Longtime residence hall home to thousands of Roanoke students

Much of Stefanie Seslar's Roanoke College experience is defined by the place she called home for three years - Bowman Hall. 

"It was the epicenter of Greek life," said Seslar '03, who was president of the Delta Gamma sorority. "Living in the [Delta Gamma] quad as a sophomore, a whole new world opened up for all of us."

Similarly, years spent living and bonding with other students in Bowman's basement led to deep friendships for Will Farmer '02 and the forming of a male group that eventually became a Roanoke fraternity and is active today.

Farmer and Seslar are just two of the thousands of Roanoke students who have made homes within Bowman's walls since the residence hall opened in 1965. The three-story structure on High Street, with rooms organized in a quad-style living space, was built on land given to Roanoke by Alpheus Bowman Jr., a 1906 graduate and a longtime member of Roanoke's Board of Trustees. The hall bears his name.

Now, the campus is bidding adieu to the storied building. It will be demolished in mid-June to make way for the 155,000-square-foot Cregger Center. This center, an estimated $37 million athletic and events facility, will house a 200-meter indoor track and field house, a 2,500-seat gymnasium, a fitness area, event space, classrooms with research laboratories, sports administrative offices and more.

When Bowman opened 49 years ago, it was considered a state-of-the-art residence hall. Its layout featured six or seven rooms arranged around a central lounge area that connected to an adjoining quad with a community bathroom. Two students lived in each room.

Bowman's design was unique compared with Roanoke's older campus living spaces. Bowman students felt that they lived in small neighborhoods throughout the building, said Tess Blethyn, director of residence life and housing at Roanoke.

Bowman initially was an all-male dormitory, but later, its top three floors housed females while its basement rooms were reserved for men.

For years, Bowman also housed Roanoke's sororities - Delta Gamma, Chi Omega and Phi Mu - on each floor.

Bowman has had other purposes through the years. The College's Campus Safety office was located on the building's first floor, until it moved to a new location on College Avenue earlier this year. Also, there was a dance studio in Bowman's basement.

For two years beginning in 1989, the College's Archives and a portion of Fintel Library's books and materials moved to Bowman's basement. During this time, a third floor was added to the library, so temporary library space was needed for books, equipment and the Archives.

Bowman eventually became coed throughout its floors, and the College's sororities moved to Chesapeake Hall, which opened in 2006 on Red Lane.

Looking back on her Bowman days, Seslar, now director of alumni relations at Albertus Magnus College in Connecticut, recalled her excitement when she walked across campus to the building on Bids Day, the day she joined Delta Gamma.

Bowman's location was convenient to many parts of campus, including the Sutton Commons, she said. And she enjoyed the building's sorority life culture.

When Seslar became president of Delta Gamma, she had her own large room in Bowman, with a private bathroom.

Farmer was a resident advisor in Bowman's basement from 1999 to 2001. He and about 18 male students who lived there formed a tight bond that led to the creation of the Independent Brothers of Roanoke College, which eventually became the Phi chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha. The chapter had been active at Roanoke from 1896 to 1909.

"Many of the friendships I developed living in the basement have stuck with me through the years," said Farmer, now an auctioneer and general manager at Farmer Auctions in Salem.

Bowman won't be entirely forgotten after its razing. Materials from the building will be recycled and used for ground leveling at Roanoke's nearby Elizabeth Campus. Also, some of Bowman's furniture will be used in other campus buildings. In addition, the hall's brick pavers will be reused at the planned Cregger Center.

Farmer said Bowman's demolition is bittersweet.

"While I am sad to see Bowman Hall go, the progress of the College is exciting, and I hope this new chapter builds on the success of the past," he said.

Watch Bowman's demolition on the live webcam.

-Published May 27, 2014

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