Adam Mohn

From Natural Science to Behavioral Science: A History of Wesleyan’s Judd Hall

Judd Hall is now an innocuous campus landmark. Located right next to the ’92 Theater, most people probably barely even notice it’s there. But if you’re a student here, you probably walk past it at least once a day, and if you’re a visitor, you most likely also passed it on your way to the library here. If you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, I have included an only slightly outdated aerial map of the area with the location marked.

A satellite imagery map of part of Andrus Field down to Church Street. There is a large red circle over Olin Library with the text "You are Here" in Times New Roman. To the right, there is a red X over a building and it is labeled "Judd Hall."
Judd Hall in Relation to Olin Library (Airbus)

Table of Contents

  • Orange Judd
  • Wesleyan University Alumni Record
  • Agricultural Research Station
  • Wesleyan Museum

Orange Judd

Wesleyan is a private institution of higher education, and as such, we have an innumerable number of buildings named after old white men who donated a lot of money to the school. Generally, the ones that come to mind are Victor Butterfield (for whom the dorm colloquially known as “The Butts” is named) the eleventh president of Wesleyan (Victor), Wilbur Olin Atwater (for whom this library and also the Hall-Atwater science building were named — the exhibit right across from this one deals with the gritty family relationships of the family, if you’re interested) the inventor of the calorie and Wesleyan alumnus turned chemistry professor (Guide)– he was also very involved in the agricultural research station listed down below, and basically every other building on this campus that has a name attached to it. I was already vaguely familiar with these people, but I could not say the same about the benefactor of Orange Judd Hall of Natural Science. So I got to digging, and it turns out that Judd was editor and then later owner and publisher of the American Agriculturist, one of the most successful agricultural journals in the latter half of the nineteenth century (Potts). In his journal, he tried to make the most modern science accessible to the average farmer who would not have been interested in the jargon of most scientifically published papers.

A faded yellow brochure with many drawings of livestock, houses, and farm equipment. The largest text reads "American Agriculturist for the Household, Garden, Farm. Full of Good Things for everybody."
An 1876 Edition of the American Agriculturist (American)

Judd became president of the Wesleyan Alumni Association in 1866 and was the first to edit …

The Wesleyan University Alumni Record

Beginning in 1873, the alumni record was published about once every 10 years, and included a short biography of each alumnus.

Just a notable piece of Wesleyan history that I wanted to include, and the entirety of the first volume is digitized, so feel free to take a look if you so choose.

Agricultural Research Station

In addition to being potentially the first building built on a college campus exclusively for the study of the natural sciences, Judd Hall was the location of the first agricultural experiment station in the United States. Although hosted originally here at Wesleyan, after the first two years were a success, it was permanently moved to Yale and still remains there as the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (National). The study was originally started and hosted by Judd and Wilbur Olin Atwater (yeah, that guy I mentioned before who was into nutritional science) and focused on fertilizers and the growth and composition of field crops (Guide). I know, super fascinating stuff. But it was new and important at the time, and Atwater published a number of papers based on the research from this station, including one that proved that legumes can add nitrogen back into soil. I was being a little sarcastic before about fertilizers being interesting, but nitrogen fixation is a big deal for maintaining soil health, especially in a commercially monocultural agriculture society. Anyway beans good for soil! Remember that, and know it was the agricultural research station at Wesleyan that taught it to us. Many other papers written by Atwater were published in the American Agriculturist as well, continuing the professional relationship between Atwater and Judd.

A black and white photograph of a dirt road going up to three barn-style buildings.
Storrs Agricultural College circa 1900, connected to the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station (Elevated)

I know this isn’t actually Wesleyan, but I couldn’t find any pictures of the experiment station from this time period, so cut me some slack, ok? I’m trying to bring you the best information straight from the annals of the internet, but even I can’t create photos that were never actually taken.

