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What was the purpose of these chimneys?

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This is today's Picture of the Day photo on my Facebook page. Accompanying it is a lame April Fools Day story about Santa Claus suffering a fatal heart attack trying to shimmy down the 13th chimney. Hey, it's all I could come up with at 1 am.

This building is on a university campus. It was built in 1884 as a chemical laboratory. It has 60 chimneys, 48 of them serving a special purpose not involving combustion. What were they for?

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Answered in less than one minute. Give that man a cigar!

From the American Chemical Society website:


The building, first named simply the Lehigh University Chemical Laboratory, was formed in a modified T shape, with three wings located about a central stairway. It contained lecture and exam rooms, research and teaching laboratories, and the necessary service areas. It was constructed from locally quarried hard quartzite. The main building measured 219 feet by 44 feet with a basement and two principal stories. The first story had 9-foot, 8-inch ceilings, except for the main lecture room, which was 16 feet high. The second story had 9-foot ceilings. The central portion of the structure also had a third story which was somewhat narrower, at 37 feet 6 inches with 8-foot ceilings. Each laboratory was 44 feet wide, double the width of the conventional labs of the period, with separate ventilation chimneys for each laboratory. The third wing was only two stories tall, 84 feet long and 50 feet wide.

Interior Design

Several commentators believe that the Chandler Laboratory is the earliest example of contemporary modular bench layout designed to maximize the use of lab space. The organic laboratory had bench space for 22 students. The laboratory benches, built perpendicular to the exterior walls, were 5 feet wide - wider than usual for teaching labs of the day. The quantitative and qualitative analysis labs had even larger student capacities, with the qualitative lab providing space for 84 students and the quantitative lab accommodating 48 students at a time.

Ventilation and Services

Another important innovation - one which enabled the construction of large teaching laboratories within the building - was the use of a fresh air intake for each chimney on the wall next to each window. Each laboratory had its own 12 inch by 12 inch flue, coated on the inside with asphalt to prevent disintegration of the bricks. Fresh air was admitted through an opening from the outside beneath each window and controlled by valves. Steam pipes supplying the radiators were placed within each chimney flue to heat the air, ensuring a positive updraft of exhaust gases.

Also unknown before the construction of the Chandler Laboratory, but later to become a standard feature in modern laboratory buildings, was the delivery of services piped to each bench station, including gas, steam, vacuum, compressed air, and water. These services were all supplied from the basement in an open vertical chase at each window jamb for easy access. Built before the days of electric lighting, gas lamps provided illumination and outlets were positioned on walls and supporting columns throughout the structure. Later, electricity was supplied to each laboratory and office through wires mounted externally on the walls. (Insufficient space remained within the original vertical chases to permit the electric wires to be hidden.) Fireproof internal walls and stairways added to the safety of the building.

Landmark designation

The American Chemical Society designated the Chandler Chemistry Laboratory at Lehigh University as a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a ceremony on March 26, 1994 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."

Some of the ventilator openings and a few sinks from the original lab benches are still in place. I have some pictures of them, but can't find them.

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I'm just happy they didn't lop the chimneys off at the roof-line because they were obsolete. Actually, Lehigh would probably not ever do that. While they have destroyed historical treasures, such as Taylor Stadium (at the time the 3rd oldest stadium in the country), they generally take pains to preserve their ties to the past.

Lehigh University was founded in 1865 by railroad baron Asa Packer. Later, he donated $500,000 to build and furnish Linderman Library, which was completed in 1878. It cost $100,00 to build and $400,000 was spent to furnish it and buy books (many very rare). In 2008, a multi-million dollar renovation was completed. I haven't been in it since the renovation.

Re-opening story

Linderman is next to the former chemistry building (with the many chimneys). Probably its most striking feature is the stained glass skylight in the dome of the rotunda.

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Skylight pic

Another cool building is Packer Hall, which was completed in 1868. They built a railroad to the building for the sole purpose of transporting stone for its construction. That must have been no small feat, since the campus is on a fairly steep hillside.

The university radio station used to be located in the basement of the building. There were a few times that I did an overnight show, being the only one in the building. It sometimes felt a bit creepy with unexplained sounds.

Packer Hall pic

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