The University of Mary Washington’s oldest dormitory, Willard Hall, originally completed in 1911, has become its most up-to-date after undergoing a $19.3 million renovation.

Students who were housed in neighboring Virginia Hall last semester moved across Palmieri Plaza into Willard this week. The renovated Willard will house 170 freshmen in double rooms with communal bathrooms.

The project has preserved some of the historic charm of the old structure and returned the building to its original appearance in other places, said Gary Hobson, UMW’s capital outlay director.

The exterior brickwork was repointed and cleaned and the original maple floors inside have been preserved where possible, Hobson said. The interior hallways have been widened to their 1911 appearance and the two staircases have been opened up and the original stone treads revealed.

There are plenty of modern touches, too, with a large open-plan common space and “teaching kitchen” with granite counters and stainless steel appliances on the main floor and multiple glass-paneled common rooms, media lounges and study nooks on the other two floors.

The plumbing, electrical systems, piping and ductwork are all new, as are the exterior windows, which are energy efficient, Hobson said.

Willard and nearby Monroe Hall made up the original buildings of what was then called the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Fredericksburg.

In September 1911, when students first moved in, the buildings were surrounded by “stables, mud, and flies,” according to W.N. Hamlet, a math and science professor at the school, as quoted in William Crawley’s book, “University of Mary Washington: A Centennial History.”

Willard was first called simply “The Dormitory” and later was named after Frances Willard, a 19th-century temperance leader and suffragette from New York.

According to Crawley, the choice of name was “a reflection of the political predominance of prohibitionists in Virginia at the time (and an irony for later student generations).” In the 1990s, Crawley writes, Willard had a reputation as a party dorm.

At one time, Willard contained a dining hall, classrooms, an infirmary, a gift shop and a post office.

In 1973, Willard became the first coed dorm, two years after the school—which was then named Mary Washington College—started admitting men.

According to Crawley, Willard housed seven male freshmen that first year. They were sequestered on the first floor and were not allowed to visit with the female residents during the week. They also were required to shout “man on the hall” when entering the basement, where the showers were located.

Crawley quotes one male student who said he liked living in Willard because the female residents of the dorm “do our laundry for us.”

Willard underwent the first renovation in its history in 1980, at a cost of $1.72 million. At that time, it was given a “modern” appearance with a color scheme in “fire-engine red, bright orange, fuchsia, lavender, black, peacock blue and white,” according to Crawley.

The dorm also became the first to get air conditioning at that time.

Willard got a second, modest $140,000 renovation in 2006.

In summer 2017, the dorm became uninhabitable when a steam tunnel running under the building ruptured, leading condensation to pool in the foundation and causing the first-floor floors to buckle and sink.

Hobson said the tunnel that ran through Willard’s crawl space was part of the main campus steam distribution line.

The tunnel was rerouted outside Willard and around the building, which contributed to the expense of the project, Hobson said.

Virginia Hall, originally completed in 1915, will be the next campus building to be renovated, according to Hobson.

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Adele Uphaus–Conner:

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