The Cloister, New Haven, Connecticut

The Cloister, the residence hall of the Book and Snake society, at the corner of Hillhouse Avenue and Grove Street in New Haven, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Book and Snake is one of the many secret societies at Yale, and it was established in 1863 for students at the Yale-affiliated Sheffield Scientific School. In addition to having a meeting hall, the Book and Snake was one of several societies that also built its own residence hall, which was named the Cloister. This highly-ornate brownstone building was the work of architect H. Edwards Ficken, and it was completed in 1888. It was subsequently expanded in 1915, shortly after the first photo was taken, with a matching addition to the rear.

With the advent of Yale’s residential college system in the first half of the 20th century, privately-run dormitories such as the Cloister and the nearby Colony of the Berzelius society, were phased out, and the property was eventually sold to the college. The Colony was later demolished, but the Cloister is still standing, with few exterior changes aside from the 1915 addition. Today, the building is known as Warner House, and it is used for administrative offices, including the Yale College Dean’s Office.

The Colony, New Haven, Connecticut

The Colony, the residence hall of the Berzelius society, on Hillhouse Avenue in New Haven, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The Berzelius was established in 1848 as a secret society at the Sheffield Scientific School. Although the school would later be absorbed into Yale University, it was originally only loosely-affiliated with Yale, and the Berzelius was the first such society to be established at Sheffield. Like the secret societies at Yale, it had a meeting hall, but in 1898 the society added a residence hall, which was known as the Colony. It stood at 17 Hillhouse Avenue, and it is shown in the first photo only a few years after its completion. The design was the work of noted architects Henry Bacon and James Brite, both of whom had previously worked for the prominent firm of McKim, Mead and White. The two men formed a brief partnership from 1897 to 1902 before going their separate ways, with Bacon eventually gaining fame as the architect of the Lincoln Memorial.

This building remained in use by the Berzelius as a residence hall until the early 1930s, when the society sold the property to Yale. However, they retained their meeting hall, and the Berzelius remains an active secret society on the Yale campus. In the meantime, though, this building was used by the school as a dormitory, and then as offices, before being demolished in 1969. The present-day building was subsequently constructed on the site, and today it is one of several nearby buildings that comprise Yale’s School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Alpha Delta Phi House, New Haven, Connecticut

The Alpha Delta Phi house at 15 Hillhouse Avenue, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1901. Image taken by William Henry Jackson, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

This building was designed by local architect William H. Allen, and was completed in 1895 for the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity. The Yale chapter of this fraternity had been established in 1836, but it was disbanded in 1873. However, it was revived in 1888, and in 1895 it became one of the school’s junior societies – as opposed to the senior societies such as the Skull and Bones. It moved into this building around the same time, and remained here until the early 1930s. During this time, notable fraternity members included author Stephen Vincent Benét, University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, Time magazine and Life magazine publisher Henry Luce, Chicago Tribune editor and publisher Robert R. McCormick, and playwright Thornton Wilder.

Alpha Delta Phi again disbanded in 1935, and at some point around this time the property here on Hillhouse Avenue was sold to Yale. The fraternity would again return to Yale in 1990, although not to this building. Since 1960, it has been the home of the Yale Collection of Musical Instruments, and during this time its exterior has seen few changes from the first photo. However, the surrounding area is very different from the turn of the 20th century, and the old fraternity house is now flanked by much larger academic buildings, birth of which are part of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

Wolf’s Head Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Wolf’s Head Hall, at the corner of Prospect and Trumbull Streets in New Haven, around 1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

The Wolf’s Head was established in 1883 as one of Yale’s secret societies. It was intended as an alternative to the more established Skull and Bones and Scroll and Key societies, and it got off to a strong start with the completion of this clubhouse in 1884. The building was an early work by McKim, Mead and White, which would go on to become one of the leading architectural firms in the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The first photo was taken nearly 20 years later, by which point the brownstone exterior was almost completely covered by ivy, obscuring much of its architecture.

This building was used by the Wolf’s Head until 1924, when the society moved to its current location on York Street. This property here on Prospect Street was then sold to Yale, who rented the building to several different organizations over the years. In 1994, it became home of the school’s Institution for Social and Policy Studies, and in 2006 it was joined to two neighboring buildings, with an addition that is partially visible on the left side of the 2018 photo. Today, the building continues to be used by the ISPS, and, despite the addition, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and from this angle the only other significant difference between the two photos is its appearance is the lack of ivy.

