Building in a Time of War

Student and faculty labor was very important in building the Studies Building. This saved a lot of money in labor.
Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 1

Even before the United States officially join the war in 1942 war efforts were well under way. As the U.S. began sending raw materials and supplies to Allied countries, locating building supplies became a challenge. It was at this time that Black Mountain College (BMC) began the construction of the main building on the new Lake Eden Campus—the Studies Building—in 1940. Since building supplies were becoming more and more difficult to come by, and since the school was locked in a constant struggle to find enough funds, the faculty and students of BMC undertook a great majority of the work themselves, digging ditches, mixing and pouring cement, hauling gravel, rock, logs and coal, and much more. The college formed various work crews to aid in the construction of the Studies Building. Theodore “Teddy” Dreier, one of the original founders and primary fundraisers of BMC, felt that using the labor of the staff and students and procuring as much raw materials as possible directly from the campus would help save a substantial amount of money.[1] When he was not traveling and fundraising for the school, it was not uncommon to find Teddy Dreier helping out in the work crews or searching the campus for appropriate materials. It was with delight that Dreier and Charlie Godfrey located a sizable amount of gravel on the campus that had been deposited there by a recent flood.[2] However, U.S. war efforts were already apparent, as in the case of the Gideon Bible pamphlet encouraging men to fight “In Service of God and Our Country” that can be found in a correspondence between Dreier and E.F. Craven Company, a company that provided machinery.[3]

Even before the U.S. officially entered the war, war efforts were underway. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives.Fig. 2

This made fundraising more difficult for Dreier and BMC, although there were outside sources that attempted to help them out. Robert L. Duffus, editorial editor at the New York Times, and Mr. Robbins, a writer for the Sunday Magazine, both agreed to run an article on BMC’s building project if a connection could be made between the college’s Work Program and the defense program.[4] Both men felt this would be a good way to attract positive publicity to the college.

While the majority of the Studies Building was completed before the United States officially joined World War II, there were certain components of the building that had to remain incomplete until after the war. This was in part due to the lack of workers as well as a lack of available materials. The stone terrace beneath the building was not completed until 1944 and the panels of wormy chestnut could not be put up as siding for the hallways, resulting in the inhabitants suffering from a chronic rash from exposure to the insulation.[5]

    Letter from BMC to War Production Board requesting permission to rebuild a building that burned down. Courtesy of Western Regional Archives. Fig. 3

The Studies Building was the biggest building project that BMC undertook during wartime, but it was not the only project. In a series of correspondences between BMC and the U.S. War Production Board, BMC sought permission for various projects: to rebuild a building that burned down on campus, build additional farm buildings, make improvements to existing buildings, and even to make modifications to an aerator to convert it from water to refrigerant operated.[6] During World War II, it became necessary to obtain permission from the government for any sort of project that required the use of raw materials, metals, and/or certain chemicals.

BMC Application to modify Dining Hall. Courtesy of the Western Regional Archives.Fig. 4

From the main Studies Building to farm buildings to modifications on existing buildings, the war surely affected how and when the inhabitants of BMC built or modified buildings. Naturally, the college could not do as much as it would have wished as all possible materials were going towards the war. Although Black Mountain College, like every other institution in the country, went through a financially difficult time during the war, they did manage to erect a Studies Building to live and research in and to take care of basic upkeep of various structures on the campus.

 

To access the “Building the Studies Building” interactive, just click here!


[1] Theodore Dreier, Work Schedules,1934-1940,Ted Dreier Administrative and Subject Files, 1933-1949, Theodore and Barbara Dreier Collection, Box 39, Folder 105, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[2] Theodore Dreier, Lake Eden Construction Journal, 1940, Ted Dreier Administrative and Subject Files, 1933-1949, Theodore and Barbara Dreier Collection, Box 39, Folder 109, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[3] Theodore Dreier, Lake Eden Construction Journal, 1937-1942, Ted Dreier Administrative and Subject Files, 1933-1949, Theodore and Barbara Dreier Collection, Box 39, Folder 110, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[4] Theodore Dreier, Report on Trip to Princeton, New Hope, New York, Pittsburg, and Washington November 14-23, 1940, Ted Dreier Administrative and Subject Files 1933-1949, Lake Eden Steering Committee 1940-1941,Theodore and Barbara Dreier Collection, Box 39, Folder 108, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

[5]  Mary Emma Harris, “Education in a Time of War,” in The Arts at Black Mountain College (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002).

[6] War Production Board. Black Mountain College Papers. Treasurer’s Files. Box 9. Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 1 Work Program, Black Mountain College Papers, Box 8, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 2 Work Program Miscellaneous, Theodore and Barbara Dreier Collection, Box 110, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 3 Robert C. Orr to War Production Board, Black Mountain College Papers, Treasurer’s Files, Box 9, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

Fig. 4 War Production Board Application, Black Mountain College Papers, Treasurer’s Files, Box 9, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.

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