An Evolving Landscape

The Amherst College landscape has grown and evolved over the years to fit the changing needs of generations of students. Some buildings have succumbed to natural disasters or were outgrown, while others now fill new roles on campus. This page offers a glimpse of the campus through the years, as well as how Amherst is preparing its campus for its third century.

Amherst's first three buildings—South College (built 1820-1821), Johnson Chapel (1826-1827) and North College (1822-1823)—remain a prominent fixture on campus and a symbol of the College’s perseverance.

Stearns Church and Steeple

Built in 1870 out of local stone and a college president’s son’s hope for “a proper church,” Stearns Steeple and its nine bells are all that remain of the College Church. Dismantled in 1949, the church left its most striking feature quietly embedded between James and Stearns Halls. The New York Times wrote, though, that at intervals no one seems to be able to predict, chimes still resound from the steeple in memory of the college’s Civil War dead.”

Frost Library

The front of the Frost Library President John F. Kennedy came to campus on October 26, 1963, to receive an honorary degree and preside over the Robert Frost Library groundbreaking. In Coolidge Cage, Kennedy gave what historians consider to be his last major speech before his assassination a month later. Some 10,000 people came to Amherst for the event and his speech, which was unusual in its passionate support of the arts.

“I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist,” he said. “When power leads men towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.”

The library was completed in 1965, and poet Richard Wilbur ’42 spoke at the dedication.

A black and white photo of John F. Kennedy on the left and a photo of Joseph P. Kennedy III

In honor of the 100th anniversary of the late commander-in-chief’s birth, Amherst College held a symposium titled “Poetry and Politics: A Celebration of the Life and Legacy of President John F. Kennedy” on Oct. 28, 2017. The gathering concluded with a keynote speech delivered by U.S. Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-MA, on the steps of Amherst’s Frost Library—not far from the spot where his great-uncle, the president, gave a short speech almost 54 years to the day before.

Athletic Facilities

From its beginning, Amherst has created state-of-the-art athletic facilities for its students. Barrett Gymnasium was constructed in 1860, housing the Department of Hygiene and Physical Education. Twenty four years later, in 1884, Pratt Gymnasium (today the Charles Pratt Dormitory) was completed at a cost of $68,000, containing a main exercise hall, dressing rooms, a billiards room, and the Office of the Professor of Hygiene and Physical Culture. Today, Amherst's facilities include the Alumni Gymnasium and Athletic Complex, Coolidge Cage, LeFrak Gymnasium, Orr Rink and Conway Field House.