Demosthenian Hall is the fourth oldest building at the University of Georgia and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in 1971. Constructed in 1824 by Dr. James Tinsley of Columbia County, Demosthenian Hall has become the physical expression of a living tradition which binds generations of students. The Society’s minutes show that by September 5, 1829, the building’s $4,000 construction cost had been completely paid off. The construction was financed by the Society’s members, alumni, and friends.
Located on the University of Georgia’s historic north quadrangle, its facade in the formal Federal style forms a pleasing contrast to the later columned Greek revival structures which surround it. The front is graced with a palladian window over a light doorway. The exterior walls are two feet thick and are of stucco over brick construction.
The upper chamber is the meeting room of the Society. The speaker’s desk has been dated to the 1820′s and may have been built for the Hall. The stump beneath the lectern is stood upon by members seeking office in the Society and was cut from the trunk of the Toombs’ oak.
While a student at the University, Robert Toombs managed to break most of the rules. Finally, in exasperation, University officials expelled him in 1828 several months prior to graduation. While commencement exercises were underway in the Chapel, he began to hold forth in true Demosthenian fashion under an oak tree located in front of the Chapel. He spoke with such fire and enthusiasm that he succeeded in emptying the Chapel. Legend says the tree was struck by lightning the day Robert Toombs passed away.
The simplicity of the carved mantels, window moldings, doors and deep paneled wainscoting emphasizes the drama of the ornate plasterwork ceiling medallion which is based on a template designed by Asher Benjamin. It is a medallion of holly leaves surrounded by swags of smaller leaves which are framed by a delicate filigree. This ceiling is one of the most architecturally significant structures at the University of Georgia and is one of the few remaining examples of this form of decorative artwork.
In 1997, Demosthenian Hall received a $200,000 facelift. Financed primarily by alumni donations and conducted by the architectural firm Serber and Barber, the construction work restored the ceiling medallion and the rest of the Upper Chamber to its original 1824 layout and color scheme. The original hard wood floors were uncovered and restored in the Lower Chamber.