My first day, Tuesday, Aug. 27, as Claflin University’s new public relations coordinator was spent in beautiful Tingley Memorial Hall. If you are a native of Orangeburg or the surrounding area or have been in the city for any length of time, you have surely passed this impressive building countless times on the way to the interstate, the Regional Medical Center, the Orangeburg County Fairgrounds, McDonald’s – pretty much anywhere – as it sits alongside U.S. 601, one of Orangeburg’s main thoroughfares.
According to the National Register of Historic Places nomination form, which was filed in 1983, Tingley Hall was constructed in 1908 based on the preliminary plans of William Wilson Cooke, a Greenville native and Claflin graduate. Its construction was funded by Rhode Island philanthropist Samuel Herbert Tingley of Rhode Island in honor of his wife, Adella Malvina Tingley, and contained 14 classrooms and an assembly hall.
Originally used for the institution’s English and Pedagogical Department, Tingley Hall has served as Claflin’s administrative building ever since a fire destroyed the main campus building in 1913.
Today, Tingley Hall – a two-story rectangular brick construction featuring a hip roof and basement – houses the Office of the President, as well as the provost, human resources, finance, public relations, IT, institutional development, auditor and other offices that function as the heartbeat of the university.
Cooke’s use of classical motifs that include “bead-and-reel molding, acanthus leaf keystone and Palladian window design … illustrate Cooke’s competence as an architect.”
“Tingley Memorial Hall is architecturally significant for its association with Cooke, a pioneer black architect,” the NRHP form says. “The composition of the building and the sophisticated use of classical motifs reflect Cooke’s knowledge and skill as an architect.”
Cooke replaced his one-time architectural drawing instructor and mentor Robert Charles Bates as Claflin’s superintendent of vocational training in 1897. While he had already designed a number of buildings for the institution, this one-time carpenter’s apprentice sought more training in architecture at the Boston School of Technology and took a course in art history at Columbia University before returning to Claflin to finish a bachelor’s degree in technology in 1902.
Cooke later went on to work with the U.S. Supervising Architect’s Office in Washington, D.C., first as an architectural draftsman before he began supervising the construction of federal courthouses and post offices across several states. He also worked for the War Department as director of vocational guidance and training at Wilberforce University. He then entered private practice in Gary, Ind., but returned to the Supervising Architect’s Office after the stock market crash of 1929.
The legacy left by Cooke is lasting. Tingley Memorial Hall is on the National Register of Historic Places.
“The handsome, imposing building reflects the importance which was attached to education as a means to an improved future for the black youths of South Carolina,” the nomination form concludes.