Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > New York City History > 49. Charles Follen McKim

49.  Charles Follen McKim (1847-1909).  Typed letter, signed, to Stanford White, with initial sketch of Low Library. New York, July 24, 1894.  Avery Library, Drawings and Archives, Stanford White Collection of Correspondence and Drawings

When Columbia purchased the property on Morningside Heights, it was the first time that the university had acquired land with the express purpose of building a campus. The university had previously occupied existing buildings on other sites. At the 49th Street campus, the university utilized the buildings of the Deaf and Dumb Asylum even after new buildings by Charles Coolidge Haight were erected. A competition for the new campus was announced and McKim, Mead and White were chosen from the competitors, who included Richard Morris Hunt, Haight himself, and Ware and Olmsted.

The focal point of the new campus was the library, named in honor of Abiel Abbot Low by his son President Seth Low, who donated one million dollars to erect this building. In this draft of a letter to his partner Stanford White, Charles McKim, the lead designer, explains that he cannot go golfing in Europe with White as President Low has cut out such a lot of work for him. On the verso of this letter emerges the conception of Low Library, remarkably close to the final version.

This letter was found within the office correspondence of Stanford White, where it had been kept under M for McKim. Avery Library received the incoming and outgoing correspondence from the White family along with other gifts. From the successor firm, Walker O. Cain Associates, the library acquired many of the architectural drawings of the Columbia campus. The bulk of the firm's archive, more than one hundred thousand drawings as well as papers and files, was donated to the New-York Historical Society.

Gift of the Stanford White Family, 1981

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