The University Museum

Judd Hall was constructed with being the location of the University Museum in mind. The top two floors of the building were built for the natural sciences collection (including some anthropological artifacts — the two weren’t separated as disciplines until the early 20th century) that Wesleyan had accrued over the past decade before the building was built. In the late 1800s, any higher education institution that was worth its salt had a museum. It was usually open to both the general public and as a teaching resource for students, and the Wesleyan Museum was no exception. It featured objects donated by professors (see Vivian’s Exhibit on the Mummified Individual at Wesleyan for one example), objects collected by missionary groups like the Missionary Lyceum (the missionary group Wesleyan was affiliated with), items traded from other institutions such as the Smithsonian, and many natural history specimens donated by the residents of Middletown. In fact, in the early years of the museum, almost all of the new accessions each year were from ordinary citizens.

A sepia tone photograph featuring the top floor of the museum. There are rows of shelves, each filled with taxidermied animal specimens. There is a camel on the left, and a cast of a skeleton coming up through the open balcony on the right.
View from the Second Floor of the University Museum (Wesleyan SC&A)

The purpose of the museum was to organize specimens taxonomically, as in the early days everything natural science was about categorization. This later bled into the field of anthropology, and we are still trying to dispel remnants from this way of thinking. For example, with evolution taking the world by storm, it was thought that the same methodology could be used to categorize people. This is now considered false in anthropological circles, but the hierarchical evolution of civilizations is still something that is taught in high schools across the country.

In 1957, the popularity of university museums was waning, and Wesleyan didn’t want to continue to staff the museum. This meant that everything was haphazardly packed up — with the intention of only being in temporary storage — and put into various locations around campus, including the tunnels under Foss hill and the Olin and Exley attics. However, these storage solutions became permanent as the university never provided another place to put them, and so they were mostly lost to the collective memory of the university. This led to a huge loss of specimens due to improper conditions, just getting lost, and being stolen by anyone who had access to the storage locations. Nowadays, we have both the Joe Webb Peoples Museum and the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections to continue to use what is left of the University Museum’s collections for study, but there has been an incredible amount of loss because of the carelessness with which specimens have been treated. If you’re interested in visiting, the Joe Webb Peoples Museum is on the fourth floor of Exley, and the Collections are on the third floor and available by appointment.

Why Should You Even Care?

Wesleyan has history. A lot of it. And it can be overwhelming to even try to think about all the people who have contributed to what the school is now in one way or another. But Judd Hall has so much of that history contained within its walls, and it is right there in the middle of campus. I never think about it, and no one I know ever even thinks to think about it. But even what some students have called the most oppressive building on campus has some cool history, and I want to try and foster that sort of contemplation about things that seem everyday to us just by virtue of being part of the landscape. But you don’t have to go to Judd Hall. It’s kind of creepy in there. Just admire it from the outside, and know that it has a bigger place in history than just the big, imposing psychology department on College Row.

Sources Cited

Elevated View of Storrs Agricultural College | CT Digital Archive. Accessed 17 May 2024.

Guide to the Wilbur Olin Atwater Papers, 1869-[ca.1914]. Accessed 17 May 2024.

Mandelbaum, David G. “University Museums.” American Anthropologist, vol. 55, no. 5, 1953, pp. 755–59. JSTOR,

Maynard, Leonard A. “Wilbur O. Atwater — A Biographical Sketch (May 3, 1844 – October 6, 1907).” The Journal of Nutrition, vol. 78, no. 1, Sept. 1962, pp. 1–9. ScienceDirect,

National Historic Landmarks Program (NHL). 3 Oct. 2007,

Potts, David B. Wesleyan University, 1831-1910: Collegiate Enterprise in New England. Yale University Press, 1992.

Victor L. Butterfield, Office of the President – Wesleyan University. Accessed 17 May 2024.

Airbus, Maxar Technologies, 2024.

About The Author

Adam is a sophomore (class of 2026) and a double major in Archaeology and Classical Studies. He works at the Archaeology and Anthropology Collections as part of the African Material Cultures @ Wes Initiative, and has been since first semester freshman year. In his free time, he likes reading, gardening, and annoying his friends with weirdly gruesome “fun” facts.