McDaniel arch and entry get a welcome new look

Low stone wall will greet alumni at reunion event

March 21, 2004|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Scaffolding and snowflakes surrounded McDaniel College's Ward Memorial Arch on Friday, but its white limestone blocks glistened when the sun broke through as a worker touched up the mortar.

The 1898 structure is getting a facial and an addition.

The arch and a new low wall will create a distinctive entrance to the campus at West Main Street and College Hill in Westminster. The foundation has been laid for the wall that will feature the college name.

Work is expected to be completed in time for the May 1 reunion weekend at the college, founded in 1867.

The arch was erected in 1898 to honor the college's first president, James Thomas Ward. The arch was a gift from his niece, said Rita F. Beyer, a spokeswoman for the college. It has long been a landmark, and it became part of the school logo when the college's name was changed from Western Maryland College in July 2002.

The wall will be 28 feet long and 4 feet tall, and attached to the Main Street side of the 16-foot arch, Beyer said.

"Right now, we don't have one entrance that really says welcome to McDaniel College," she said. "We want to have something that says, `Now you're really here.' "

The idea dates back nearly 90 years, said James E. Lightner, professor of mathematics emeritus. Long known as the school's unofficial historian, he is about halfway through writing an official history of the college, with "a couple years" to go.

Lightner has been poring through the minutes of board of trustees and faculty meetings as well as campus literary magazines and newspapers from the mid-1920s.

It was at a 1915 board of trustees meeting that Thomas Hamilton Lewis, the college's second president who served from 1886 to 1920, wished he had more money because they "ought to spruce up the entrance to the college."

"He talks about a low stone wall to meet the arch," Lightner said. "Years later, we're putting in a low stone wall connecting to the arch."

It was traffic that led to the arch's dismantling in 1936, when it straddled a gravel driveway off Main Street beside the president's house, Lightner said.

"The road into campus bent, and it was right across the road," he said of the arch. "When it was put in there, of course, we just had horse and buggies then, and by the 1920s cars were coming in, and two cars could not pass through it."

Lightner said it was during the tenure of Fred Garrigus Holloway, the fourth president from 1935 to 1947, that the campus underwent some changes. During that time, the college tore down the wooden elevated walkways that had kept the students' feet dry as they walked from dormitory to classroom - but were also firetraps.

The arch was dismantled in 1936 and re-erected at its current location in 1937 - thanks to a thrifty stone mason's wife, Lightner said.

As they were removed, the stones were numbered with a solution of lamp black and kerosene, but the piles were covered by an early snowfall. A bitter winter delayed reconstruction until spring - when the workers found the marks had weathered off many of the stones.

But Harry Ditman, the stone mason, had sketched the layout and the numbered stones on a paper lunch bag, and months later his wife was able to retrieve the bag because she had saved it, Lightner said.

The stone for the new wall is dolomite limestone from the Beaver Dam quarry in Baltimore County, chosen to match the arch, Beyer said. The project was made possible by a $250,000 gift from a 1946 alumnus and trustee emeritus.

The new entrance is one project in a 10-year master plan for the campus that includes a loop road to ease traffic, improved parking and the closure of five of the school's nine entrances - with improvements to the remaining four entrances, Beyer said.

The arch is the first project to be undertaken.

"I think it's going to be lovely," Lightner said. "I think the design is great.

"You will get the new name permanently etched in stone," he said. "You'll see it as you're going up the road. This will tell you, "OK, now you're on the college property.' "

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