Previous articles in this series by Mr. Foster:
The first notion for this “blog” was a discussion of Burruss Hall, after Lane Stadium perhaps the most recognized structure on campus. The facts of the building are well known: It was constructed in 1936. There have been two additions to the structure over the years, in 1968 and 1970. It now has 158,221 square feet of space. The carillon that I enjoyed as a student was added in 1958. The auditorium holds exactly 3,003 seats and has been, over its 76-year history, the site of commencements, convocations, musical and theatrical presentations and too many speeches to count.
Originally referred to as the Teaching and Administration Building, it was re-named Burruss Hall to honor Dr. Julian Ashby Burruss, the eighth president of Virginia Tech. Dr. Burruss was the first alumnus to serve as President of Virginia Tech. He had a distinguished career in the field of education which led to his presidency from 1908 to 1919 at the State Normal and Industrial School for Women (I prefer this original name), later named Madison College and then James Madison University. Dr. Burruss has a building named in his honor at the Normal School too.
Dr. Burruss was president in Blacksburg from 1919 to 1945 – quite a long tenure. In the span of two world wars, he accomplished much in terms of growth – student body, faculty and buildings. Two of his more noteworthy accomplishments were the reduction of the four-year ROTC requirement to two years and the admission of women as full-time students for the first time. Dr. Burruss died in 1947 at the age of 70, less than two years after his retirement.
Burruss Hall, the main administration building of Virginia Tech, has become a symbol of our university. Brochures, photos, pamphlets and ESPN pre-game ‘intros’ all gravitate to Burruss Hall. Alumni instinctively understand too that several campus locations such as the War Memorial, Lane Hall, the Drill Field and the Duck Pond are the heart of our alma mater. These are all iconic identifiers that cause us to feel that we are “home.”
Collegiate Gothic and Hokie Stone Almost Didn’t Happen
Perhaps the most distinctive attribute of Virginia Tech is the neo-Gothic architecture which is also referred to as “Collegiate Gothic.” The 2010 Virginia Tech Campus Design Principles stated that “…the predominant (construction) theme…has evolved with a strong unifying characteristic of Collegiate Gothic architecture and a consistent use of Hokie Stone as a building material.” Burruss Hall is an excellent example of that form of architecture, which is characterized by lancet-arched passageways, window style, battlements, interior arches, quadrangles and ornamentation. Structures at The United States Military Academy (West Point) are other very good examples of Collegiate Gothic architecture.
According to the Campus Design Principles referenced above, the early presidents of Virginia Tech favored structures that avoided any appearance of excessive spending. Barracks #1 through #6 and Henderson Hall were all constructed between 1876 and 1904 – brick, unembellished and understated. Over 100 years later, if you walk the Upper Quad it is very evident that those first six presidents got their wish. It proves too, the old adage to “be careful what you wish for.”
At the turn of the century a cheaper alternative to bricks was discovered – native dolomitic limestone. In 1900 the Performing Arts Building, also known as the YMCA Building, was constructed using the limestone quarried very nearby. Price Hall followed in 1907. Both used native limestone, but neither was of Collegiate Gothic style.
Collegiate Gothic Architecture
The oldest example of the Collegiate Gothic architecture was the first Chapel at Virginia Tech, built in 1905. Native limestone from a quarry where Randolph, Cowgill and Derring Halls are now located (ever wonder why the terrain falls off so rapidly behind Burruss Hall?), coupled with the design principles of the neo-Gothic style, was the emergence of Virginia Tech’s new identity. The Chapel had many uses and nicknames over the years but, unfortunately, it was totally destroyed by fire in 1953. The Newman Library is on the site of the old Chapel.
In 1917 the McBryde Building was completed. Its design became the model for campus construction until the 1960s. As the Campus Design Principles note, McBryde had all the features of Collegiate Gothic and fortunately, because of a shortage of bricks at the time, used the native dolomitic limestone. It was a beautiful building that I often enjoyed walking by on my way to the “temporary” World War II buildings where Derring and Cowgill now stand.
Many alumni may not remember the original McBryde Hall. It was razed in 1966 so that a newer, larger academic structure could be constructed on the same site. The template of the first McBryde Hall is still in evidence across our campus. Several sculptures from the original McBryde live on as part of the newer McBryde.
The 1917 version of McBryde Hall began the marriage of Collegiate Gothic architecture and native dolomitic limestone which became known as Hokie Stone. Eggleston, Campbell, the original War Memorial Gym and Williams Halls are but a few of the classic Hokie Stone Collegiate Gothic structures.
All You Need To Know About Hokie Stone
Hokie Stone is dolomitic limestone, which is a fancy way of saying it is a limestone that is more impervious to water and won’t deteriorate over time. Limestone is usually very vulnerable to water, but the dolomite found in some limestone makes it especially water resistant. Over the years, stone has been removed from seven quarries, two of which remain in operation. One quarry is owned by Virginia Tech and the other is leased. From these two quarries, there seems to be an ample supply of Hokie Stone for the foreseeable future.
Hokie Stone exhibits colors due to its chemical composition. There is variation in the color of the freshly quarried stone, but it all tends to blend over time. Each new building has a ratio of colors established before construction. The most frequently used color, often 60% to 70% of the total, is the basic gray color, referred to as “buff.” The next most frequently used color is a pinkish to whitish color. The color used the least, possibly 10% of the time, is very dark gray referred to as “blackstone.”
Hokie Stone is so sought-after by Hokies that a man-made product is now being marketed that looks almost identical to the real thing. The closest I ever came to having my own, personal Hokie Stone is a smallish, maybe 12-ounce piece given to me by my Hokie son, Andrew, that I use as a paper-weight.
In the next article, I’ll give a peek behind the scenes that has led to the use of Hokie Stone for campus buildings in this century.