Welcome to Vassar: Architectural Walking Tours Open to All
Vassar College is very difficult to get into if you want to be a student there, but the elite, 149-year-old private college is making it easier for outsiders to enjoy its historic grounds and facilities. You don’t have to be a nostalgic alumna or an anxious prospective parent to get a guided tour of the campus in Poughkeepsie. On the next three Satudays (October 9, 16 & 23), Vassar will be offering architectural walking tours led by either Colton Johnson, an emeritus dean of the college and professor of English, who’s a major contributor to the online Vassar Encyclopedia, or by the duo of chemistry professor (and VC alumnus) Christopher Smart and psychology professor Randolph Cornelius. Vassar has been offering these public tours since 2004 when Princeton University Press published Vassar College: The Campus Guide, a book focused on Vassar’s architecture that also explored the college’s history through the development of its built environment.
The first of the “Seven Sisters” colleges to go coeducational in 1969, Vassar has been making history since 1865 when it opened its Main Building, which was then the largest building in the United States (with 156,572 square feet), which is one reason the grand Second Empire-style structure is on the National Register of Historic Places. The other campus building on the National Register is the Observatory that opened in 1864. “The original Vassar Observatory was completed and functioning as a top-notch research facility for the college’s first professor, the acclaimed astronomer Maria Mitchell,” says Jeff Kosmacher, director of media relations and public affairs, who is co-chair of the Campus-Community Advisory Committee. “It’s an important reminder of how central the sciences have been to the college from the very outset.”
Though once an ivory tower, Vassar now wants to be more accessible to the community at large. In the “For the Public” section of the Vassar Neighbors website, the college is cataloging the variety of Vassar resources available to the public. For instance, Vassar’s contemporary Class of 1951 Observatory is one of the most powerful in New York State, and it holds free public viewing hours every clear Wednesday night when classes are in session. Similarly, the college has recently centralized links to information on all of its arts offerings (music, theater, dance, and visual art) through the Arts at Vassar website. “Vassar is always looking for new ways to bring the public to campus and to remind people that the college is an open public resource,” says Kosmacher.
Vassar College Architectural Walking Tours
October 9, 16 & 23 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.