1959 Map of Kenyon and Gambier showing Middle Path.

Looking down Middle Path in any direction you can see buildings framed by the trees, and right now they are turning the vibrant colors of autumn. Beginning at the south end of Middle Path at Old Kenyon, the 2/3 mile walk north to Bexley Hall is full of life with students walking to and from class, talking with professors, reading on benches, and making sure to walk on the same side of the “Gates of Hell.”

Middle Path has been around since the early days of Kenyon and has always been a defining feature of life in Gambier, Ohio. In examining maps starting with one from the institution’s centennial in 1924, based on campus in the 1820s/30s, Middle Path remains an important center point. Each building is strategically placed along it. A good way to examine the importance of this path is through an archaeological perspective– and in this case, through landscape archaeology. As explained by American anthropologists Wendy Ashmore and Chelsea Blackmore (2008), human involvement is what distinguishes landscape from the environment. Landscapes are environments that humans have adapted to suit their own needs: they use the environment to create and bring new life.

So, when examining Kenyon’s campus, one must understand that the environment in which Philander Chase chose to build has remained more or less the same over time. Features such as the Kokosing River have remained. However, since the mid-19th century, Kenyon has built into the hill creating the school and landscape we know today. Natural features, such as the early beginnings of Middle Path, have been used to lay out the campus.

In Smythe’s history of Kenyon (1924), he emphasizes that Chase intentionally chose Gambier as his place to settle due to its isolated location. It would become a seminary removed from the sin and corruption of the outside world. The earliest buildings on campus (the ones we have been excavating) were intended to be temporary until a more permanent structure could be established. These original buildings were not made of stable materials–wood compared to the stone of Old Kenyon. When Old Kenyon burnt down in 1949, it had been a symbol of the south end of Middle Path for over 100 years, so it was rebuilt as a reminder of the first permanent building on campus.

Middle Path also connects the rest of the buildings on campus. Every building comes from a runoff of the main, central path. At Kenyon, departments are not given a sectioned-off area. While there may be some small groupings such as the English cottages, most departments are not always in the same building, and classrooms become cross-disciplinary. Physics classrooms can be used for history and law classrooms for math.

Kenyon was intentionally placed in this environment, and in that, each building established forms the dynamic and lively landscape we live in today.

References Cited

2008 Ashmore, Wendy, and Chelsea Blackmore. Landscape Archaeology. Encyclopedia of Archaeology, vol. 2, p. 1578.

1924 Smythe, George. Kenyon College, Its First Century. Kenyon College.