History

About Branford

by Eric Adelizzi ‘98 and Matthew Koppel ‘98
edited by: Branford Staff

Photo is of Roommates Navy V12 Marine Detachment, Branford 1945, Bill Kelley, John Welles, Lem Shepherd, Bob Fike. Provided by Bill Kelley.

The Memorial Quadrangle

The words “Memorial Quadrangle” decorate the ceremonial Memorial Gate of Branford College, below the towering heights of the Harkness Tower. The building that is today divided between Branford College and Saybrook College was constructed between 1917 and 1922, as the Memorial Quadrangle. Mrs. Stephen V. Harkness donated the building to Yale University in memory of her son, Charles Harkness (Class of 1883), who died in 1916.Let’s say you were here in 1926, and walking down Elm Street, outside Durfee, you meet Clarence Mendell, Third Dean of Yale College and future master of Branford College. Having just made your acquaintance, he asks you where you live on campus. Looking across the street at the complex of buildings called the Berkeley Oval, and seeing out of the corner of your eye the Gym, Pool, Cage, Armory, Squash Courts, and Bowling Alleys, all standing where Trumbull College and Sterling Memorial Library now sit, you respond “Branford.” Dean Mendell gently corrects you, asking you if you mean to say that you live on the Branford Court in the Harkness Memorial Quadrangle, and informing you that Branford is a town up the road a bit where you almost certainly don’t live.

Architect James Gamble Rogers (Class of 1889), who later designed several other colleges and Sterling Memorial Library, was a good friend of the Harkness family and was chosen to plan and supervise the construction. He modeled his plans on the Gothic structures of Oxford University in England.

The plans for the construction of the Memorial Quadrangle were quite detailed. Within Branford College itself there is an old millstone from the town of Branford, Connecticut. It was delivered and installed among the flagstones of Branford Court shortly after the construction of the Quadrangle. A team of oxen made the delivery.

The cornerstone was laid on October 8, 1917, the two-hundredth anniversary of the raising of the first college building in New Haven.

The Memorial Quadrangle was occupied in part in 1920, and completed in June of 1921. The bricks used in the construction of the quadrangle are old ones from torn down buildings, giving a low-toned soft pink impossible in new bricks. Their origins are diverse. Seam-faced granite, Indiana likestone, Briar Hill sandstone, and other stone from Idaho, Virginia, and Connecticut were all used in the construction. They number 7 million in total. The flooring is of oak, as are the wainscot, doors, and trim, while the handrails in the starways are of India teak. The buildings contain 70 miles of electrical wire, and have 60,000 panes of glass. Both Harkness Tower and Wrexham Tower house large water tanks which formerly supplied the buildings.

The courtyards are named for places and societies in the early history of Yale. Saybrook College has Saybrook and Killingworth Courts. Branford has Branford Court, and three smaller courtyards named for literary societies which donated their libraries to the University: Linonia, Calliope, and Brothers in Unity. “The three small quads,” editorialized the Architectural Review, “are alike only in being perfect.”

These literary societies were founded in the latter part of the 18th century and lasted through most of the 19th. They debated the moral, philosophical, and political problems of the day and even put on plays and other productions.

The largest of the four courtyards at 131 feet by 271 feet, Branford Court, or “The Great Court”, is called the most beautiful college courtyard in America, a statement attributed to the late poet Robert Frost. The Branford Courtyard used to hold Class Day, before the growing number of undergraduates forced the ceremony to move across High Street to the Old Campus.

Interestingly, it was once a Branford tradition for students to adhere strictly to referring to their courtyards by their proper names, as noted in “An Introduction to Branford College” published in 1957. Today, it is more common to hear Linonia Court called “the first courtyard”, Calliope “the second”, and Brothers in Unity “the third”. Many Branford students aren’t even aware of the names which their courtyards bear.

The entryways of the college are named in honor of distinguished Yale graduates. To bring Branford into line with the other colleges, each entryway has been provided with a letter, and that is the order in which they are listed below. Names are followed by their year of graduation.

