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Mrs. Perkins' Union College 1895-1904: Walking Tour Vantage Points: Vantage Point 8

This guide includes information organized for an historic tour of Union College that may be accessed via a mobile device and QR codes. See the Mrs. Perkins’ Union College site on the library’s home page for more information about this project.

Vantage Point 8: The President’s House / Hoffman House (now Feigenbaum Hall)

The President’s House / Hoffman House (now Feigenbaum Hall) is the eighth of ten vantage points on a self-guided tour of Mrs. Perkins’ Union College, 1895-1904.  Mrs. Perkins, the wife of Professor of Chemistry Maurice Perkins, lived on campus for nearly sixty years and wrote vivid letters to her son Roger about her life at Union at the turn of the 20th century. These letters were recently donated to the College by a Perkins descendent.  An interactive map of the entire campus in Mrs. Perkins’ day is posted on the Schaffer Library website at http://www.schafferlibrarycollections.org/s/mrs-perkins/page/interactive-map.  The library’s website also includes excerpts from Mrs. Perkins’ letters and additional pictorial, historical, and biographical material as well as further information about this Schaffer Library Digital Project. 

 

Andrew Van Vranken Raymond, a Union graduate and clergyman, was President of Union College during the entire decade when the Perkins letters were written.  It was a time of great change. Despite the dire financial challenges faced by the College – which also seriously considered a move to Albany at this time – Raymond would preside over an era that saw the College begin to establish itself on a sound fiscal basis after decades of losing ground.  His leadership also helped to increase enrollments and donations to the College and to revitalize its curriculum through his efforts to establish connections with General Electric, start an electrical engineering program, and strengthen other academic offerings. The Perkins family knew the Raymonds well, and Mrs. Perkins would often visit Mrs. Raymond, who was not only an engaging woman and personal friend but someone who kept her up-to-date on College affairs, which Mrs. Perkins then duly reported in her letters. It is evident, however, that Mrs. Raymond took some care to avoid sharing inside information about matters that directly affected the extended Perkins family.  When in 1902 the Board of Trustees was considering whether it could afford to retain both Mrs. Perkins’ son-in-law and another professor in the same academic department, and Ms. Perkins was understandably anxious, the Raymonds appear to have stayed carefully out of the matter until the other professor resigned.

 

One of the many changes to the campus during Raymond’s era was the selling of College property to the east and west in order to raise badly needed funds, more or less establishing the footprint of the campus as it is known today.  One parcel that was sold during Mrs. Perkins’ time but later repurchased by the College was at the far southwest corner, where the building now known as Webster House stands.  This piece of land was sold in 1901 for the construction of the Schenectady public library, and Mrs. Perkins described the laying of its cornerstone with Masonic ceremony in 1902. After the public library outgrew its space in 1970, the building and land were repurchased by the College, and Webster is now a student residence.

 

During the period of Mrs. Perkin’s letters the structure now known as Feigenbaum Hall or the College administration building was a combined faculty residence and fraternity house.  Philosophy Professor Frank Hoffman, who taught at Union for some thirty years, lived here.  He was a widower but remarried during the decade of the letters; Mrs. Perkins met his new wife soon after their marriage, and the two would visit each other frequently in the following years. The house was divided vertically and the other half of the house was occupied by Phi Gamma Delta, the fraternity that Professor Hoffman had belonged to in college.  The fraternity moved out when it built its own house in 1907, but the Hoffman family lived on.  Tragically, a raging fire broke out in the house in 1918, killing Hoffman’s grandson and a nursemaid. Reconstruction of the building afterwards substantially altered its appearance. 

 

Map links: Raymond; Public Library; Hoffman-Phi Gamma Delta

 

Walk northeast between Silliman Hall and either Feigenbaum or North College towards Vantage Point 9, Silliman Hall, east side.