Washburn Hall, originally named Agriculture Hall, was built to centralize the studies of agriculture, animal husbandry, dairying and horticulture.
Unlike other buildings on the quadrangle at the time of its opening in 1921, Agriculture Hall had a simplicity of design. One special aspect inside the three-storied rectangular is its windows, which are greatly enhanced by deep plastered wall recesses containing them.
George E. Adams, Dean of Agriculture, called the building “a dream come true.” Interestingly, Adams was a member of the first class to graduate from the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and Mechanics in 1892.
The building, renamed in honor of the College’s first president, John Hoesa Washburn, has undergone a series of renovations to keep the building up to code and running efficiently. Starting in 2012, Washburn, East and Ranger halls had their slate roofs and windows replaced and their classrooms and hallways renovated. In 2016, renovations were made for handicap accessible entrances and a repaved parking lot.
Over the years, Washburn has served a variety of tenants. Perhaps its most unusual were housed in its basement, which once hosted a poultry farm to study the now famed Rhode Island Red. Years later, dental hygienist trainees got plenty of hands-on training there by offering to clean anyone’s teeth free of charge.
Today Washburn is home to the Departments of History and Political Science.
The stately buildings ringing the University of Rhode Island’s Quadrangle helped shape the story of the institution. Here, on the occasion of URI’s 125th Anniversary, we present you with a narrative behind the walls of that historic timeline.
**Much of the historic data in this article was culled from information provided by the late Sandy Taylor, a champion of historic preservation and land conservation, who served as University Architect from 1987 until his retirement in 2005. We are also deeply indebted to students enrolled in Catherine DeCesare’s history class last fall who provided additional information. DeCesare is a history coordinator, academic advisor, and lecturer. Finally, we would like to thank Mark Dionne, Archives and Special Collections, for his patience and vast knowledge.