There’s something different about strolling through West Campus in the fall. With orange leaves spread out like fans on the dry campus grass and the chilly air ricocheting through the campus archways, Duke simply seems older. And it makes me think, what evokes this association with old New England-style Ivy League colleges on a campus built less than 100 years ago?
It all starts with stone—Duke stone to be exact, taken from a quarry in the Duke Forest in nearby Hillsborough, N.C. and assembled into the buildings that define Duke by the hands of Italian and Irish stonemasons.
In an effort to make Duke look like a collegiate Gothic campus, James B. Duke first inspected campuses like Princeton University and the University of Chicago for inspiration, said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for government relations and public affairs.
Captivated by Princeton’s Gothic collegiate style, Mr. Duke first tried to buy the Princeton stone, but was forced to find an alternative because it would be expensive to drill and transport the stone from Princeton’s quarry.
“The myth that he tried to buy Princeton [University] is complete B.S., but what is true is he was enamored with it and wanted to buy that stone,” Schoenfeld said.
Officials did find a quarry 15 miles from West Campus in Hillsborough, though, and have mined the stone ever since. The current rate is $500 per ton, said Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, adding that a ton of stone only covers 20 square feet.
The price seems to climb as time passes. In 2002, it cost $120 a ton to mine the stone, The Chronicle previously reported.
“That’s why they stopped building Duke stone buildings after the Second World War,” Trask said. “We still use it, but we use it sparingly.”
Since a single wall of the Westbrook Building—more specifically the one facing the Chapel—is 500 square feet, it is easy to see how expensive it is to mine enough stone to cover an entire building, Trask added.
The original buildings, as well as Few dormitory and the Allen Building are made entirely of Duke stone, Trask said. The Westbrook building and Goodson Chapel compositions are 80 percent Duke stone, and the part of Bostock Library that faces the West Campus quadrangle consists of 20 percent Duke stone.
The stone consists of 24 distinct colors, which make up Duke’s emblematic blue-gray hue. Not all of campus, however, is made of this stone.
“Duke stone is the distinctive stone, however, over the years designers have created what is known as Duke brick because it is a lot cheaper,” Schoenfeld said.
Trask said each brick costs less that $1.
Duke brick’s color was created to look as similar to Duke stone as possible. The brick is imported from Kansas because that state has brown clay, which creates brick with bluer colors, Trask said. He added that North Carolina clay is too red to create Duke brick.
Trask said Duke experimented with Duke brick 18 years ago when building the financial aid office behind the graduate school.
“That was just playing around with it, and then we spent more time trying to figure out the right mix of Duke brick and took out the yellow,” he said.
A careful look at Krzyzewskiville illustrates this evolution. The Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center, built in 2000, looks noticeably more yellow than the neighboring Michael W. Krzyzewski Center, built in 2008.
“You can see how the color has changed over time,” Trask said.
Another addition has been made to West Campus facades—the Duke stone wrapping paper that covers the plywood wall blocking off the renovations of the West Union Building and Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.
“If I used that everywhere we’d be much better off financially,” Trask said with a chuckle. “It’s 5 cents per square foot.”
Julian Abele was the architect of Duke’s campus, however his major role in shaping the campus was left in relative obscurity until a student stepped forward with the information in 1986.
To protest divestment in South Africa, students built shanties on West Campus in 1986 to draw attention to their cause. A Chronicle letter to the editor criticized the movement for violating students’ rights to a beautiful campus.
Abele’s grandniece Susan Cook then replied with a letter to the editor of her own, stating that Abele would have been proud of the movement as an African American who was “a victim of Apartheid in this country.”
“That was the first time people across the University were hit in the head that we were designed by an African American,” former University archivist William King said.
While a student was bringing this information to light, King was expanding his research on the men involved in building the campus. King came to Duke as the first University archivist in 1972 and had begun releasing this information via a monthly column, which would later by compiled into the book “If Gargoyles Could Talk.”
He discovered that E.H. Clement Company contractors took Abele’s designs and made them into reality by laying out the Duke stone on the buildings. In a six-page letter to the Horace Trumbauer architecture firm, where Abele worked, Clement outlined his “conclusions” as to how to lay out the Duke stone.
“It has occurred to me that it might be well to go on the record—in case I should not be around at the time—for the guidance of anyone who should have the supervision of future building operations at Duke University,” he wrote.
The conclusions include everything from how to handle the mortar—“local sand should never be used”—to the proper way to quarry the stone—“stone from the very top of the quarry to… about 25 feet below water level should be mixed so as to keep the work uniform color.”
He also drew attention to a “glaring mistake” due to the masons getting “slack and careless”—a few cracks in the buildings.
Mistakes made during the building process can still be found across campus.
Walking into the Chapel, one can find three secular figures on their right: Robert E. Lee, Thomas Jefferson and poet Sidney Lainer. King said when students saw the stone masons mount the statue of Lee, they noticed his belt buckle read “U.S.” Because Lee commanded the Confederate Army, the students considered this to be a mistake and told the masons to correct the issue, King said. A miscommunication occurred, however, causing the masons to only erase the S—an error that can still be seen today.
Additionally, on the top of the chapel there are supposed to be three leaders of the Methodist church: John Wesley, George Whitefield and Thomas Cooke. King pointed out that though Wesley and Whitefield are accurately represented, Cooke—a plump and clean-shaven man—is sculpted as thin and sporting a beard. King said the masons accidentally sculpted the Cooke that was part of Queen Elizabeth’s cabinet.
A 1930 Chronicle article states that the detailed stone carving work was done by special contract with John Donnelly, Inc. Donnelly trained three stone carvers, one of whom worked at Duke.
“Donnelly, in his prime, was second to no man contemporary with him in the profession of carving,” the article read.
Stone carvers added details that held significance for the original purposes of each building, King said. For example, an alchemist made by the stone carvers supports a bay window on the Old Chemistry building.
Indiana limestone was used for the stone carving because it is more resistant to inclement weather than other classes of stone, the 1930 article also stated.
King said the stone masons were largely of Italian and Irish descent, coming from all parts of the country. They had been trained in Italy, France or Scotland. Because the Great Depression hit at the time Duke was being built, many workers were willing to live in Durham to see the project through.
Tucked within one of the two massive manila folders containing King’s research in the Rubenstein Library was a 1985 interview with Louis Farra, a stonesetter for the Chapel.
“He was a stonesetter working with the Indiana limestone as opposed to the more common laborers, the stone masons. The masons worked with the Hillsborough stone or rubble. Wages, and I believe he meant his own, were $1.25 per hour maximum, based upon evaluation of performance, and around $55 per week,” according to King’s transcription of the interview.
The stonesetters were not the only ones with an eye for detail. The stone masons were sure to make every stone’s length twice as long as its height, so that a wall of stone looks cohesive even though the stones are different sizes.
Duke stone is still an integral part of the Duke brand. When the University launched the Duke-NUS medical school partnership, administrators installed a wall of Duke stone in the Singapore campus, and they are currently debating sending the stone to Duke Kunshan University via a boat through the Panama Canal.
Regardless of how construction has evolved both in Durham and abroad, the masons’ and carvers’ legacies remain literally etched in stone.
As an article on Duke stonemason Lucius Jeter in the Jones Journal reads, “[He] had a hand in every stone building ever erected on campus. Lucius Jeter is one of the several stone masons who feel that, in a sense, Duke University belongs to them.”