Office of the President
Biemesderfer Center, which served as the Millersville University Library from 1894 to 1967, is one of the most beautiful and dignified buildings in the Lancaster area. The building, renamed in honor of Dr. D. Luke Biemesderfer, president of Millersville from 1943 to 1965, now houses executive offices of the University administration. In 1975 it was designated a historical site by the Historic Preservation Trust of Lancaster County.
Original buildings on most state college campuses have been torn down as new facilities have been built. However, Pennsylvania decided to preserve the Old Library at Millersville because it is a perfect example of the best in architecture of its time. Moreover, the state wanted to save at least one of its original college buildings; what better choice than the first state college library on the campus of the first state college in Pennsylvania.
The state paid for extensive repairs and renovations to the Old Library’s infrastructure. However, the interior refurbishing, the restoration of the stained-glass windows and the purchase of the furnishings were made possible primarily through the 1972-73 fundraising efforts of the Millersville Alumni Association. The generosity of private citizens helped retain in grand fashion the charm and spirit of this lovely Victorian building.
The Old Library was originally constructed with three separate wings to accommodate the main college holdings and those of two powerful literary societies on campus, the Page and Normal societies. The open area which is now the reception area was the reference and reading room. Two circular stairways in the corners were removed and replaced by the spacious central staircase.
The exterior architecture reflects the Victorian period with features of other styles, especially the Romanesque, evidenced in the building’s recessed entranceway, heavy arches, towers and gables, and rose window on the upper level. The style of the interior is English Tudor with accents of Scandinavian, Early American and Victorian. Much of the beauty of the Old Library is found in the large open area where wainscoated wall, exposed wooden beams and a balcony of polished heavy oak dominate. A total of 672 yards of drapery material covers the building’s windows. The tall windows in the lobby are draped with a crewel-embroidered fabric, handmade in India. The stained glass windows remain uncovered to display their beauty. The furnishings of the building are made of Viking Oak to match the heavily carved oak of the building’s interior. One of the most beautiful areas in the building is the H. Edgar Sherts Board Room on the second floor, where a 14-foot board table is overshadowed only by a huge stained-glass window. Eye-catching features in the room include a large medieval print tapestry of rayon faille and a grandfather clock, crafted with a gold decorated face with traditional Lancaster County moon moving works and operated by weight and pendulum. The clock was presented to Millersville by the Class of 1893 and for many years stood in the parlor of Old Main.
Throughout its history, this building has served in a functional manner – first as a library, then for three years as a temporary student center, and most recently as an executive office building. The restoration of Biemesderfer Center has turned this gracious structure into the pride of the campus.
In 1892, during the tenure of Dr. E. Oram Lyte, the contract to build “The Library” was awarded to Mr. D.H. Rapp for $20,000. He was also responsible for the construction of Dutcher Hall and the Model School (now the Charles and Mary Hash Building). The architects for this project were P.A. Welsh and James H. Warner, designers of the Central Market building in Lancaster.
Construction of the library was completed in fall 1895. The building in its original state was quite plain, having no carpeting, draperies, screens, lavatories or electricity. Electricity was added in 1922, and lavatories were installed in the mid-1940s.
In March 1911 at a cost of $600, a stained-glass window was added over the entrance to the building and dedicated to Dr. Andrew Byerly by the Class of 1909. The next renovation did not take place until 1952, when the side spiral steps (which have since been torn down) were straightened and the balcony continued around the top.
Having outgrown its use as a library, this building became the TUB (Temporary Union Building) in 1967, at which time Ganser Library was opened. Black and white floor tiling was placed in the board room, and pool and ping-pong tables were added.
In 1971, the alumni association and the administration began the $50,000 renovation of this building to make it into the Biemesderfer Center you see today. Although no college funds were used for this renovation, the carpentry work was done by Millersville State College carpenters.
This building was named in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Daniel “Luke” Biemesderfer. Dr. Biemesderfer was president of Millersville University for 22 years, from 1942-1965.
Both Dr. Biemesderfer and his wife Elva were secondary education majors at Millersville in 1916, but at that time there was a strict separation of the sexes. They did not get to know one another until they won the lead roles in the senior class play. One scene called for a kiss, but you weren’t allowed to kiss on stage in those days. When Dr. Biemesderfer kissed his leading lady (later to be his wife) on the stage in front of the audience, it caused quite a sensation on campus.
