Hall History & Preservation

Hall History

Demosthenian Hall is the fourth oldest building at the University of Georgia and home to the Demosthenian Debate Society. 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 Hall was put on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and is the fourth-oldest building on campus after Old College, New College, and Waddell Hall. It has undergone several preservation efforts in its 200 year history including large-scale renovations throughout the late 20th century.

The building was constructed in a formal federal style with period accurate windows and doors. On the second floor, the debate chamber is the main meeting space of the society. The ceiling is made of intricately carved plaster in the shape of holly leaves. The ceiling of the society is one of the few remaining carvings of this type. The speaker’s lectern of the society is an original piece from the 1820’s that was hand built for the society. Underneath the lectern is a stump from the Robert Toombs Oak, a tree under which Toombs gave reportedly his 1828 commencement speech. When he died in 1885, legend says the tree was struck by lightning. The stump is now used by the society for election speeches.

The lower chamber of the building contains a space for members of the society to study and socialize. Paintings of the Hall and of former members adorn the walls. The Society also contains a library of over 1,000 books which at once point was the largest at the University. The Society donated many of their books in order to help the Main Library rebuild after it was burned down during the Civil War.

As a building that is over 200 years old, the Hall has undergone several large-scale renovation projects. In 1997 the building was restored to its 1824 appearance including hardwood replacement, repainting, and furniture replacement. The restoration was completed using alumni donations to the Society.

Recent Preservation Efforts

The most recent renovation in Demosthenian Hall was the replacement of seating in the Upper Chamber. Old seats reclaimed from another historic Athens building had been used for more than a decade and have since been replaced with benches. The project was conducted in consultation with the UGA Preservationist, UGA Facilities Management, and other local and community figures.

Citations

Beckett Smith. “Demosthenian Hall.” April 27, 2018. Accessed December 8, 2021. https://theclio.com/entry/59268

Waymarking

UGA Architects