In 1754, classes at King's College were first held inside the vestry room of the Trinity Church schoolhouse on lower Broadway. From the schoolhouse, the College moved to its own building in 1760. The three Columbia sites are:
The most frequently consulted resources for questions about campus sites, buildings and features:
Buildings and Grounds Collection
Compiled over the years by University Archives staff, the Building and Grounds Collection contains materials relating to Columbia University’s buildings and grounds on the three sites that have served as the University's main campus as well as other real estate used by the University. It contains floor plans and correspondence related to the construction and maintenance of buildings, as well as information about Columbia University’s grounds: gates, walkways, outdoor sculpture, and landscaping. The collection includes maps, press clippings, images, and administrative reports - all of which are useful if you are trying to trace the history of a particular building or campus feature.
Historical Photograph Collection, Series VII: Buildings and Grounds
Among the largest series in this extensive photograph collection, images include interior and exterior images of buildings and campus features for Columbia’s various homes over the years as well as places associated with Columbia but not located at one of the main campus sites (e.g., Baker Field).
Office of the Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds records
This small collection of contracts, specs and receipts offers a glimpse into the development and management of campus properties. There is information about the construction of the Morningside buildings and the expenses incurred on the new campus.
These collections are only available in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room. Visitors are required to register their own Special Collections Research Account before their visit and to validate the account in person with government-issued photo identification or Columbia ID card. Once you have created your Special Collections Research Account, you will be able to request the materials directly from the finding aids: click the check box located on the right for the box(es) you need, and then scroll back to the top of the container list document and click “Submit Request” button in the red-rimmed box at top. This should lead you directly to your Special Collections Research Account to complete the request form. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.
For the Park Place campus building:
For the Madison Avenue campus:
For the Morningside Heights campus:
For additional campus photographs and viewbooks, please visit our Booklets, Guides and Campus Viewbooks website.
For the 49th Street campus:
To learn about the Morningside campus:
Bergdoll, Barry. Mastering McKim's plan: Columbia's first century on Morningside Heights. New York: Columbia University, Miriam and Ira Wallach Art Gallery, 1997.
Issued in conjunction with two exhibitions held at Columbia University: Mastering McKim's Plan, at the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, and Constructing Low Memorial Library, in the Rotunda of Low Memorial Library, Columbia University, October 1997 to January 1998.
Dolkart, Andrew. Morningside Heights: a history of its architecture & development. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.
The announcement during the final years of the nineteenth century that the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Columbia College, St. Luke's Hospital, Teachers College, and Barnard College would construct new complexes on Morningside Heights heralded the transformation of this geographically isolated area into "the Acropolis of New York."
Robson, John Williams. A guide to Columbia University, with some account of its history and traditions. New York: Columbia University Press, 1937.
The 1937 update to the 1912 An official guide to Columbia University. Prepared as a guide to visitors and prospective students, this booklet includes a history of the University, facts and figures, and a walking tour guide to the campus on Morningside Heights.
The Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Librarians have put together a Columbia University buildings bibliography. These selections include information about the maps, the Morningside campus, Barnard College, the Manhattanville campus, the Medical Center, and the Baker Field Athletics Complex.
In addition to the holdings at the Columbia University Archives, you can find Morningside Heights campus architectural drawings at the Avery Drawings & Archives Collection at the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.
Columbia University architectural drawings, circa 1888-1957
Architectural drawings, surveys, maps, and site proposals, for Columbia's Morningside Heights campus, designed primarily by McKim, Mead & White. Drawings for buildings no longer in existence or never constructed and drawings for later alterations, are included. Architectural drawings of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum, and surveys of the asylum site prepared for Columbia, 1888-1894. Also included are site plans and proposals, surveys, and maps, circa 1890s-1910s, showing the surrounding area, including such institutions as the Jewish Theological Seminary, St. Luke's Home, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Grant's Tomb, and others. This collection is available for use by qualified readers by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please contact email@example.com.
Columbia University, Department of Facilities Management, architectural drawings, 1895-ongoing
Architectural drawings (no longer in current use by Facilities Management), transferred to the Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library from the Department of Facilities Management pertaining to proposals, construction, alteration and addition of properties formerly used or owned, and buildings demolished or still extant. The dates of the materials span 1895 to today. The drawings include plans showing the heating and ventilation systems, electrical and plumbing details, and some original construction materials.
