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Miller Hall at Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College

The following is taken from The Centennial History of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, Vol. 1, pages 296-297. The Grand Chapter refers to the early governmental structure of the Fraternity where one Chapter was chosen to administer the affairs of the multi-Chapter organization. Pennsylvania Epsilon is the Fraternity’s way of internally identifying its Chapter at Gettysburg College. Active members are undergraduates who are enrolled on the host campus. The “Centennial Year” mentioned is 1952 (the 100th anniversary of the founding of Phi Kappa Psi). Dates shown following a name and chapter designation represent the year of initiation into the Fraternity, not the college graduation year. MILLER HALL: FIRST CHAPTER HOUSE On June 26, 1884, the Grand Chapter as Pennsylvania Epsilon subchapter dedicated Miller Hall, the first chapter house of the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity to be built and owned by the Fraternity. The permission to build the brownstone structure was granted by the college only on condition that members would not live in it, but use it solely for meeting and social purposes. The originators of the idea for a permanent chapter house were Edgar F. Smith and Harry M. Claybaugh, who returned as alumni in 1880 and urged the active members to initiate a campaign for funds necessary for the building.

As originally planned, the building was to have been frame, with an estimated cost of $600 to complete it. After almost a year had passed no more than $200 had been raised, and the project languished. Brother George D. Gotwald refused to let the matter fail; he continued to write to alumni requesting encouragement, especially financial. On Feb. 10, 1881, a telegram was received from Daniel R. Miller, Pa. Epsilon ’56: “I will give $100 if you can secure the rest of the $1,000.” This injected a new enthusiasm into the chapter and from then forward the project moved steadily, although sometimes slowly. The cornerstone was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies on June 28, 1882. By this time the project had been twice changed, and enlarged to include a stone building with stained-glass windows, oak floors, and wall panels, and walnut interior woodwork. The winter of 1882 interrupted the work, and the Phi Psis were subject to unkind remarks from rival fraternities who asserted that finances had stopped the work, that the workmen would not trust them for payment, and that the building were never rise higher. When the warmth of spring returned, the work went forward as planned, and the falsity of their claims was evidenced. The final cost of the building was close to $2,500 – a fabulous sum for college men to raise in 1884! The greatest contributor to the building had been Daniel R. Miller, who repeatedly made donations and sent letters of encouragement. On the occasion of the dedication Brother Gotwald suggested that his assistance be memorialized by giving the structure the informal name “Miller Hall.” The suggestion met with thunderous applause, “and it was so ordered.” This, in brief, is the story of Phi Kappa Psi’s first chapter house. In this centennial year it retains its character, both inside and out, which the passing years have not altered. The large cut-glass chandelier with its sparkling prisms was “the rage of Gettysburg” sixty-eight years ago. Today it is a preserved relic of ancient times. The walnut mantle over the fireplace, erected in memory of Charles W. Carl by his parents, remains unchanged. Even our younger Phi Psis of Pennsylvania Epsilon can recall the hiss from the burning gas lights while a meeting was in progress, for these have been retained, and are used frequently. ****** The following is taken from Vol. 2, page 447: “The Executive Council (in 1928) appropriated the necessary funds to place a bronze marker on Miller Hall, the first home of Pennsylvania Epsilon Chapter to read as follows: Miller Hall – 1882 The first chapter house erected in the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, and the first college-fraternity house in the state of Pennsylvania And this, from page 506: On Oct. 15, 1932, undergraduate and alumni members of Pennsylvania Epsilon, at Gettysburg College, celebrated the semicentennial anniversary of the laying of the cornerstone at old Miller Hall. The claim was made that Pennsylvania Epsilon’s lodge was the oldest fraternity structure in the United States to be used exclusively and continuously for fraternity purposes.

