This image is from a real photo postcard, postmarked July 12, 1907. Old Main, with its signature tower, is on the far left side of the image and Spruce Hall is on the far right side. Spruce Hall wasn’t Spruce Hall then; it was called the Dormitory Building. Colorado Agricultural College (CAC) was having trouble growing its student population and CAC hoped that rooms for out-of-town students would help.
Spruce Hall was designed and built in 1881and is located on the north end of the campus, facing College Avenue. It is a two-story building, with a full basement and is categorized as an example of Italianate architecture and it has the features common to the style, a low-pitched roof, overhanging eaves with large decorative brackets, and tall, narrow windows, with arched tops.
The walls are composed of light and dark red bricks, with the darker bricks used as a decorative element. Stone is used on the basement portion. The building was designed to match Old Main, with many architectural features repeated, including the overall shape, window and stair construction, and even the colored brick pattern. The first design of the dormitory even had a tower but, according to the May 5, 1881 Fort Collins Courier, the tower was eliminated for cost reasons.
Originally, each of the two floors had nine dorm rooms, men on one floor and women on the other, and the basement housed the kitchen, dining room, and living space for the cook and her family. It served as a dormitory until 1893, when it was converted to class room space. I have a postcard from the 1920s that has the caption “Civil Engineering Building.”
When Old Main was burned down in 1970, Spruce Hall became the oldest existing building on campus. In 1977, CSU nominated Spruce Hall for the National Registry of Historic Places. Being the oldest building on campus was a significant selling point but the application also stressed the resemblance to Old Main, its architectural significance, and the fact that its setting and its exterior had experienced relatively few changes.
Below is a circa 1910 image of Spruce Hall compared to a photograph I took of the building in 2008. Except for the large 1925 northern addition and the hand rails on the front steps, Spruce Hall has remained very much the same.
The nomination for the National Registry also discussed the difference the building made to the school. With the new dormitory in place, enrollment almost doubled. Elizabeth G. Bell, the first female professor, was added to the staff in 1885 as professor of English, history, and modern languages. She lived in and acted as matron of the dormitory. And the dormitory served as a gathering place for students and staff alike but this led to one of the most interesting stories associated with Spruce Hall. Here it is as summarized in the nomination.
“This [socializing between students and staff] caused a large amount of friction and ultimately caused the removal of the first college president, Dr. Elijah E. Edwards. Professor Charles F. Davis lived in the Hall and was responsible for discipline. He fell in love with a female student. President Edwards ordered Davis removed from the building and faculty. Edwards and his wife moved into Spruce Hall and took over disciplinary duties. Davis gathered support for his reinstatement and when the governing body of CSU met on April 5, 1882, Edwards was forced to resign his position. Professor A. E. Blount, also a Spruce Hall resident, took over as acting president.”
The nominating application was approved and Spruce Hall was entered in the National Registry of Historic Places Inventory in1978. In the same year, Ammons Hall and the Botanic & Horticultural Lab (Routt Hall) joined Spruce Hall in the National Registry, still the only CSU buildings to achieve that honor.