The year was 1881. Swarthmore College consisted of seven buildings: Parrish Hall, the President's House, a farmhouse on what is now Fieldhouse Lane, the college barn, a wooden gym, the Quaker Meeting House, and the Benjamin West House and Professor Beardsley thought that the College was in need of a Science Building.
William I Hull's A History of Swarthmore College describes what he did. "...early in the [summer] vacation Professor Beardsley, of the Engineering Department, visited Samuel Willets, in New York, and presented the great need of the College in this respect, receiving from him the promise to give $10,000 toward the building proposed. The Professor felt that $35,000 would be needed to carry out the plans which he proposed, and next visited Joseph Wharton, who offered to give what Samuel Willets would, but no more. Later the plans were so modified as to bring the price down to $25,000, when Joseph Wharton agreed to give the same as Samuel Willets,$10,000 for the building, and add the $5,000 necessary for its equipment."
The building we now know as Trotter was originally expected to occupy space on the west side of Parrish. On September 24, 1881, "a committee of the Managers met at the College to locate and lay out the new Science Building. The ground was chosen west of the main building [Parrish], between the College and the President's house [now part of Sproul], the East wall of the new building to be only about 25 feet from the West wall of the College [Parrish]. Some one objected to this locality as being too near the College in case of fire, as both buildings would be liable to be destroyed in case of the destruction of either. A highly esteemed business manager, of excellent judgement and large business experience, remarked that he would not be afraid to assume the personal responsibility of the loss of the College by fire. The location was accordingly approved, and the stakes were set."
However, on the night of Sept. 25, a fire in Parrish Hall destroyed all but the stone walls of the building. Hull's history records that, "As in the haste and confusion of the night, we stumbled over the stakes for the Science Building, at the West end of the College, we concluded that the new site for that building would be no longer urged; and it was not, but it was placed later where it now stands, at a safe distance from the other buildings, between the main building and the Meeting House."
The Hall of Physics and Engineering, as it stood the next year, consisted of the center section of Trotter Hall, flanked by a pair of short one-story wings. The complete west wing was built in 1895. This addition is still easily discernable--just look for the windows with the brick lintels.
A matching East wing, with stone lintels, was added in 1919. In that year, Hicks Hall was built, and the Engineering Department moved out of Trotter, which then bore the name "Hall of Physics and Biology" until Martin Biological Laboratory was built in the 1930s.
The building housed the Physics department until Dupont was finished in 1960, and then received a major renovation. In September of 1960, the Phoenix reported, "It is now possible to walk from one end of the building to the other without changing floors several times, and the general atmosphere has been changed from one of muddy buffs and greys to yellow, orange, and even some turquoise. 'At last,' said a returning sophomore joyously, 'Trotter makes sense'... The "new" Trotter now has 20 classrooms of varying sizes and 34 faculty offices and includes such features as built-in coat racks, a large music listening room, and a tea pantry on every floor."
But this renovation was relatively minor compared to the one the building is currently undergoing. The plans for Trotter, which include turning the basement into a true ground floor, the straightening of the hallways, and the addition of an open central staircase, suggest that by next year, the interior of the second oldest academic building on campus will have changed beyond recognition.