What Happened to Sisson Hall?

by Barb Sedlock, Metadata and Archives Librarian


Have you noticed the plaque in the ground near the sidewalk between Serrick and Defiance Hall?  It marks the approximate spot where Sisson Hall stood, a men’s dormitory fondly remembered by DC alumni.

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Trowbridge Hall, built in 1905 as a women’s dorm, started becoming crowded in just a few years.  Men were housed in a Trowbridge annex at the time, and clearly a second dorm for men was needed.   Through the generosity of benefactor Mrs. Ardella B. Engle-Blade, the new dorm was built in 1910-1911, costing $50,000.  Mrs. Blade asked that it be named for her late sister, Anna B. Sisson.  The dedication took place on February 17, 1911.  DC’s men played a basketball game against Tri-State in the new gymnasium as part of the dedication events.  Here is a link to a portrait of Mrs. Sisson and an article about her, from the 1910 Collegian:


Anna Sisson portrait


Besides functioning as a dormitory, Sisson’s basement housed a gymnasium with a balcony track, a swimming pool, shower facilities, tailor and barber shops, and locker rooms.  The gymnasium was used to host regional high school basketball tournaments in the 1910s and 1920s.  Here is a link to a brochure from the 1923 tournament, with a photo of Sisson’s gym:


1923 tournament program


The main floor of the building held a parlor with a fireplace topped with a portrait of Mrs. Sisson, mailboxes, and living quarters for the Dean of Men.  Most of the student rooms were on the second and third floors.


In the 1940s, with so many men returning from World War II to get an education thanks to the G.I. Bill, an annex was built on the back of Sisson to accommodate the larger numbers living on campus.  By the 1950s, the Sisson gym had become too small, and was only used for physical education classes and intramurals.  Varsity basketball games were instead played at Defiance High School (now the Junior High, downtown).  The increasingly leaky pool was drained and boarded over about this time.  In 1966 the gymnasium became the College’s theater space.


Sixty-one years after it was built, on February 21, 1973 at 2:30AM, Sisson Hall caught fire.  The cause was a student prank gone wrong, according to the March 1, 1973 Defender.  A student lit a newspaper on fire and stuck it under another student’s door, apparently thinking he would see it and put it out right away, but the fire got out of control.   Luckily, all students escaped unharmed except for one whose hands were burned.


Most students lost all their possessions in the blaze, but the Red Cross stepped in to help.  The College received donations of clothing for the students’ immediate use, and most were able to put in claims through their parents’ homeowner’s insurance to eventually replace their belongings.   Other DC students pulled together to collect donations of alarm clocks, radios, and tape players to replace the guys’ lost stereo equipment, and they also contributed class notes and textbooks to replace those lost in the fire.  Students from Manchester College sent donations of clothing and other supplies, as well.


Men were rehoused in various other dorms, with the majority going to McReynolds or the Pilgrim Halls.   Sisson was declared a total loss, and demolished later in the year.  The student prankster was suspended and released to the custody of his parents.


Professor Don Buerk is going to give a presentation on the history of fires on the DC campus on Thursday, April 21 at 7:30PM in Schomburg Auditorium, as part of the “Town and Gown” lecture series.  He will talk about Sisson’s fire, as well as those that occurred in Weston Hall, old Defiance Hall, and Enders Student Union.


If you want to read more about Sisson’s fire, stop by the Pilgrim Library and ask to see the original print version of the newspaper in the Archives.   The 1973 Defender issues have not yet been digitized because they were published in an oversized format, too big for our scanner.  You can read other material on the history of Sisson Hall in DC Memory  by selecting the “simple search” tab and typing “Sisson” in the search box.


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