Barclay: A Hall of Hell-Raisers

After its founding in 1833, by 1875, Haverford was in need of a new dormitory. All the students and staff had been living in Founders, which was too small to hold the growing student body. Named after an influential 17th-century Scottish Quaker, Barclay was built in 1877 in the style of Elizabethan Gothic. The building was 278 feet long and could house 58 students. Prior to its construction, general living arrangements were very different in 1875. Students ate in Founders, gathered on the first floor of Barclay for devotional readings of the Bible at 8:50 p.m., then went to bed at 10 p.m. However, the construction of Barclay marked a movement of Haverford into the modern social space of the college.

A photo of Barclay Hall from the 1963 Haverford yearbook.

A photo of Barclay Hall from the 1963 Haverford yearbook.

Living in Founders, students had studied in supervised common rooms, and lived under the watchful eyes of their officers. In Barclay, that level of oversight was impossible. The students had far more spacious bedrooms, and private common rooms between every two bedrooms. This allowed the students a higher level of autonomy — perhaps this degree of autonomy was what led to Barclay’s prank-filled history. Many students know the tale of the then-soon-to-be-famous comedian Chevy Chase leading a cow to the upper floors of Barclay in the early 1960s. Chase’s classmate and former Haverford College president, Greg Kannerstein ‘63, never confirmed the validity of this tale. But what is more surprising is that Chase’s cow wasn’t the first bovine guest at Barclay. One book mentions the ‘calf episode,’ in which a “good sized calf” from a nearby farm found its way into the dorm. The pranksters who led the calf in then tried to “fasten into a room” the faculty member who tried to remove the calf.

Barclay was also famous for its pillow fights, and a stoop-dwelling campus celebrity dubbed ‘the peanut man.’ Before The Coop or Lunt Cafe, the peanut man would buy food [frequently roasted peanuts] off campus and sell it to students. Another faculty member remembers trying to extinguish a bonfire, only to discover the fire bucket had been filled with coal-oil. Hopefully pranks like these, detailed in this 2003 Bi Co News article, didn’t lead to the fire which burnt down Barclay’s central tower in 1946.

Over the decades, the students of Barclay put their scientific education to good use by freezing bedroom doors shut and calculating the trajectories for Magill Library-bound water balloons. The prankish energy was electric; freshmen turned off their bedroom lights so that the backside of Barclay spelled “FUCK,” (see picture) and four residents in the late 1960s infiltrated Haverford’s underground tunnel network to trigger a series of well-timed blackouts.

It makes sense that the oldest dorm on campus has the richest history. This year, work has continued replacing the slate roof with red and black Vermont slate, in keeping with the historic color scheme. There are also plans underway to replant the circle of seven trees that used to be on Barclay beach. Much has changed at Haverford and at Barclay, but much remains the same. The students are trusted with less supervision, just like those first fifty eight students. Hopefully this year’s activities will be as harmless as a pillow fight, but one never knows when Barclay may host another cow.

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