Uris Library Historical Tour: Introduction

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My name is Anne Kenney and as Carl A. Kroch University Librarian, it is my pleasure to welcome you to the Cornell University Library, the center of Cornell’s rich academic life. To celebrate Cornell’s history the library has created a series of online tours to showcase the its central role in the university’s early development. To Andrew Dickson White, co-founder and first president of Cornell, “the ideas of a great university and a great library [were] inextricably linked.”

Built as Cornell’s first dedicated library building—the University Library—now known as Uris Library, opened on October 7, 1891—the twenty-third anniversary of the day that classes began at the university. Its completion fulfilled A.D. White’s dream to create what he called, “the noblest structure in the land.” Designed by Cornell’s first architecture student, William Henry Miller, whose portrait hangs on the northwall of the lobby, the building featured an innovative design that allowed for convenient access to materials, and was, in White’s words, “a marvel of good planning, in which fitness is wedded to beauty.” He also considered it “the best academic library built.”

Miller’s architectural influence looms large on campus. In addition to the library, which is considered his masterpiece, he designed four other major university buildings—Barnes Hall, Stimson Hall, Boardman Hall, and Risley Hall—as well as two fraternities, the A. D. White House, the Central Avenue Bridge, and Eddy Gate. Miller also designed numerous residential, business, and church buildings in Ithaca and theregion.

Built in an “Americanized” or Richardsonian-Romanesque style, the library is a cross-shaped structure with arcades of arches and squared windows. It is a “cruciform basilica” that features a large reading room—a “nave”—with excellent natural lighting from 29 windows and 20 clerestory windows. For a university famously founded as a non-sectarian institution, the new library building was Andrew Dickson White’s “secular cathedral” devoted to books and learning.

As the building was dedicated on that October afternoon, Cornell President Charles Kendall Adams noted: “To-day…we come together with glad hearts to celebrate the completion of what must for all time be the most important structure on these grounds.

I invite you to explore this “most important structure” and the rest of our world-class library. You just might be surprised by what you discover.