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Yesteryear Archives: Hawley Armory

Hawley Armory, established in 1914, was designed for the military department, and for athletic, social and theatrical activities, according to a February 1914 article in The Lookout, the precursor to The Daily Campus.

It was that and more to the growing Connecticut Agricultural College: its name was a memorial to a student.

Hawley Armory, shown here in 1935, was once the center of campus activityWillis N. Hawley was born August 9, 1875, to an old Connecticut family. After three years at Newtown Academy, he attended Storrs Agricultural College, beginning in the fall of 1895.

He was a right end on the football team, said to be "a hard tackler and dependable at all times," and also was a member of the Shakespearean Club. His aptitude for military training resulted in his becoming a first lieutenant of the cadet company and soon after graduating in 1898, he joined the U.S. Army.

All through the spring of 1898, the campus - like the nation - had been alive with talk of war with Spain.

"Military training, formerly an irksome duty at Storrs, began to take on new significance, and the Lookout published pictures of the cadet company, resplendent in its new blue uniforms," wrote Walter Stemmons in his 50th anniversary history of Connecticut Agricultural College. Four seniors from the small graduating class went almost directly from school to camp, and five recent alumni joined them.

Hawley was one of those four graduates caught up in the romance of battle. In September, on a week's furlough, he visited friends at the college in Storrs. Yet just two months later, on November 19, 1898, First Sergeant Willis Nichols Hawley, Company H, Third Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, died of typhoid fever at the Red Cross Hospital in Philadelphia.

"Typhoid fever and not Spanish bayonets was the principal hazard of war," wrote Stemmons. "Several of the boys from the college came down with typhoid fever."

Sixteen years later, Hawley's memory was enshrined in the new campus building.

The armory, which was renovated in the 1990s and is now used for fitness programs, was once the center of the campus world, playing host to basketball games and swim meets, theater club productions, visiting lectures, and even town meetings.

ROTC students line up in this mid-1920s photo of the interior of Hawley ArmoryBehind the armory, stretching to the west, were the athletic fields of the growing college, originally designed for football and baseball.

The playing fields, too, were named in memory of a student. Gardner Dow of New Haven was killed while making a tackle in a football game at the University of New Hampshire at Durham, on September 27, 1919.

The fields were upgraded in the mid-1920s, with a new football field and new tennis courts. At that time, the fields stretched from behind Hawley Armory, west to what is now Gampel Pavilion. In the 1950s they stretched even further, as Memorial Stadium was added.

With expansion of the University, the athletic fields were moved and over the years parts of what was Dow Field have been used for other campus facilities.

The Whetten Graduate Center and the graduate residences, built in the 1960s, are where the tennis courts used to be. In the 1970s, the psychology building was constructed on another piece of what had been Dow Field.

The building of the UConn Co-op and Homer Babbidge Library - both completed in the late 1970s - left a section that still held a practice and intramural baseball diamond, but by then it was better known as the Grad Field.

With a temporary parking lot now claiming the Grad Field, all that remains of Dow Field is a plaque on the back of Hawley Armory. Difficult to reach because of the loading area of the Co-op, it cites the death of Gardner Dow and the field that bore his name.

Mark J. Roy

Sources: Connecticut Agricultural College - A History, Walter Stemmons, 1931; unpublished manuscript, Evan Hill, 1980.