The Stone Pavilion Project

Learn More – History – Obscurity

Dedication Ceremony.
Sample stone showing the extent of staining and biofilms of bacteria, algae, lichen, and moss prior to cleaning and photography. Specimen #38 is a gray gneiss from South Carolina with large augen (eye-shaped) crystals called porphyroblasts.

When the exhibit was unveiled in 1937, Connecticut State College was a low-key state school that had just installed its first traffic light, likely at North Eagleville Road. That was also the year the college held its first summer sessions and the Connecticut General Assembly first considered a bill to build a university somewhere else. Today there are dozens of traffic lights, and dozens of summer courses during three summer sessions. Back then, total college enrollment was 908 students, with twice as many men as women, and just over 100 faculty. By 2020, UConn would enroll  32,669  students, with more women than men, and with 2,114 faulty, a 36-fold increase.

Losing Importance

On the grand day of celebration on May 16, 1837, the pavilion held the attention of up to three thousand people. Almost immediately, its significance seems to have  faded as Connecticut State College transformed itself into a national university.  With Governor Wilbur Cross's approval, its focus shifted from practical education to a much wider liberal arts agenda.    It became a hidden treasure.

Birds nest.
This nest was built on the rusted yellow grate protecting the specimen stones within easy reach of human beings. Its removal was part of the initial cleanup for this project.  Birds don't nest in exposed places frequented by people.

Lichens and moss began to cover the gray slate roof. The adjacent trees grew up, stretched their canopies, and cast this small building into the shade. Two elderly residents of Storrs I interviewed on May 3, 2023 recalled visiting the Pavilion in the late 1950s or earliest 1960s, reporting that it was nearly impossible to see from North Eagleville Road, given the dense growth of brush and foliage prior to the road widening project in 2017-2018.

The pavilion, being the size of a single colossal boulder only 14 feet across and 10 feet high, still stands camouflaged amidst two other nearby boulders of comparable scale.  By 2021, so few visitors were coming that birds were nesting in plain sight at eye level.

After 1937, the United States became increasingly distracted by the lead-up to World War II and its aftermath. Dedication of the pavilion coincided with Nazi Germany opening its first concentration camp, Buchenwald.  America's postwar national economy was shifting from rural agriculture toward urbanization and industrialization. The value of farms fell throughout the late 1930s, and their number continued to decline steeply between the late 1930s and the 1950s. The U.S. farm population peaked in 1958, after which the membership and power of the national grange declined through the end of the millennium. As one measure of how unimportant the pavilion became, it isn't mentioned in  UConn's official institutional history --Bruce Stave's authoritative Red Brick in the Land of Steady Habits: Creating the University of Connecticut, 1881-2006.

Alaska became a state in 1958, and Hawaii in 1959. After 21 years of being a complete collection, the collection became incomplete. So, sometime after Hawaii statehood,  one stone from  Alaska and one from Hawaii were mortared into the northwest and northeast corners of the exhibit wall, respectively. Their names and numbers, #49 and #50, were welded to the bronze plaque on a separate metal strip. The identifying bronze pin for Hawaii #50 is clearly visible.  There is no bronze pin for Alaska, perhaps because the vein quartz was too hard to drill.  We identified this stone as being linked to Alaska because, like Hawaii, it was the only other one mortared into the corner of the wall with newer cement at a level below the lowest row.  We do not know when these stones were added and by whom.

The iron grille was not part of the original structure. This is proven by the chiseling, drilling, and insertion of the brackets holding the grille into pre-existing and weathered walls. The lower left bracket of the grill is now completely detached owing to rust. Inserting the lower right required the near-destruction of a mortared stone (see photo below).  An in-person memory by Storrs resident Holly Coppinger (written communication, May 5, 2023) confirms the absence of the grille when she visited "in 1958 or 1959, or possibly later (early '60s)." She also recalls seeing "the plaque in the middle of the stones where I could read it,"  which confirms the physical evidence, and that the plaque explained the collection because "That's how I learned the stones represented the states." When I asked her on May 3, 2023 if she recalled seeing any names on the middle plaque, she responded by saying "no." Another elderly witness recalled the presence of the plaque and the absence of the grill in the late 1950s or earliest sixties, but she has not responded back in writing with the details, as I requested. 

