banner search whats new site index home

Ag Hill Complex

The Ag Hill Complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [1] Adaptation copyright &caopy; 2008, The Gombach Group.


The Ag Hill Complex of the Pennsylvania State University is a group of four distinctive buildings: The Respiration-Calorimeter Building (circa 1900), Patterson Building (The Dairy Husbandry and Creamery Building: 1903), Armsby Building (the Agriculture building: 1905-07), and Weaver Building (the Horticulture Building: 1914).

The Respiration-Calorimeter Building is a small one and one-half story building with load-bearing red brick walls on a stone foundation and with a slated hip roof. The building was specifically constructed to house scientific apparatus, the Respiration-Calorimeter. In order to prevent temperature changes which would confuse experiments, the building was designed with double walls and storm sash.

Despite its functional use, however, the Respiration-Calorimeter Building presents aspects of form and detail reflecting the waning Richardsonian and Queen Anne modes. Window and door arches are seen as semi-circular arrays of rusticated brick-ends which contrast with the smooth wall surface. The slope of the roof breaks slightly at the eaves and is there supported by a bracketed wooden cornice. The building has a tall, modeled chimney of cut brick on its southern elevation and has finials ornamenting the peaks of the roof. Eyelet windows in the roof have been removed.

The interior of the building, including the calorimeter apparatus, has been restored.

Patterson, Armsby, and Weaver buildings relate to the Respiration-Calorimeter Building in terms of use (agricultural) and basic material (mottled brick) and are stylistically congenial to it. There three buildings were designed in the "English Renaissance Style" (as denoted on original plans) by Philadelphia architect Edward Hazlehurst. Patterson Building, the earliest in this trio, differs in the direction of simplicity (detail and texture) from the vastly similar Armsby and Weaver buildings, but it is surely the shared features which should be stressed. Patterson, Armsby, and Weaver buildings have the following points in common:

  • 28" foundation on footings
  • partially exposed basement story with rusticated exterior of rock face masonry
  • cut stone watertable
  • two full stories above basement story with load bearing brick walls (brick courses only 1 1/2 inches in height)
  • differentiation of windows on first and second stories in terms of window heads (flat arch on first story, true arch above)
  • deep, bracketed eaves; galvanized iron cornices
  • attic story under flared hip roof (steel frame with wood sheathing) with flared hip-roofed dormers
  • interior renovations to comply with new uses

Patterson Building and Armsby Building share a general East-West orientation along their long axes and are constructed of the same shade of red-yellow brick. Weaver Building is oriented roughly North-South on long axis and has a yellower cast in its brick.

Armsby Building and Weaver Building share the following points of elaboration not found in Patterson:

  • extensive use of terra-cotta; terra-cotta roofing, arched window heads and colonettes (2nd story), string courses - alternating courses of rusticated stone and tooled stone on exterior of ground (or basement) story giving a rich, banded effect
  • horizontal striation of first story exterior walls by regular alternation of advanced and recessed brick courses and accentuation of flat arch window head voussoirs using the same device
  • arcaded accentuation of windows and window groups on second story
  • accentuation of principal entrances

Armsby Building consists of a central block about 72 by 55 feet deep in plan with a wing (about 44 by 75 feet deep) at either long end, projecting front and rear. The main entrance is the visual focus of the symmetrical facade. Its double door and transom are enframed by tall, fluted Doric columns and full Doric entablature (modillion blocks with guttae, egg-and-dart molding, and the word "AGRICULTURE" boldly inscribed). The roseate cast of the columns and entablature lend yet another element of coloristic variety.

Weaver Building is a single block, about 60 by 120 feet in plan. Otherwise close to Armsby Building in material and detail, Weaver's principal entrances are provided with cornices of classical inspiration resting on large acanthus-scroll brackets.

Patterson Building is roughly 113 by 60 feet in plan. Patterson and Armsby are parallel on their major axes and with the Respiration-Calorimeter Building enabled a shaded, open court between their contiguous sides.

The broad front of Armsby Building and southern and eastern elevations of Weaver Building are in view across a yard as one ascends Agriculture Hill from the South. The distinctive styling and coloristic qualities of the buildings and the presence of a wooden setting are general characteristics of the complex.

Patterson Building today houses the Department of Entomology and the Frost Entomological Museum. It was named in honor of William S. Patterson in 1933.

Armsby Building houses the Agricultural Education Department, the Farm Management Department, and the Statistics Department. It was named in honor of Henry Prentiss Armsby in 1956.

Weaver Building houses the Departments of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology and was named in 1954 to honor Frederick P. Weaver.


The Ag Hill Complex of the Pennsylvania State University, dating from circa 1900 to 1914, is a group of four buildings of absolute importance to the history of Penn State's agricultural program and to the history of campus architecture. The Respiration-Calorimeter Building deserves to be recognized as a principal landmark in the history of American agriculture. Patterson, Armsby, and Weaver buildings constitute a historical and architectural unit which marks the inception of a strong agricultural program at the school. Finally, these latter three buildings memorialize in name the contributions of three of Penn State's outstanding agriculturalists.

