Burrowes Building is back in business

April 20, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — An architectural landmark along Penn State's famous Mall on the University Park campus, Burrowes Building was closed for renovations in 2014. Two years later, the building has reopened and is back in the business of serving students in the College of the Liberal Arts. The University rededicated Burrowes in April.

Built to be the headquarters of the then-School of Education, notable American architect Charles Z. Klauder designed the original central structure, which was completed in 1940. Two wings were added in 1967 in response to a substantial increase in University enrollment.

Originally dubbed the Education Building, it was later re-named for Thomas Henry Burrowes, who was president of Penn State (when it was the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania) from 1868 to 1870. A passionate advocate for public education, Thomas Burrowes developed the system of free public education in Pennsylvania and drafted the law establishing the Pennsylvania State Normal System. He also was State Superintendent of Common Schools in 1835-38 and 1860-63, and founded the Pennsylvania School Journal.

Inscribed on the building's exterior are 28 names of people who made important historic contributions to the development of education in theory, method or practice. Among them are Burrowes himself, as well as other former Penn State Presidents Edwin Erle Sparks and George W. Atherton.

Burrowes Building close up

In this pre-1968 photograph of Burrowes Building, several names can be seen inscribed above the entrance: Thomas H. Burrowes, the building's namesake, is in the upper left; joined by James P. Wickersham, State Superintendent of Schools from 1866-81; Nathan C. Schaeffer, State Superintendent of Schools from 1893 to 1919; and the first name of Thomas C. Finegan, Pennsylvania State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1919-1923. Burrowes was originally built in 1940 for the then-School of Education.

IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

When the College of Education moved into Chambers Building in the early 1960s, Burrowes Building became available for use by the College of the Liberal Arts. Today it houses the Department of English as well as the School of Languages and Literatures, which includes the Departments of Comparative Literature; French and Francophone Studies; Germanic and Slavic Languages; and Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

In addition, the new building now incorporates the Digital English Studio, the Brain and Language Laboratory, the Hemingway Room, the Elm Room, and other signature spaces.

Campus visitors will be pleased to know that the famous murals painted in 1947 by celebrated American artist and Distinguished Alumnus John Thomas Biggers when he was a student — "Day of the Harvest (Harvest Song)" and "Night of the Poor" — were carefully protected during the renovations and can once again be viewed in Burrowes Building's central foyer.

  • Thomas Henry Burrowes

    Thomas Henry Burrowes, President of the Agricultural College of Pennsylvania (now Penn State) from 1868 to 1870.

    IMAGE: Penn State University Archives

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Last Updated May 18, 2016