Entryway Named for…
A Samuel Seabury 1748
B Benjamin Silliman 1796
C David Bushnell 1775 and Horace Bushnell 1827
D John Caldwell Calhoun 1804
E James Fenimore Cooper 1806
F Manasseh Cutler 1765
G Jonathan Dickinson 1706
H Timothy Dwight 1769 and Timothy Dwight 1849
I James Dwight Dana 1833
J Jonathan Edwards 1720
K William M. Evarts 1837
L Josiah Willard Gibbs 1858
M Daniel Coyt Gilman 1852
N Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet 1805
O Nathan Hale 1773
P David Humphreys 1771

Two further entryways used to exist where the Common Room now stands, but they were destroyed during the establishment of the Residential College System. The first of these was named for Samuel Johnson (1696-1772), Class of 1714, who was the first President of King’s College and for his son, William Samuel Johnson (1727-1819), Class of 1744, President of Columbia College. The concrete arch being their names was moved to its current location, above the door to the Master’s House on High Street, during these renovations. The other entryway was named for James Kent (1763-1847), Class of 1781.

“The Memorial Quadrangle gives me actual happiness every day of my life; for a thousand years to come, it will educate, inspire, and civilize those who live within its enclosure and those who come to see it; century after century, people will come from all over America to gaze at its mysterious and inspiring towers and walls, and no intelligent European will return from an American sojourn without having visited Yale. It is a joy and a delight to me, a devout worshiper of Beauty, to know, that long after my bones are dust, long after I have left the planet, these gracious and lovely buildings will cast their charm over the coming children of men.”

–William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943) B.A. 1887 Ph.D. 1891 LL.D. 1934

The idea of a Residential College System, patterned after Oxford University and Cambridge University, had been discussed for several years before the Memorial Quadrangle was built. In 1920, Yale University had 3000 students, up 50% from just 20 years before. Housing was at a premium. Even after the Memorial Quadrangle was built, Yale was forced to limit admissions in 1923 due to a lack of space. The Quadrangle had no library, nor did it include dining facilities. Yale President James Rowland Angell decided to implement a Residential College system to alleviate the housing problem and to make an ever-growing college seem smaller and more intimate. Edward S. Harkness (Class of 1897), younger brother of Charles Harkness, donated the necessary funds, nearly $16,000,000, to construct eight Residential Colleges. In the end,Silliman and Trumbull were constructed with additional money from other sources.

It was decided that the Memorial Quadrangle would be divided in two parts, the larger part becoming Branford College, named after the Connecticut town where the Collegiate School (later Yale University) was founded (see below, the description of the College Arms), and the smaller part named after Saybrook, Connecticut, where the University stayed for 15 years. Renovation would be extensive; a Common Room, a Dining Hall, and a Library would all be carved out of existing student dormitories. A Master’s House and several Fellows’ suites would be needed, too. All of this would have to be done twice, as both Branford and Saybrook required their own facilities.

One decade after the acid-laced cement had dried on Mrs. Harkness’ gift, workers tore into four floors of rooms on the west wall of Branford Court to give us a Common Room and Dining Hall. There were worries at the time that the entire section of the quadrangle would collapse due to the renovations. One can still see windows set in the roof atop the Branford Dining Hall. These were once the windows of the fifth-floor rooms in the Johnson and Kent entryways; they are now inaccessible.

Many more rooms were demolished to make way for a Master’s House, a library, and tremendous fellow’s suites such as the modern Master’s Office, “God Quad”, and Room 857. Gates were thrown up and locked tight to separate Branford from Saybrook, both physically and psychologically, in the hopes of giving each college a separate psychological identity. One of those gates was just opened for good in the Spring of 1996, the program of psychological separation now complete.


The Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms of Branford College, features ten books to represent the ten ministers who pooled their books and resources to found the Collegiate School.

The ministers came from all over Connecticut for the purpose of founding the school. Although the building in which they met no longer stands, there is a commemorative monument at the corner of Montowese Street and South Main Street in the town of Branford, which is just a short drive from New Haven.

The town of Branford itself was originally named “Totokett” (or “Tidal River”) when it was founded in 1644. Several years later, it was renamed “Branford” after the town of Brentford, Middlesex, England. There is still an area in Branford, CT, known as Totoket.

In heraldic terms the arms are described thusly:

Azure, ten open books of silver, edges gold; in a chief, three elm leaves vert.

According to Thomas G. Bergin, author of Yale’s Residential Colleges: The First Fifty Years:

“The design of arms recalls the meeting of 1701 at the house of the Reverend Samuel Russel in Branford, where, tradition says, ten Connecticut Congregational ministers by a gift of books founded the Collegiate School which became Yale College. The elm leaves in a chief of gold are symbolic of the permanent establishment of Yale in New Haven….”

