For nearly four decades,
the Wilbur Cross Building served as the University of
Connecticut's main library - the academic heart of the
university, where tens of thousands of students searched its
storage stacks, studied in its oak-walled reading rooms, and sought
assistance from library staff.
When the building opened in 1939, it was the first time the
University's library collections were housed in a single
structure built specifically for that purpose.
From 1881 to 1890, the library was located in Old Whitney Hall,
a three-story building that had been a home for Connecticut orphans
of the Civil War. From 1890 to 1929, it was in the Old Main
building. And then for a decade, the library was on the top floor
of the Charles L. Beach Building. Construction of the
110,000-square-foot Wilbur Cross Library began in 1938 and was
completed in May 1939, at a cost of $424,472. It was part of a
then-unprecedented bond issue of nearly $3 million approved by the
Connecticut General Assembly for the construction of new buildings
on the campus of what was then called Connecticut State College.
The College became the University of Connecticut the same month the
Library was completed.
Chief among its features was a central area with seven-level
stacks and a capacity for seven tons of volumes, and two reading
room wings with 30-foot high ceilings. It also had
air-conditioning, one of the first campus buildings with
environmental controls to protect its collections from fluctuating
temperatures and humidity.
When the building opened in 1939, it had its distinctive cupola and
gold-leaf dome, but no name. That changed in April of 1942, when
the Board of Trustees voted to name the facility in honor of Wilbur
Cross, a four-term governor and a native of the Gurleyville section
of Mansfield. It was during Cross's tenure as governor that
bond issues were approved in 1937 and 1939 for construction on
A formal dedication of the Cross library building was held on
May 17, 1942, in conjunction with the dedication of several other
new campus buildings. At its opening, the Wilbur Cross Library had
approximately 62,000 volumes in its collections.
Shortly before the dedication, the Connecticut Campus ran an
editorial on the naming of the library:
significant to note that the name of Dr. Cross was not chosen for
our library because he was chief executive of this state or because
he was a great political leader, but rather because he is so
eminent as a literary figure.
Cross's works in the field of literature cover nearly half a
column in Who's Who in America. His political works take but a
sentence or two. He served 46 years as author, historian,
biographer, and teacher before taking his place in the
"There is no
literary figure in the state that is so revered and, considering
his birthplace, Gurleyville, so ideally qualified to bestow his
name to that building which is the true heart of the
As the University grew, so did its library collections and
services, and in 1964, an addition to the Wilbur Cross Library was
dedicated. The addition included space for 250,000 volumes and
offices for 60 staff members.
Library collections grew rapidly during the administration of
President Homer D. Babbidge. At the start of his presidency in
1962, there were approximately 400,000 volumes. In 1971, the
library added its one-millionth volume.
That growth also led to the need for a new library building,
opened in 1978 and dedicated as the Homer Babbidge Library in
Most recently the historic Wilbur Cross Building has undergone
remodeling and renovation as a result of the UConn 2000
infrastructure program. Today its serves as a one-stop service
center for most student business needs, including: the Registrar;
Bursar; Residential Life; Financial Aid; as well as the Center for
Students with Disabilities, and other services.
No longer a library, the Wilbur Cross Building remains a
signature building on the Storrs campus and continues to provide
essential services to students.
Mark J. Roy