George F. Mills House (New Africa House) Memorial
Dedication plaque honoring George Franklin Mills (1839-1924) upon the erection of the residential hall named in his honor in 1948. Mills was a Professor of Latin and English from 1890-1914, Head of Humanities from 1907-1910, and Dean of Massachusetts Agricultural College from 1907-1914. The George F. Mills House, renamed New Africa House, is now a black cultural center and houses the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies, the Augusta Savage Gallery, the Center for Women and Community, and the University's Center for Counseling and Psychological Health. Built in 1948 by architect Lewis Warren Ross, the building underwent renovations in 2010 as part of the Obama era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act monies. The name of the building was changed from Mills House to New Africa House following a black student takeover of the dorm in the spring of 1970. After negotiations with university officials, an agreement was made that the dorm would be renamed "New Africa" and the newly formed African-American studies department would relocate its offices there. It is unknown when the plaque was removed from the building and rehoused in the University Archives.
Backstory and Context
New Africa (Mills) House is an approximately 36,000 square foot student residence hall on the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts. The building is one of nine structures that comprise the Central Residential Area. All nine buildings were designed and constructed between 1940 and 1963, and sited according to a Beaux-Arts formal plan.
Seven of these buildings (Butterfield, Brooks, Van Meter, Greenough, Chadbourne, Baker, and New Africa) were uniformly designed in Georgian Revival style. Wheeler and Brett, which are both sited at the bottom of the hill and constructed last, are less ornate structures and have subtle Art-Deco details. All buildings continue to serve as dormitories in 2008.
The main planning axis of the Central Residential Area is perpendicular to the ridgeline of Clark Hill and extends northeast to southwest. The axis is defined by the center of Van Meter and Baker Houses, with the remaining dormitories sited to the north and south. The bilateral symmetry and duplication of building footprints and appearance only deviates with the location of Butterfield House and the design of Brett House. The spatial relationship of the planning axis is visually reinforced by the central block and cupola of Van Meter House. The steep grade of the overall site was graded to create narrow terraces between the individual structures.
Mills House was completed in 1948, one year before its mirror structure Brooks House. Although both buildings are designed in the Georgian Revival Style, Mills House has a more refined exterior design and most closely follows the earlier designs of Greenough and Chadbourne Houses.
The rectangular building is 3 ½ stories tall with a basement level exposed by change in grade at the west elevation. The structure is generally 19 bays wide by 3 bays deep. One central cross gable distinguishes the central 5 bays, which project substantially from the main volume and visually divides the façade into three blocks. Copper downspouts and collector heads are located at the north and south edges of these blocks. The roof eaves of the long elevations are accentuated by wood cornices and returns.
New Africa House has a common-bond brick veneer with a molded brick projection to define the basement floor level. The façade includes a window pattern of primarily single-hung sash. The muntin patterns progress from the basement level 4/8 to the first floor 12/12, to the second floor 8/12, and finally 8/8 for both the third floor dormers at the mansard roof. The north and south elevations are distinguished by a large 16/16 window at the central bay to illuminate the inter-floor stair landings. This bay also divides the gable-end chimney blocks. Circular radial pane windows with keystones occur at the fourth floor level and first floor stair landing.
The main building entrance occurs at the central bay of the west elevation and features a decorative wood doorcase framed by fluted pilasters. The paneled French doors are mounted by both a transom panel and a broken arched pediment. The entire doorcase is currently painted black, although originally finished in offwhite similar to other exterior woodwork.
The building site is located along the east side of Infirmary Way. A bituminous concrete parking area with granite curbing is located to the west of the building. Concrete steps with handrails and a bituminous concrete ramp with wooden retaining walls along with bituminous concrete paths provide access to the building from the parking lot and adjacent paths. A bituminous concrete path also provides access along the east side of the building. Vegetation surrounding the building includes deciduous and evergreen trees over mown lawn and low deciduous and evergreen shrub foundation plantings. Upright evergreen shrubs flank the building’s western entrance. Site furnishings include bike racks and pole lights.
Mills House (New Africa House) and Brooks House were added along Infirmary Way in 1948 and 1949. An oblique aerial photograph from 1954 shows the buildings an open landscape to the east with lawn leading to the façades. This area has since been occupied by buildings, including Wheeler House and Brett Hall. The character of the landscape to the east of the buildings remains intact, with deciduous and evergreen trees over lawn. New low foundation planting has been added to the buildings since their construction and new formalized head-in parking has been added along Infirmary Way.