McKim Mead & White architectural records and drawings, 1879-1958
Architectural drawings and photographs of buildings designed by the firm dating approximately from its founding to the 1950s. Among those represented are buildings at the World's Columbian Exhibition, Chicago, 1893; Pennsylvania Railroad Station, New York, 1906-1910; restoration, 1903, of the White House, Washington, D.C.; and the buildings at Columbia University's Morningside Heights campus, New York. The archives of the architectural firm of McKim Mead & White are held at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.
The following is a list of sources, all available online, to help you start your research in to Low Memorial Library.
During the COVID-19 quarantine, the University Archives shared some of our favorite facts, stories and photos about this iconic building to help bring Columbians a little closer to campus. The #WeMissLow series covers a wide range of topics illustrated by photographs and enhanced with links to other resources.
When the Low Library opened, a number of brochures and viewbooks were published to showcase the new Morningside campus. These publications are available online:
Memorial Library to their new home in South Hall (now Butler Library) through a series of hoists, ramps and pulley carts. It took twelve professional movers and 60 students (paid 50 cents an hour) 35 working days between August 20 and September 19 to complete this monumental task. This 11-minute video captures the transfer of the books: the crates, the ramps, the library staff, but also the campus: see the sundial whole, the tennis courts on South Field, and Alma supervising the entire project.
Martineau, Kim. Six Secrets of Low Library. Columbia News, July 7, 2022. Behind Low’s Beaux Arts columns lie unusual treasures and odd bits of geological and historical lore you won’t find in any guidebook.
Happy 125th Birthday, Low! Columbia College Today, Summer 2022.
Spectator - The Columbia student newspaper is easily searchable and covers the life of Low Library from construction to the present day.
The Record - This publication from Office of Communications and Public Affairs is available online from 1973 to 2016.
Library Columns - This journal was published by the Libraries' special collections staff members from 1951 to 1996. It includes a number of articles on the history of Low Library, the libraries at Columbia and its collections.
Columbia University Quarterly - This journal was published by the Alumni Federation of Columbia University from 1898 to 1941. In addition to the articles, each volume includes an update from the University Librarian.
Annual Reports - The Annual Reports of the President and Treasurer to the Trustees offer a yearly "state of the University" from 1891 to 1946. In addition to the President's remarks and the Treasurer's financial reports, the Librarian submits his account of the work in the libraries.
Landmark Preservation Documentation - The Low Memorial Library building received New York City landmark status in 1966 and the interior of building, in 1981. The library joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
These collections are only available in person at the Rare Book & Manuscript Library (RBML) reading room. For more information on how to access our collections, check out our Research & Access website.
Compiled over the years by University Archives staff, the Building and Grounds Collection contains materials relating to Columbia University’s buildings and grounds on the three sites that have served as the University's main campus as well as other real estate used by the University. This collection includes materials about spaces inside Low (Faculty Room, the Trustees Room, and the Twombly-Burden Room) and space outside, Low Plaza.
This is the core administrative collection of records, from the 1890s to the present. Central Files chiefly contains correspondence (sent and received) between Columbia University administrators and other University officers, faculty, trustees, and individuals and organizations from outside the University. For information about Low Library, look for correspondence with George Baker (University Librarian when Columbia moved uptown), McKim, Meade and White (the architectural firm that designed Low Library), and with the Superintendents to find out about the everyday issues with the construction and management of the building (Edward A. Darling, Frederick Goetze, Henry Lee Norris, David Updike, etc.).
This collection comprised of correspondence, diaries, lecture notes, essays, and administrative documents related to Columbia University includes the Trustees’ Committee on Library minutes from 1900-1915, the early days of Low Library (see item 184). You can also consult the full Minutes of the Trustees.
Historical Photograph Collection, Series VII: Buildings and Grounds
Among the largest series in this extensive photograph collection, images include interior and exterior images of Low Library over the years, but also the McKim, Meade and White construction photographs, postcards, and the official University Photographer prints starting from the 1930s.
For additional photographs, see the following collections:
Will Csaplar Postcard Collection, 1900-1950s - This collection consists of postcards from the early twentieth century depicting Columbia University buildings, sites, and related imagery. These postcards were collected over the years by Columbia alum Will Csaplar (AB 1957, AM 1958).
Holcomb E.M. Jones Photograph Album, 1936-1943 - For a student's perspective, this album documents Jones's days as a student at Columbia College from 1936 to 1940, and includes photographs of Low Library during King George VI's visit to campus in 1939.
John Mladinov Photograph Collection, 1939-1942 - Another collection of photographs depicting campus activities, individuals, and student life taken by Mladinov, an undergraduate student enrolled at Columbia University between 1939 and 1942.