The principal speaker was Dr. George Diehl Stahley, Pa. Epsilon ‘70, professor emeritus of biology and hygiene at Gettysburg College. In view of the historical significance and interest of his address, it is reproduced in full here. THE FIRST CHAPTER HOUSE: MILLER HALL George Diehl Stahley This chapter claims pioneer honors in the erection of college fraternity houses. A mural tablet on the outside wall of this house contains the following inscription: The first chapter house erected in the Phi Kappa Psi Fraternity, and the first college-fraternity house in the state of Pennsylvania. It is also claimed that it is the oldest fraternity building in the United States which has been exclusively and continuously occupied for fraternity purposes. Permission to locate the chapter house on the college campus was easily secured, for the president of the college at that time had two sons who were fraternity men; besides, four members of the faculty were Greeks, and on the college board were six loyal Phi Psis. Organized in 1855, the chapter was not comfortably housed for twenty years. In 1875, a hall with an anteroom was secured in town, which seemed temporarily to answer, but by 1880, agitation began, looking toward a house which should be owned by the chapter. This restless mood finally resulted in the erection of Miller Hall. Much of the credit for inaugurating this enterprise was due to Edgar Fahs Smith, ’73, who afterward became Provost of the University of Pennsylvania; Harry M. Claybaugh, ’73, who later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia; George D. Gotwald, ’78, one of a distinguished family of six Phi Psis; and Allen J. Smith, ’79, brother of Edgar and afterward professor of pathology in the medical school of the University of Pennsylvania. Subscriptions were solicited among the active former members of the chapter. Ground was broken in the spring of 1882, and the cornerstone was laid on June 28 of that year. The college celebrated its semicentennial during commencement that year, so that our exercises became part of the regular schedule of the college. About fifty active and (alumni) members of the Fraternity gathered to participate in the arranged program. Prayer was offered by the Revered Dr. D. M. Gilbert, ’56, after which a scholarly oration was delivered by the Reverend Dr. Wm. Edward Parson, ’62, who afterward became professor in the University of Tokyo, and whilst resident in Japan was decorated with the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese Emperor. After the oration, Judge Adam Hoy, ’55, one of the founders of the chapter and President Judge of Centre and Huntingdon counties, laid the cornerstone with due formality. The benediction was pronounced by the Reverend J. C. Koller, ’62. But the laying of the cornerstone was but the beginning of the house. Although the money needed was only $2,500, yet the subscriptions came in slowly, and it was not until Brother Daniel R. Miller, ’56, a wealthy coal operator and a member of the college board, contributed one-half of the cost of the building, that it became possible to dedicate and occupy it two years after the cornerstone was laid. The building was dedicated on June 24, 1884, during commencement week. A history of the chapter house was given by George D. Gotwald, ’78, after which reminiscences were indulged in by Judge Hoy, ’55; the Reverend Dr. Henry W. Kuhns, ’55, one of the founders; the Reverend Dr. L. A. Gotwald, ’56; Judge S. D. Schmucker, 60; Dr. G. D. Stahley, ’70; and Albert Kurtz, ’72.

The dedication address was delivered by Judge Adam Hoy. A short response on behalf of the chapter was made by E. I. Brenner, ’82, who was valedictorian of his class in 1886. Upon the reading of a letter from Brother Daniel R. Miller, expressing very great regret and disappointment at being unable to be present at the dedication exercises, Judge Hoy arose to move that the house then dedicated be named and be hereafter known as Miller Hal, in recognition of Brother Miller’s generosity, and in appreciation of his loyal Phi Psi spirit. The motion was heartily and unanimously carried. Miller Hall is now properly used for business and for initiations, whilst the commodious building erected in 1924 constitutes a comfortable home for the brothers and is the means of making companionship real and profitable. ****** Some of the following information is taken from an article, "Penn Epsilon’s Miller Hall," in the January 1956 (Vol. 76, No. 2), pages 80-81, of The Shield. “Of all the shrines of Phi Kappa Psi, perhaps the most cherished is Miller Hall.” It was the first fraternity house on the Gettysburg campus and the first in Pennsylvania, and ranks among the oldest continuous meeting places in the world of Greek letters. The remainder of what follows has been prepared for inclusion in the next volume of the Fraternity’s history, covering the 1952-2002 period. ****** REDEDICATION OF MILLER HALL As part of its centennial observance during Homecoming weekend, on Oct. 29, 1955, Pennsylvania Epsilon restored Miller Hall, which had been constructed over the period of a year beginning with the laying of a cornerstone in mid-1882, and its first use coming in September 1883. Epsilon then was the Grand Chapter. The first plans for the structure had been proposed in September 1880 by two alumni, Edgar Fahs Smith, Pennsylvania Epsilon 1873 and also a co-founder of The Shield, and Harry Claybaugh, who was initiated at the chapter in the same year. Only $200 of the $500 needed was raised, so the plans were dropped. Here is how the Shield reported what happened next, in its January 1956 article on the restoration: “Unwilling to relinquish the possibility of a lodge, Brother George D. Gotwald ’78 solicited support from alumni. Finally a telegram was received from Daniel R. Miller ’56, the chapter’s eighth initiate, then a mine owner at Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, who promised ‘I will contribute $100 if you can secure the rest of the $1000’. When this message was read in chapter meeting, the members burst into applause and immediately appointed committees to execute the plans and raise the necessary money. “The college trustees granted permission to erect the building on condition it would not be used for sleeping purposes, and granted the site for the lodge. Founder Adam Hoy laid a cornerstone, containing various publications, on June 18, 1882, at the same time the college celebrated its semi-centennial.... (Hoy had been in the group of five initiates that began Epsilon.)