New Haven, of course, is referred to as “The Elm City” in memory of the many elm trees that used to line the streets of the town.

The arms were designed by Master Clarence Mendell; Mr. Theodore Babbit, a fellow of Branford; and his wife.

The pre-renovation College China features the signatures of the ten ministers who founded Yale, along with the towns from which they came. Their names are separated by an emblem which was drawn from the oldest extant diploma issued by Yale University, in 1712. It is an ornamented capital “O” with a bird in the middle. It started the phrase, “Omnibus et Singulis Has literas lecturis Salutem in Domine Vobis Notum Sit … .”


The Founding of Branford

In the start of the academic year in 1933, Branford College opened its doors. Clarence Whittlesey Mendell, Dean of Yale College, had been named Master in 1931 and he held the post until 1943. What impressed quite a few visitors to Branford was the calm and subdued character of the College. Chauncey Tinker commented that Saybrook was like an anthill, but Branford was like an oyster bed. In records of the time, the main thing that stands out about Branford is the lack of activity among its students, and the lack of encouragement of activity on the part of Master Mendell, who commented that oyster beds produce pearls.


Changes and Innovations

The war effort took many students and faculty away from Yale. In 1942, Master Mendell left Branford and the Yale Community to direct the Navy Intelligence School in Quonset. He was succeeded by Norman Sydney Buck, who was Dean of Freshman Year. Buck was Acting Master in 1942 and part of 1943, before assuming the post on a permanent basis until 1959. Branford made its contribution to the war effort, as Buck’s wife, Polly Stone Buck, writes: “Branford, which had been planned originally as a College to house 195 undergraduates, was for four years under the Navy regime the home of around 400 apprentice seamen.”

Nineteen forty-two, the year which saw the departure of Master Mendell, also saw the establishment of the Branford College Council.

The twenty-five years following World War II saw many changes which affected the University as a whole.

In 1950, chambermaid service was abolished, and 1953 saw the end of full-time guards placed at college gates. In 1963, the position of College Dean was created. In 1969, coeducation came to Yale and to Branford.


College Facilities

There are two “Common Rooms” in addition to the main College Common Room (located underneath the Dining Hall). Between Linonia and Branford Courts is located the Fellow’s Common Room, where the Fellows of the College meet. This room was originally designated the Trumbull Common Room, in memory of the first Art Gallery at Yale, which was built to house the paintings of John Trumbull. With the advent of the Residential College System (see above), Trumbull College was built, and its common room was named the Common Room of Trumbull College, or, the Trumbull Common Room for short. The resulting confusion led to the permanent renaming of this room.

The other “Common Room” is the Mendell Room, named for Branford’s first master, Larence Whittlesey Mendell. Confusingly, this room also had several other names. It was originally dubbed the “Cabinet Commons” when it was constructed. It quickly came to be known as the “Ship Room” after the carving over the mantle, which depicts the phantom “Great Ship” lost at sea off of New Haven. During the early days of the College, it was used as a “Music Room”, and a record player was installed for the use of College students. It was only after the decease of Master Mendell that the room was renamed in his honor. The room, which is located between the Branford and Brothers in Unity Courts (joined by the Jared Eliot gateway) is used for seminars and meetings of small student organizations.

The Branford College Library is located in the middle small courtyard of Branford College.


The Harkness Tower

The showpiece of Branford is the Harkness Tower, which until it was reinforced with steel in 1981, was rumored to be the largest free-standing structure ever built. It was modeled after St. Botolph’s Tower in Boston, England.

Harkness can be seen from I-95 as your car nears New Haven. You can also see it from the tower in Sleeping Giant State Park. Architecture buffs could tell you that it is the first couronne tower in this country, and the first to be built in modern times. A couronne tower differs from the usual four-pointed “college tower” in that it starts from a square base and ends in a perfect octangle. The Tower in 216 feet tall, and has a foundation extending ninety feet down to bedrock. It is said that the Tower is so superior to anything of its kind built in modern times as to create a standard by which future similar effects must be judged. (Saybrook, in comparison, is barely superior to the ants which pillage our picnics.)

The seldom-used Branford College Chapel at the base of tower was dedicated in 1952 to the 35 members of Branford who gave their lives in the service of the country between 1941 and 1951. The ceiling of the Chapel is one of the few fan-vaulted ceilings constructed since medieval times. The walls include carved oak panels detailing scenes from Yale student life between the founding of Yale and 1917, when construction work on the Memorial Quadrangle began.

