Palmer Hall

Palmer Hall

The enrollment of Alabama College grew rapidly in the 1920’s until in 1929-30 there were 899 students, far too many to be accommodated in Reynolds Chapel.  The problem was solved by building Palmer Hall, named for the third president.  As President O. C. Carmichael reported to the Board of Trustees in the spring of 1930, the building had an auditorium that seated 1600 and office spaces for all the administrative offices, the first time they had all been housed under one roof.  The pride of the college, and especially of the Department of Music, was the four-manual Skinner organ, one of the finest in the South.

Palmer Hall was dedicated on the weekend of April 26-28, 1930, with appropriate ceremonies: a play, a Sunday church service for everyone in Montevallo, an organ recital and a formal dedicatory service.

Warren, Davis, and Knight were the architects; Oklahoma Scenic Company had the contract for the stage equipment and the American Seating Company furnished the seats in the auditorium.

By the middle of the 1970’s the building needed extensive repairs.  In 1977-78, Renniker, Smith, Kirkwood and Associates were selected the architects for the million-dollar-plus project which included the dismantling of the old Skinner organ and the instillation of the Holtkamp organ, all new seats and a restored and rearranged stage and orchestra pit.  The contractor was Bachus Engineering Company of Birmingham.

On May 3, 1980, Palmer Hall was rededicated, fifty years after the dedication.  Dr. Palmer’s grandson, the Reverend Richard B. Palmer of Colorado Springs, gave the invocation and dedicatory prayer.  Dr. Palmer’s youngest daughter, Miss Lula Palmer of Montgomery, spoke of the pleasure it would have given her father to know that his memory was being perpetuated in the beautiful building which provided “for activities in all forms, such as arts, religion, politics and current affairs.”

Thomas Waverly Palmer (1860-1926)

Dr. Palmer, the third president and the man from whom Palmer Hall was named, came to Montevallo after many years in higher education in Alabama.  He had graduated from the University of Alabama with degrees in both engineering and mathematics and had taught mathematics at his alma mater for many years, eventually becoming the head of the department.  In 1905, he was made Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the position held when he was elected president of Alabama Girls’ Industrial School in 1907.

For all his experience in education, there had been nothing to prepare him for heading an industrial school.  Recognizing this limitation, he spent the summer of 1907 in visiting various schools that had programs similar to the one in Montevallo.

Dr. Palmer was president for almost nineteen years, the longest presidency in this school’s history.  It was also the period of many changes.  Alabama Girls’ Industrial School gradually added years of college work and dropped high school courses until by 1922 it was Alabama College, the State College for Women, granting degrees.  Shortly before Dr. Palmer’s death the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools granted the school full accreditation, the goal Dr. Palmer worked toward for years.

During the Palmer years the physical plant was greatly expanded.  New buildings were erected to care for the increased enrollment and expanded programs: Bloch Hall, Peterson Hall, Wills Hall for the library, and Calkins Hall.  The first major fund drive, the so-called Million Dollar Drive (1924), raised the money to help build the new president’s home as well as Ramsay Hall, the high school, and Palmer Hall.

Many traditions and institutions also had their beginning in this era: College Night, the first newspaper, the yearbook, student government, the employment of student help on campus, and the first summer school.

Dr. Palmer was a thorough scholar and a good administrator but he was also an affectionate, fun-loving, gregarious man.  He loved a good joke; he was an excellent story-teller but according to his secretary, he never said an unkind word about anyone.  At the hour of his funeral in Tuscaloosa, the students assembled in the chapel here and after a brief devotional sat thinking “of how and why they loved him.”

(This is an excerpt from White Columns & Red Bricks by Lucille Griffith, Ph. D.)

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