“With the winter of 1882-83 intervening, work was delayed, to the delight of the non-Phi Psis at Gettysburg, who taunted the Penn Epsilon boys with the ’failure’ of their project. By commencement 1883, however, the finishing touches on the exterior were being applied, and in September, 1883, the little lodge was ready; the motto on the fireplace, ‘Good friends, good fire, good cheer’, reflecting the days and years ahead. “The dedication of the new hall and a reunion of alumni were part of commencement in 1884. During the course of the exercises someone suggested that the building be named in honor of Daniel Miller, who had contributed nearly half of the $2500 final bill for construction. In addition, an inscription in Latin had been placed on a walnut mantelpiece to memorialize Charles W. Carl, a popular undergraduate who died on Feb. 17, 1882. The mantel was a gift of his parents.” On June 12, 1928, a bronze plaque was presented by the national Fraternity, and placed on the exterior wall to commemorate the significance of the building in fraternity lore. A number of minor repairs had been made through the years but it was only a few years before 1955 that gas lighting still prevailed in the meeting room. Here’s a description of its layout and condition in 1956: “Containing one meeting room, an anteroom and vestibule, Miller Hall maintains the spirit of the fraternity of seventy-five years past. “A pattern involving the letters Phi, Kappa, and Psi, weaves a strong band around the walls of the meeting room; a large gold reproduction of the shield is painted into the back wall, and the chairs used by the officers appropriately bear the initials of the Fraternity’s name. “High stained-glass windows permit a minimum of light to enter the room in daytime and a few small electric fixtures suffice for night meetings. Gas fixtures, including the ornate, prismed glass chandelier which set Gettysburg talking in the Victorian era when it was new, still are untouched by modern influence. “Valuable relics and a rich collection of documents and photographs of a century’s span are stored in the anteroom, which with the vestibule are arranged to effectively administer the initiation ceremony. These include baldrics almost a century old, each bearing the symbol of the officer by whom it was worn; a nearly complete file of The Shield, countless letters pertaining to the chapter and Fraternity, many Phi Psi mementoes ranging from bids given in 1856 to dance programs of 1955, and the old press seal of the Grand Chapter of Phi Kappa Psi, left behind in 1886 when Grand Chapter government ended. “Constructed of stone, the roof and gables are frame. Three gables in front bear the raised painted letters, Phi, Kappa, and Psi, and two others have cut-out forms of the badge on them. A luxuriant growth of ivy covers the building, and laurel plants surround the sides and back. “After each of the weekly meetings held in the hall, while the Brothers stand hand in hand around a circle, the chapter’s chaplain repeats these verses written soon after 1884: ‘Until our life’s work here on earth is done, Until our hands can do no more, Until we sit at setting sun, And listen for old Charon’s oar; Let us revere this dear old hall, And strive with heart and mind and soul; May God’s blessing be upon us all, And ever lead us to His goal’.” ******

A CHARTER IS FOUND Since 1946 the ancient Phi Psi charter granted to Pennsylvania Epsilon in 1855 had been missing, with some believing it probably was hidden in the Phi Gamma Delta meeting room at Gettysburg College. In September 1956, part of the rumor proved true when the charter was found at Gettysburg College -- inside a locked cabinet in the school’s Science Building. In 1943 the chapter had “retrenched” to famed Miller Hall when the chapter house was taken over by the U.S. Army. For reasons of safety, the original charter was removed from that little building and placed in a local bank vault. When Phi Psi veterans began to return in 1946, according to a report in the November 1956 issue of The Shield, the late Dr. George R. (Bowley) Miller, Pennsylvania Epsilon 1915 and a professor of physics as well as chapter advisor, took the old charter from the bank to his home. He was planning to return it to Miller Hall. “Then, somehow, the charter vanished,” according to The Shield report. “Soon after college opened (in the fall of 1956), a faculty member and a student were cleaning out some cabinets in the Science Building. They had to force the lock on one cabinet drawer because no key could be found to fit it. “Finally, when the drawer was opened they were disappointed to find nothing but ‘a large piece of black velvet cloth’. When they took the cloth out of the drawer and removed its contents, the missing charter was found. And by some sort of reconstruction and conjecture, the mystery has been solved. Apparently Doctor Miller took the charter to the Science Building and locked it in the cabinet, to give it to the next Phi Psi who came to the building. And then it was forgotten. “Treasured as a rare document, the charter is an outstanding example of Tom Campbell’s ornate pen work which characterized many Phi Psi papers he executed in the Fraternity’s earlier years. Done on three sheets of foolscap paper glued together to make a long sheet, the 101year-old charter is in an excellent state of preservation. And it bears Tom Campbell’s signature in two places -- at the bottom, as an officer of the Grand Chapter, and along the left side, indicating the charter is a product of his fertile brain and facile pen.”