Campus News

Enjoy Oberlin’s Village Green

September 25, 2013
Marvin Krislov
Photo credit: John Seyfried

Tappan Square, located in the heart of Oberlin, is owned by the college but functions as public space, Oberlin’s version of a village green. On any given day, you’ll find local residents and members of the campus community traversing the square or—weather permitting—stopping to enjoy its lawns, benches, and shade. Some of our most memorable Oberlin moments occur in this lovely, 13-acre park—concerts, Illumination, Commencement, and the countless college classes that have been taught there on sunny days in the spring and fall.

I’ve been thinking about Tappan Square for several reasons. This coming weekend it will be the site of one of our wonderful traditions—the Oberlin Community and Culture Festival, which features a wide array of groups and activities from town and gown. The festival is always a lot of fun and offers something for folks of all ages. So if you get a chance, head to the square on Saturday afternoon.

Tappan Square also came up on my recent trip to Toronto, where I met Julian Smith ‘69, the architect who designed the square’s Clark Bandstand. Julian’s concept was selected from 50 entries in a design competition in 1987.

While the bandstand has since become an integral part of Oberlin life, its construction was not welcomed by everyone. The square, which was the original site of the main college buildings, had been cleared of all structures by 1927. That was done in accordance with the provisions of the will of Charles Martin Hall, who had bequeathed funds to create the park we enjoy today—if the buildings were removed. The park we cherish today was created by the Olmsted brothers, the sons of the landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, the co-designer of Manhattan’s Central Park and so many other beautiful American public spaces.

Talking with Julian Smith got me thinking about how Oberlin has grown and evolved over the years. If the Olmsted brothers or Charles Martin Hall, who was a music lover, could see the crowds that gather on Friday evenings in the summer to hear jazz, blues, rock, or classical music, I doubt they would object to the bandstand.

They might be more surprised to learn that we call the space Tappan Square. In their time, it was referred to as College Park or the “campus.” It wasn’t until the 1940s that the square was officially named in honor of Arthur and Lewis Tappan, the wealthy New York merchants and staunch abolitionists who were Oberlin College’s main financial backers in the 1830s.

So as we drift into fall, we can all take pleasure in watching the trees in the square displaying their autumn colors, whiling away some time in the charming swing, and enjoying the magnificent grounds. We owe thanks to our terrific groundskeepers who keep Tappan Square in such good shape, and also to Charles Martin Hall, whose vision and legacy made the square a green space open to all. As I’ve said before, Hall was, in many ways, an environmentalist before anyone knew what that was. With little fanfare he gave us not just the square, but the Arboretum. His vision lives on today in Oberlin’s commitment to sustainability.

Quick Notes

I want to acknowledge the 20th anniversary celebration of the Toni Morrison Society this past weekend and the many inspiring events, including the special convocation in Finney Chapel featuring Ms. Morrison. Many thanks to everyone who helped put on these events.

Looking ahead, this weekend many of our most active and engaged alumni will converge on Oberlin for Alumni Council meetings. We all look forward to welcoming our alumni back to campus and to helping them engage with our current students, faculty, and staff.

Also, we are in for a rare treat on Friday evening when Randy Newman—yes, the Randy Newman—will perform in Finney Chapel.

Finally, I note with deep sadness the passing of George Bent, one of the giants of Oberlin life. George will always be remembered for his kindness, his service, his wisdom, and his leadership. Please join me in holding the Bent family in your thoughts and prayers.

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