Stephens College website.

Lucky for us, the home inside has not disappeared.

“The main entrance still gives access to the 1841,” says the National Register of Historic Places’ nomination form for the building’s placement on list as of August 2, 1977. “The north-south central hall floor plan with double parlors to the east and west survives. Numerous refurbishment projects have, however, removed most of the original interior finish and the stairway …,” the document notes. However, “The multi-light wood windows throughout are intact and in very good condition … This building was fully restored after it was listed in 1977 and has been maintained well since then,” notes the National Register for Historic Places nomination form which resulted in Stephens College’s South Campus being placed on the list on Nov. 25, 2005.

So how historic is Senior Hall?

It was Columbia’s first entry to the National Register for Historic Places and one of the first places honored by the Columbia Historic Preservation Commission with its placement on its Notable Properties Listing.

For more information, see the NRHP nomination form for Stephens College South Campus: http://www.dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/05001326.pdf and the NRHP nomination form for Senior Hall: http://www.dnr.mo.gov/shpo/nps-nr/77000799.pdf

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