American Studies

History of Morgan Hall

historic Morgan Hall


Morgan Hall was the College's first library and is now used for the Departments of American Studies and Anthropology and Sociology. On the second floor of Morgan hall is Bassett Planetarium, which is open to the public.

Named after Henry T. Morgan of New York, Morgan Hall was built in 1853 as the college's first official library. The library was also the first building on the Amherst campus to be constructed with stone, gneiss quarried from Pelham. Before overcrowding, the library contained more than 30,000 volumes. As a student at Amherst, Melvil Dewey designed his decimal classification system, and Morgan Hall was the first library to use it. Dewey served as Acting Librarian of the college from his graduation in 1874 through 1877. Despite an 1883 addition, the library had more than exceeded its storage space by 1917, and the holdings were moved to the new Converse Memorial Library. Today, the lower floor of Morgan Hall still holds memorials to the college’s history: a mural “The Early Days of Amherst College” painted by the class of 1940 and a cannon from the Civil War battle at New Bern, North Carolina given to the College in honor of President William A. Stearns' son Frazar Stearns 1863, who was shot and killed at that battle. This room on the second floor of the Morgan Hall Library served as a reference and reading room.


College Library Reading Room, c. 1890


Photograph by: Edward P. Harris, c. 1890



Credits: History courtesy of "Amherst College Campus Tour," Office of Admission; Photo of Morgan Library reading room, circa 1880, courtesy of Amherst College Archives and Special Collections.