A spiral staircase leads up from the Chapel to an organ loft and the Branford Council Room. The Council Room, a small space located over the Memorial Gate leading into Branford Court, was originally intended for use as the meeting place of the Yale College Student Council. This organization was designed to oversee Yale’s Honor System, and was abolished due to its failure to do so. Its modern successor organization, the Yale College Council, probably couldn’t even fit within the walls of the Council Room, a fact which indicates how much Yale has grown between then and now. The Council Room was used for college seminars following the abolition of the Student Council, and it is now used for small meetings, especially smaller meetings of the college fellows.

The tower itself is ornately decorated by various stone carvings. It is square at the bottom, passing into an octagonal prism at the top. There are many staues of historical figures on the tower, including Elihu Yale and various Yale graduates: Jonathan Edwards, Samuel F. B. Morse, Eli Whitney, James Fenimore Cooper, John C. Calhoun, Noah Webster, and Nathan Hale. Nearer the summit of the tower stand four soldiers: a Revolutionary Minuteman, a sailor from the War of 1812, a Civil War veteran, and a doughboy of the First World War. The “four great western poets”, Homer, Vergil, Dante, and Shakespeare, are also featured, along with symbolical representations of the life of a Yale undergraduate: an athlete, a scholar, a socialite, and a literary figure.

Branfordians were once called “Towermen” (before coeducation, of course). The forerunner of the weekly Branford Carillon newsletter was the Tower Bulletin.

During the early days of the tower, the bells rang on a set schedule, ringing “Christi Sanctorum” at 8 a.m., the largo from Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” at noon, Wagner’s bell motif from “Parsifal” at 6 p.m., and an old Gregorian Chant at 10 p.m. These days, a more varied fare rings from the tower, although not so early in the morning, nor late at night.

In 1966, forty-four bells were added to the original ten to make it a carillon.

In 1981, the Harkness Tower lost its claim to being the world’s largest free-standing stone structure. It was judged structurally unsound, and it was reinforced with steel.


College Affiliations

Every college at Yale is affiliated with residential colleges at Oxford and Cambridge and a House at Harvard. In 1965, Branford College was affiliated with Pembroke College,Oxford UniversityChrist’s CollegeCambridge University; and Quincy HouseHarvard University.

Dr. Kelvin Bowkett, Senior Tutor of Christ’s CollegeCambridge, has kindly provided the following explanation of these affiliations:In around the 1930’s a system developed in England whereby most of the Colleges at the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford paired up with a sister College at the other University. So, for instance, Christ’s College has a “sister” College in Wadham College, Oxford. This had its origins at a time when cross-country road and rail communication was not good and Senior Members visiting the other University for teaching or research found it convenient to have somewhere to stay and to eat. So each College offered hospitality to the Senior Members of the sister College at the other University. Gradually the relationship also came to mean that if an undergraduate student were going on to do a further degree at the other University they would normally apply (and, other things being equal, be accepted) at the sister College.

Similar pairings have since become established between Christ’s College and Branford College at Yale and Adam’s House (and more recently also North House) at Harvard. The Branford College affiliation dates from 1965 and, without checking the detailed records, my belief is that the then Master of Branford College … spent some time in 1964 in Cambridge at Christ’s College, either on leave or perhaps giving some visiting lectures. Seeing (and perhaps taking advantage of the Oxford link) he proposed establishment of a link between Christ’s and Branford: this was approved by resolution of the Governing Body of Christ’s College on 26th January 1965 and a subsequent College Order signed on 18th May 1965. At the time the following message was sent to Branford College:

We the Master or Keeper, Fellows and Scholars of Christ’s College in the University of Cambridge by Henry the sixth, King of England, first begun & after his decease by Margaret, Countess of Richmond and Derby, mother of King Henry the seventh augmented finished and established. Having received the resolution of the President and Fellows of Yale University dated the tenth day of April One thousand nine hundred and sixty five did by College Order signed this day confirm our minute dated the twenty sixth day of January of the same year by which was constituted an affiliation with Branford College. We reciprocate the warm regards expressed in that resolution and we have directed the Bursar to place the document received by us from Yale University in the College archives and to transmit this record of our own proceedings, duly sealed, to the Master and Fellows of Branford College in Yale University.

I have to say that the affiliation has not been all that active over subsequent years.