As Dr. Wayland Fuller Dunaway pointed out in History of the Pennsylvania State College, agricultural instruction at Penn State was much, slower to develop than is commonly believed. Although the institution was founded as "The Farmers' High School" (1855) and was later known as "The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania" (1862-74), it has been noted that only twelve of the first ninety graduates of the College were farmers. The objectives of the school had been substantially broadened by the Morrill Land Grant Act (1862) and by 1873 it was decided that the name "The Agricultural College of Pennsylvania should be changed since it did not reflect the true character of the institution. The name "The Pennsylvania State College" was then adopted. (1874-1953).

The prospects of the agricultural program at Penn State brightened considerably in 1887 when the passage of the Hatch Act permitted the establishment of the Agricultural Experiment Station at the school. In this same year only two students were taking the agricultural courses. For nearly two decades, the Experiment Station, under the direction of Dr. Henry P. Armsby, was the nucleus of the agricultural department and research was dominant.

In 1898 the U.S. Department of Agriculture suggested a collaboration with Penn State's Agricultural Experiment Station aimed at investigating the fundamental principals of the nutrition of domestic animals. Under the proposition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture would absorb most of the cost of special apparatus and a portion of the cost of current expenses. Dr. Armsby coordinated the construction of the apparatus, a respiration-calorimeter. It was one of only two such instruments in the world and was the first designed for experiments on domestic animals. Promptly upon its completion in 1902, Dr. Armsby conducted his experiments in the values of feeds and the feed requirements of animals. His book the Principles of Animal Nutrition, published in 1903, was the outstanding publication in agricultural science of that era and brought to light his deep scientific insight into the many problems of animal nutrition.

At the same time, however, Penn State's program of agricultural instruction was languishing. In 1902-03 when Penn State's enrollment was 602, the Agriculture Department enrolled only 15. One of the chief causes of low enrollment was a lack of proper facilities for instruction.

It was thus during the second campus buildings program of President Atherton's Administration that the first buildings expansion for agriculture was undertaken. The Respiration-Calorimeter building (completed 1902) represents the first building in second buildings program and Armsby Building (completed in 1907), the last. The building program was one factor in a complete transformation of the School of Agriculture in the next few years. Enrollment of regular agriculture students increased from 45 in 1906-07 to 767 in 1914-15.

Apart from their role in the growth of Penn State's agricultural program, the Hill buildings bear witness to a transitional period of campus architecture. The Respiration-Calorimeter Building represents the last days of Romanesque-Queen Anne influence. The other Ag Hill buildings designed in the English Renaissance style by Philadelphia architect Edward S. Hazlehurst represent a significant departure from the campus architectural styles of the last century and point to the modern era of planned growth. Nevertheless, they precede the extensive campus buildings programs of 1928-32 and 1937-39 which emphasized styles of "institutional classicism" then in vogue.

It only remains to identify the outstanding agriculturalists whose names are memorialized in the complex:

Henry Prentiss Armsby (1853-1921), as stated above, was the first director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and was the first dean of the School of Agriculture (from 1896-1904). In 1907, Dr. Armsby was made Director of Institute of Animal Nutrition at Penn State, a highly specializing research agency.

Fred Pattison Weaver (1882-1939) made his greatest contributions to Pennsylvania State University and the United States when the American farmer was adversely affected with sharply fluctuating prices from 1928 to 1936. His work in the field included the following services: in charge of farm taxation studies, 1925-1926; member, Mineral and Forest Land Taxation Commission of Pennsylvania, 1932-1935; member, Committees on Taxation and on Rural Housing of President Hoover's Housing Commission, 1931-1932; and Director, Farm Credit Administration.

William Calvin Patterson (1838-1909) was manager of the College Farm and Superintendant of Student Labor. He was not only Superintendant Farms, but later was put in charge of all buildings and campus grounds. He became the first President of the National Bank of State College in 1904, and remained its President until his death. His writings gained national prominence throughout the United States.


Dunaway, Wayland Fuller. History of the Pennsylvania State College. State College, Pa., Pennsylvania State College, 1946.

Mairs, Thomas I., Some Pennsylvania Pioneers in Agricultural Science. State College, Pa., Penn State College Studies, 1928.

  1. Ramsey, Gregory, and Gutentag, Jack A., Centre County Historic Registration Project, Ag Hill Complex, nomination document, 1978, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Ag Hill Complex Map

Street Names
Curtain Road

**Information is curated from a variety of sources and, while deemed reliable, is not guaranteed.
Copyright © 1997-2016 • The Gombach Group • • 215-295-6555 • 122073 • Privacy