More than meets the eye: Carmichael Hall

A photo of Carmichael Hall shot in 1955. Via Edwin B. Rollins / Tufts Digital Library

We’re all familiar with the debate over whether Carmichael Dining Center or Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center is the superior dining location, but what many Tufts students may not be aware of is the story behind this beloved dorm and dining hall.

A year after its authorization, construction of a new men’s dormitory began in 1953. The hall was named Carmichael Hall to honor Tufts trustee and seventh president, Leonard Carmichael (A’21). Carmichael was appointed president in 1938 and served until 1953 before becoming the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1953 to 1964. 

The construction of Carmichael Hall was financed in part by general funds and a federal loan of $1,065,000. The building officially opened its doors in the fall of 1954 and was dedicated to former president Carmichael on Homecoming Day of the same year. In a Tufts Weekly article detailing Homecoming and the dedication ceremony, Carmichael was quoted saying the “real educational purpose of an institution is symbolized by its physical plans” in his address to students. Carmichael’s family had a deep connection to Tufts; in his dedication address, he referenced his grandfather who was a former member of the Board of Trustees and helped raise money to build the college in the 19th century. He also mentioned that his parents had held their wedding ceremony at Goddard Chapel. Carmichael himself was a Tufts alumnus, who was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in 1921. 

Carmichael Hall was designed in a Georgian style by Arland A. Dirlam (A’26), another Tufts alumnus, who graduated from Tufts in 1926 with a degree in civil engineering. In addition to Carmichael Hall, Dirlam had also designed many of the other buildings on the Medford/Somerville campus such as Cohen Auditorium, Hodgdon Hall, Bendetson Hall and Jackson Gymnasium. 

Carmichael Hall was constructed by John A. Volpe Company on the former site of the Mystic Reservoir — a particularly meaningful place to Leonard Carmichael, as it was the location of an annual firework display that he enjoyed with his mother every Fourth of July. The Mystic Water Works Reservoir had been built between 1862 and 1864, and according to a Tufts Daily article from 1983, “it became the center of attraction for hundreds of extra-curricular activities held on the grassy fields surrounding it.Carmichael hoped the beacon at the top of Carmichael Hall — 75 feet above the ground — would serve as the light on the hill and be seen from the surrounding communities.  

At the time, Carmichael Hall was the first men’s dormitory to be constructed at Tufts in 25 years and initially intended to house students in the Navy and Air Force ROTC programs. The original layout included 118 rooms to house 285 students, two faculty residences, a spacious lounge on the first floor and a cafeteria-style dining room that could sit up to 350. 

The Carmichael Hall of the 1950s was much different from the residential and dining hall we know today. According to a 1954 Tufts Weekly article, an Inter Dormitory Council committee proposed the rule that “all men eating in Carmichael hall be required to wear coats and ties five nights a week.”  At a previous meeting, the Council had also discussed whether or not women should be allowed into the dormitories, and eventually settled on the use of a specific visiting hour schedule and a separate party schedule. This question, in some form, would persist throughout the century.  Even as late as 2000, a Tufts-wide coed housing proposal was turned down.

In terms of Carmichael’s dining hall, every Tuesday and Thursday, students wishing to bring a faculty member to dinner could purchase a $1 ticket to do so, which would later be reimbursed, according to a Tufts Weekly article from 1967. The purpose of this was to foster deeper connections between faculty and students and continue conversations outside the walls of the classroom. In the late 60s, Carmichael Dining Hall underwent a “major face-lifting” in which the “aesthetic character of the room” was changed, the seven-day line relocated and the kitchens renovated. 

Tufts intended to build additions to Carmichael Hall between 1982 and 1983, but was delayed due to funding issues. The dining area was located on the previously “grassy plot in back of Carmichael, extending as far as the parking lot,” and upon completion, it would add 150 extra seats. At the time, students were concerned about the long lines to eat there. In a letter to the editor published in the Daily in 1982, three students wrote, “While the student population continues to increase, the size of the dining halls has remained the same. The result of this has been CHAOS AT CARMICHAEL!” But students would have to wait at least two more years until the renovations were completed to accommodate the growing student body.  

The beginning of the 21st century has proven to be a time of major changes for Carmichael, which slowly started to become the building we know today. The year 2000 brought about the “Premium Plan” providing students with unlimited access to dining at the Carmichael and Dewick MacPhie Dining Centers. 

“With this plan, a student can come into Carmichael in the early morning for a cup of coffee, come back after class for breakfast, come at 11:20 to grab something else, come later for lunch,” Director of Dining Services Patti Lee said in 2000. “You can just swipe your ID and come in.” 

In 2001, Carmichael hall offered “late lunch” for the first time, staying open from 7:15 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. It previously would close after 3 p.m. and reopen for dinner at 5 p.m.  

By 2005, Carmichael started making an effort to serve locally grown produce. To reduce food and energy waste, both Carmichael and Dewick-MacPhie Dining Centers stopped using trays in fall 2010, following a trial period at Carmichael Dining Center. More recently, 2016 marked the beginning of the infamous “late night dining” at Carmichael, open on Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Although some things, such as the hall’s iconic beacon and role as a gathering spot on campus have stayed the same, Carmichael has undergone many changes. The next time you’re enjoying a meal with your friends, you can think about the building’s roots and be glad that you’re not required to wear a coat and tie to enter.


COPYRIGHT 2021 THE TUFTS DAILY. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.