Photo of grille inserted into pre-existing wall.
The now-rusted grille was inserted and mortared into the older wall, as shown by the breaking of this stone, a cobble of red arkose sandstone.

After its placement in the wall, the grill has been slowly deteriorating with rust to the extent that it has completely separated from the wall on the lower left (western) side. Only one coat of paint, now a dull yellow, has been found.

Grille has rusted completely from the wall.
In its lower left corner, the grill has rusted completely away from the bracket that holds it.

In August 1984, Thorson encountered the stone pavilion by happenstance. Hw remembers wandering inside it, picking up a few empty beer cans for later disposal, and sweeping cigarette butts outside. He recalls seeing the dusty plaque in the semi-dark, looking briefly at the stones, and thinking that this was some sort of architectural folly.  The sspecimen stones were covered by soot and grime,  and were overgrown with microbial biofilms, lichens, and algae. When he asked his geological colleagues in the former Department of Geology and Geophysics about the structure, he was told erroneously that it had been built by some faculty member from the school of agriculture to feature his personal stone collection.

UConn Map of 2013.
UConn's official map of 2013 locates the pavilion but does not identify it. It lies south of Swan Lake and the letter N in the word "North." It appears to show a hexagonal shape. In the 2020 update of UConn's official map, it is also located but not described.

By 2013, UConn included the .

Master Plan.
Map from Page 15, Appendix E of the UConn Master Plan (May 2015) with drawing credits to Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill. Black buildings are those contributing to the Historic District. The stone pavilion is not shown or discussed in the main plan, but it is included in a subsequent appendix.

Found and Recovered

In 1997, UConn staff writer Mark Roy published a story about the structure titled "'Little Stone House' represents 50 states, pays tribute to Connecticut Agriculture" in the UConn Advance, the print-only predecessor to today's online internet magazine UConn Today. His article prompted me to walk over and gave the pavilion a second look. The back story didn't mean much to me at the time. Fifteen years later in 2012, UConn Today reprinted Roy's article unchanged except for its new title "Little Stone House Turns 75." This reprint re-re-kindled my interest, which finally led to action.

The following year, I decided to include it as a field trip stop for my honors introductory geology course (ERTH 1055). Though plainly visible from the main entrance road to north campus, North Eagleville Road, only a few students had ever noticed it, and none had visited. But when I brought them there on field trips, they seemed quite keen to learn more. When tasked with designing a field trip for the much more highly enrolled geoscience courses (ERTH 1050 and 1052) in 2014-2015, I added the stone pavilion as a stop and summarized what little I knew to help guide the teaching assistants for all 18 lab sections.

Owing to student interest, in May 2016, I published the location and feature attraction of the stone Pavilion as one stop on an "Interactive Geological Tour." This tour was an appendix for an article on stone walls titled "Rock On" in UConn Magazine. Based on supportivei comments from readers, I began talking it up with students and colleagues, and scheming for a larger project.  In the summer 2018 issue of UConn Magazine, UConn writer Tom Breen published a short feature titled "Hidden UConn Quiz," with what he called a "hut" being one of the hidden attractions.

By the summer of 2020, decided to broaden the scope of interest beyond the geology classroom to create a permanent online exhibit for whomever might be interested. Aside from being a spectacular geology exhibit, the building is also a powerful symbol of the modern rebirth of agriculture, which is shifting away from intensive scales and industrial techniques to more locally sourced, less polluting, and more sustainable methods that sequester more carbon in soils to mitigate climate change.

Called regenerative agriculture, this transition has captured the attention and hopes of young people everywhere. The stone pavilion can symbolize and energize this future promise because it was dedicated with the future in mind as "an enduring tribute to agriculture and to the tillers of the soil," and acknowledged as "not only as a tribute to Connecticut agriculture but to Connecticut Youth."

Link to the original 20th century article about the pavilion.