College Hall, now Davis Hall, is perhaps the most recognizable building on the Quadrangle because of its castle-like appearance. Built in 1895 to replace the original 1891 College Hall, which was leveled to the ground within an hour by a raging fire in 1895. Fortunately no one was hurt as the building’s occupants were attending church in the village at the time.
Renamed in 1896 to honor Gov. John W. Davis, a prominent figure in Rhode Island at the time, the four-story, campus-quarried granite building with a boulder basement anchors the west end of the Quad.
Best known for its bell tower, Davis bells originally rang to signal the time to eat, go to class, and attend chapel. An electronic carillon installed in 1967 chimed out the hours with recognizable tunes. Today only the hours are chimed.
In the early years, Davis served primarily as a men’s dormitory, by 1920 space was given for a campus library. In the 1930s, the building became a women’s dorm with the basement serving as a campus infirmary. After Roosevelt Hall opened in 1937 as a new women’s dormitory, Davis no longer housed students. During World War II, Davis became headquarters for the military department. Secretarial science training courses for women were offered and played a large role in the state’s war effort.
Davis has served as administrative space ever since.
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.