History and Surroundings

The building that we now know as Saybrook College was initially built (along with Branford College) as part of Yale’s Memorial Quadrangle, on the site of what had been the old gymnasium. Mrs. Stephen Harkness donated this magnificent structure to the University as a memorial to her son, Charles William Harkness, Class of 1883. Construction on “Harkness Quadrangle,” or “Harkness,” as it was commonly known, began in 1917, was interrupted by World War I, and was finally completed in 1922.

Built originally to house the senior class—and a few lucky juniors—the Memorial Quadrangle only partly resolved Yale’s burgeoning enrollment during the 1920s. What had once been an intimate school was now becoming a university. Once again the Harkness family stepped up to fund a solution, and this time it was Edward S. Harkness, Class of 1897, whose large gifts made it possible to rebuild the campus along the models of Oxford and Cambridge. The Harkness coat of arms appears today on the north wall of Saybrook Court.

The transformation of the Quadrangle, a regular dormitory, into two residential colleges presented many architectural problems. Common rooms, kitchens, libraries, Heads of College Houses, and Resident Fellows’ suites had to be carved out of what had been students’ quarters. The Saybrook Dining Hall, for example, was formerly three floors of undergraduate rooms known as the “Gold Coast.”

Mem Quad gate

Memorial Quandrangle Gate