Dr. Biemesderfer became president of the college in 1943 – a bad time for state colleges because of World War II and the state’s being short of money. With an enrollment of only 187 students, and many empty dorm rooms, the college was facing the possibility of being closed. To keep the college open, Dr. Biemesderfer rented the empty dorm rooms to Armstrong Cork Co. in Lancaster to house defense contract employees. At the same time, the Millersville Lions Club started a statewide campaign to have service clubs press the legislators to keep the colleges open.
During 1944-45, Dr. Biemesderfer led a recruitment program in which faculty and staff used their own autos to visit high schools in southeast Pennsylvania to convince students to attend Millersville. That effort brought 50 to 60 freshmen over the next two years until the war ended. After the war, Millersville accepted Penn State University’s overflow of 150-200 students per year. By 1947, the financial crisis was over, and a growth period began and continued through his tenure.
The stained-glass window at the top of the stairs was inspired by the motto of the Class of 1909, “Climb though the Rocks be rugged.” The youth struggling up this mountain represents a student struggling to obtain character and wisdom by climbing the Alps of Knowledge. The blue and red in the window represent the Page and Normal Literary Societies. The colors lighten at the top of the window signifying that the students’ struggle with learning results in wisdom and knowledge by the time they graduate. In the upper right corners of the window you will note a star with the words ad astra, which is a replication of the school pin.
The chandeliers were designed and manufactured by Metropolitan Lighting Corporation in New York City solely for the restoration of this building. They are made of black wrought iron with dentil candlestick holders and fleur-de-lis decorations. The design is of Spanish and French origin chosen specifically to blend with the building, and they are the type of chandelier used during the medieval period. Above are eight stained-glass relief windows. A few of the windows are connected to skylights, while others are just placed for architectural design.
The drapes, designed to look as though they fall continuously from the second floor to the first, were made by two women from the college staff using 672 yards of hand-creweled fabric from India. The center staircase was built during the renovation, and the olive green and burgundy wool carpeting was added. This was specially designed and loomed for Millersville University.
The stained glass window in the entry alcove is known as the Charity Window. It was one of 14 windows installed in the Normal Chapel in Old Main between 1905 and 1907. It became a part of this building during the 1973 renovations, when it was donated by the Class of 1894.
The H. Edgar Sherts Board Room was named in honor of a Millersville alumnus and Board of Trustees member who was instrumental in saving the college during the state college crisis of the early 1930s.
The carvings in the rafters are handcrafted, and the medieval design tapestry is handwoven silk chosen to match the colors in the stained glass windows.
The clothes tree was part of the original furnishings of the Old Library. The clock in the far right-hand corner was a gift from the Class of 1893, presented on June 26, 1912. The antique sofa was in Old Main and the president’s residence before being brought here after the restoration of the building.
The upper half of the central window represents the eight departments of the school. Pedagogy is at the top because it stands for Millersville Normal School's mission of the day: the preparation of teachers.
In the corners of the window are stars and the phrase ad astra, which was the Millersville Normal School pin. Ad astra means "to the stars."
On the tips of the stars red and blue dots represent the two literary societies that were prominent when the library was built. Each literary society had its own books.
In the lower half of the central window are pictured several literary figures. Dr. Lyte, whose field of study was English, was instrumental in the design of these windows.
- First: Nathaniel Hawthorne with a quote by Sir Frances Bacon
- Pennsylvania: William Shakespeare with a quote possibly by Dr. Lyte, Principal
- State Normal: John Keats - Phillip Bailey with a quote by Festus
- School: James Russell Lowell with a quote by Shakespeare
NLS (Normal Literary Society), PLS (Page Literary Society)
On the left side, top circle, the open book says "Fiat Lux" (let there be light). The Bible verse is John 8:32 - "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
On the right side, top circle, is the lamp of learning with the Bible verse from Psalms 119:105 - "The word is a lamp unto my feet and light unto my path."
On the bottom side are quills and pens.
On the left bottom are are representations of:
- Medicine. The serpent is from Greek mythology and Aesculapius is the Greek god of healing. According to mythology, Aesculapius renewed himself by sipping potions during religious ceremonies in the temple.
- Law. Scales of justice.
- Theology. The Ten Commandments.
- Education. A wise owl.