St. John's College at 300 A new library for a school that cherishes books as much as any.

June 14, 1996

WHEN THE BOARD of St. John's College recently gathered for its annual meeting, it had cause for celebration.

The U.S. Postal Service had given rare recognition to the Annapolis institution -- the nation's third oldest college -- by depicting its earliest building, McDowell Hall, on a 20-cent postcard. Meanwhile, St. John's new $6.4 million library was nearing completion and the college's four-year $34 million capital fund-raising campaign had nicely exceeded its initial goal.

This news was particularly heartening, because, in comparative terms, St. John's is a tiny institution. Although it has only 400 undergraduates and 100 graduate students, it retains a cohesion and loyalty of alumni that few schools can match. This is clearly evidenced by its fund-raising prowess, and by the fact that a full quarter of its faculty and staff are graduates of St. John's.

The campus, influenced by the Federal style of building design, is one of the defining architectural motifs of Maryland's historic state capital. The new library, created inside and around the old Maryland Hall of Records, sought to protect that character. By expanding the 1934 landmark underground, the college has retained the exterior design integrity of the building while being able to construct a repository for 95,000 volumes.

What has evolved into St. John's began three centuries ago as King William School, a grammar and secondary institution that Maryland's governor and General Assembly established to make learning a handmaid to devotion." The modern St. John's was chartered in 1785 "for the encouragement and advancement of all useful knowledge and literature through every part of the state."

In its early days, St. John's concentrated on the teaching of Greek and Latin classics. These still are the bedrock of its "great books" of Western civilization, a collection of about 130 seminal works which range from the Bible and Euclid to Albert Einstein and Mark Twain.

The new library -- named after Stewart Greenfield, a 1953 graduate, and his wife, Connie -- will house those and other great tomes. As Elliott Zuckerman, tutor emeritus, told celebrants at the college this month, "Great books make great teachers."

Pub Date: 6/14/96

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