Columbia University Archives: Buildings & Grounds

University Archives

Butler Library postcardColumbia University Archives
Rare Book & Manuscript Library
Butler Library, 6th Floor
535 West 114th Street
New York, NY 10027

Phone: (212) 854-3786
Fax: (212) 854-1365
E-mail: uarchives@columbia.edu

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Related Collections

Barnard College
The Barnard Archives and Special Collections serves as the final repository for the historical records of Barnard College, from its founding in 1889 to the present day. For more information, please contact archives@barnard.edu.

Health Sciences Library
The Archives and Special Collections at the Augustus C. Long Health Sciences Library of Columbia University can help you find information about the schools of the Medical Center: College of Physicians & Surgeons, School of Nursing, College of Dental Medicine (formerly the School of Dental & Oral Surgery), Mailman School of Public Health, and the College of Pharmaceutical Sciences. For more information, please contact hslarchives@columbia.edu.

Buildings & Grounds

How to find information about the Columbia campus sites, buildings and features

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:

  • Park Place campus (1760-1857)
  • Madison Avenue campus (1857-1897)
  • Morningside Heights campus (1897-present)

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).

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:

  • Thomas, Milton Halsey. King's College building with some notes on its later tenants. New York 1955.
    A history of the first building for the College of the Province of New-York or King's College, which was in use from 1759 to 1857. The booklet also includes drawings, diagrams, area maps and a photograph of the site after demolition had commenced in 1857.

For the Madison Avenue campus:

  • Views of Columbia College: Madison and Park Avenues, 49th and 50th Streets. New York: Library Bureau, 1886.
    This booklet contains photographs of the Columbia College buildings on Madison and Park Avenues between 49th and 50th Street. This was Columbia's second of its three homes. The photos include the exteriors of the buildings (Hamilton Hall, School of Mines) and some of the interiors (Library, Collections Building).

For the Morningside Heights campus:

  • Columbia University 1897.
    A detailed guide to the buildings on the new Morningside Heights campus. This brochure includes drawings of the new buildings, floor plans and directories for each of the floors.
  • Columbia University. Dedication of the New Site. Morningside Heights. Saturday, the second of May, 1896.
    A commemorative program for the dedication of the new campus on Morningside Heights. It includes the morning and afternoon exercise programs as well as a history of the two previous University sites and information about the new site in Morningside Heights.

For additional campus photographs and viewbooks, please visit our Booklets, Guides and Campus Viewbooks website.

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 avery-drawings@libraries.columbia.edu.

  • 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.

For more information on how to access materials at Avery Drawings and Archives, see their FAQ for visits.

The archives of the architectural firm of McKim Mead & White are held at the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library.

Low Library, 1897 (Scan 2736). Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.Online Sources

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.

  • Guidebooks and brochures

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.
 

  • Online Publications
    • 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. The first issues from 1898 to 1919 (volumes 1 to 21) are available online. 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.

 

Low Library Rotunda (Scan 1165). Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.In-Person Sources

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

  • Photographs

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:

  • The Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection is another very large image collection, which contains prints, a very large number of photographic negatives covering the 20th century, color slides, and very recent image files from the early 21st century in print, negative, and digital formats. 
  • Walter L. Bogert Photograph album, 1932-1943 - Views of Columbia University in the City of New York and the surrounding neighborhood of Morningside Heights taken by Walter Lawrence Bogert (CC AB 1888, AM 1889, LLB 1934).
  • Margaret Bourke-White Photographs, 1931 - In 1931, Bourke-White was a widely recognized photojournalist when she photographed the Morningside Campus for the Columbia University Press.
  • 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.

 

Avery Architectural & Fine Arts Library 

 

About the image

South Field from Low Library, c1920s. (Scan #0037) Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives, Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Columbia University Libraries.