Geneseo Genealogy: Sturges Hall is a definitive, versatile, antique landmark

History professor Bill Cook has called a cramped room on the third floor of Sturges Hall his office since 1970. But upon visiting Cook’s office to discuss a paper or lecture, few would guess that 70 years ago it was actually someone’s dorm room.

Next to the Main Street bear and the Seuss Spruce, Sturges Hall is one of the primary images associated with Geneseo, and just like these two quintessential landmarks, it has an interesting and sometimes surprising history. Although we can see the building’s ivy-covered façade and regal clock tower in passing on any given day – or on the cover of almost every piece of publicity put out by the college – we don’t get so many chances to appreciate the origins of Sturges Hall.

According to the book SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy: 1871-2007 by retired education professor Wayne Mahood, the construction of Sturges Hall was completed in 1937 and was funded by a $475,000 grant from the state legislature. In its early years, Sturges was much more than a building with only classrooms and offices. It contained student and faculty lounges, a cafeteria meant to seat 250 students, dormitories and laboratories. What is now the psychology department’s office – the wood-paneled area near the front entrance to Sturges – was once the office of Geneseo principals and presidents, such as James Welles, after whom Welles Hall is named.

Sturges Hall is named in honor of James Sturges, who was principal of the State Normal School at Geneseo, the original Geneseo teachers college, from 1905-1922. Some of Sturges’ more notable accomplishments as principal include adding electric lights to the gymnasium in Old Maine, establishing Geneseo’s first summer classes and creating the special education program.

After President Robert MacVittie (MacVittie Union) revamped the campus buildings in the 1960s to accommodate Geneseo’s transition from teachers college to liberal arts college, Sturges Hall, Welles Hall, Wadsworth Auditorium, Fraser Hall and the Blake buildings are the only artifacts of the Geneseo Normal School and State Teachers College left.

Cook describes his office in Sturges Hall not only as a place full of memories of one-on-one conversations with students, but also as “a metaphor for [Geneseo].” He has added his own special touches to spruce up what he calls “awful SUNY furniture” by stealing discarded chairs from the president’s conference room, moving in his own antique wooden desk and laying down squares of a garbage-picked orange chair after an admissions office remodel.

“My office symbolizes the way Geneseo works,” Cook said. “The college provides basic things, but we have to be creative and entrepreneurial to become excellent.”