Old Dwight Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

The original Dwight Hall, on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, around 1900-1911. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The first photo shows the view from across the quadrangle at the Old Campus of Yale University. Several buildings are visible, including Durfee Hall on the far right and Alumni Hall just to the left of it, but the most prominent is the old Dwight Hall, which is in the center of the scene. This brownstone building was completed in 1886, and it was designed by noted architect J. Cleaveland Cady, whose other New Haven works include the historic Othniel C. Marsh House. It was built to house the Yale chapter of the YMCA, along with other religiously-affiliated campus groups, and it was named for Timothy Dwight IV, who served as president of Yale from 1795 to 1817. He was also the grandson of Timothy Dwight V, who became president of Yale in the same year that Dwight Hall was completed.

Appletons’ Annual Cyclopaedia of 1886, which was published in 1888, provides the following description of the building:

It is of brown-stone, irregular in shape, and two and a half stories high. The entrance is through an elaborate portico on the side of the building toward the campus, and on the opposite side is a large round tower with conical roof. The hall contains on the first floor a reception-room, finished in oak, which is also used as a reading-room, and four large rooms for class prayer-meetings, furnished respectively in butternut, walnut, oak, and cherry, with leather-upholstered furniture, and large fireplaces. On the second floor is a large hall for lectures, containing a valuable pipe-organ, and a library-room; and on the third floor are rooms for the curator of the building.

The organization came to be known as Dwight Hall at Yale, and it eventually came to include a wide variety of both faith-based and secular charities, advocacy groups, and other service-based campus groups. However, it was only headquartered here in its namesake building until 1926, when it was demolished to provide an unobstructed view of the new Harkness Tower, which is visible on the left side of the present-day scene. This was done in accordance with the wishes of Anna M. Harkness, who had donated the tower to the school, and it resulted in a large gap on the west side of the Old Campus quadrangle, as seen in the 2018 photo. Following the demolition, the Dwight Hall organization moved into the old library building, which is barely visible on the extreme left side of the scene. The building was subsequently renamed Dwight Hall, and today it continues to house the variety of groups that comprise the Dwight Hall at Yale organization.

Skull and Bones Tomb, New Haven, Connecticut

The Skull and Bones Tomb, on High Street on the campus of Yale University, around 1903-1912. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2018:

There are plenty of secret societies on college campuses across the country, but perhaps none are as famous, or mysterious, as the Skull and Bones at Yale. The society was founded in 1832 by William Huntington Russell and Alphonso Taft – father of future president and Supreme Court chief justice William Howard Taft – and  at the time it consisted of 14 Yale seniors. Each year, a new group of seniors was initiated into the Skull and Bones, which over time came to include some of the nation’s most powerful political figures. Alphonso Taft himself went on to have a successful career as Attorney General and Secretary of War during the Grant administration, and his far more famous son was also a member. Presidents George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush were also members, as was John Kerry, and other members have included a wide range of congressmen, cabinet members, Supreme Court justices, business executives, and other prominent leaders. This impressive membership roll, along with the group’s secrecy, has undoubtedly played a major role in the various conspiracy theories and other rumors surrounding the society.

Many of these rumors concern the interior of its meeting hall, which is said to contain, among other artifacts, the skulls of Martin Van Buren, Geronimo, and Pancho Villa. Appropriately known as the Tomb, the original part of the building was completed in 1856, on the left side of this scene. It featured a windowless, sandstone exterior that resembled an ancient Egyptian tomb, and was evidently designed by architect Alexander Jackson Davis, although other sources have credited New Haven architect Henry Austin with the design. The Tomb was subsequently expanded over the years, starting with an addition to the rear in 1883. Then, in 1903, it was doubled in size with a new wing on the right side that matched the design of the original section. The old front entrance became two narrow windows, and a new entrance was built in the middle of the two wings, as seen in the first photo.

Today, the Tomb is still standing, and still serves as the meeting hall for the Skull and Bones. Not much has changed since the first photo was taken more than a century ago, although the surroundings have. Immediately to the right is Weir Hall of the Jonathan Edwards College, one of the residential colleges at Yale. Not much of the building is visible except for the crenelated towers, which had once adorned Alumni Hall. Completed in 1853, and likewise designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, this Gothic-style building stood near the northwest corner of the old campus until 1911, when it was demolished to build the present-day Wright Hall. However, the towers were preserved, and were incorporated into the new building. Otherwise, the only noticeable change to this scene has been the construction of the adjacent Yale Art Gallery. This building, which is visible on the far left, was completed in 1928, and includes a bridge over High Street, located immediately to the south of the Tomb.