There are in America but few localities where the buildings possess the element of historic interest, which gives to the architecture of Europe its chief charm. This is so, not because we are essentially a new country, but because the restless spirit of progress which delights fully as much in tearing down as in building up, ever demands that the crooked must be made straight and that the old must give place to the new. — Marcus T. Reynolds
Born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1869, architect Marcus Tullius Reynolds was raised by his aunt in Albany, New York, after his mother died in 1875. This aunt was the widow of Bayard Van Rensselaer, grandson of the last patroon to live in the Van Rensselaer manor house. Due largely to this connection to the Van Rensselaers, Reynolds enjoyed membership in the uppermost ranks of 19th-century Albany society. After attending several private boarding schools, he matriculated at Williams in 1886.
During his undergraduate years, Reynolds maintained a wide variety of interests, including membership in the Sigma Phi Fraternity and photography of all aspects of college life. He documented campus architecture and collected portraits of his classmates, although it is unclear whether or not he took all of these photos himself.
Upon entering the architecture school at Columbia University, hard work and dedication to his studies permitted him to begin there as a second-year student. He also earned an honorary Master of Arts degree from Williams, only three years after receiving his B.A. Finishing his architectural studies at Columbia, he started out in private practice and took on the Sigma Phi project as one of his first commissions in 1893.
The disrepair of the old Van Rensselaer mansion, and Reynolds recommendation that the house be demolished, coincided with a fire in the Sigma Phi lodge at Williams where he had lived during his senior year. Knowing that the society would construct a new lodge within the next year, Reynolds took charge of the project and designed a lodge similar to the old Van Rensselaer mansion also hoping to use materials from the Albany site. He utilized an elaborate numbering system to aid the reconstruction of these materials, but was able to use only the stonework and the window trimmings; the bricks were too old and broken to be salvaged.
Reynolds career as an architect flourished as the 20th century began, and his commissions included some of the most prominent buildings in Albany. The gothic Delaware and Hudson building, completed in 1918, was one of his largest projects. Reynolds was also famous for many classically designed bank buildings in New England. He died in 1937, leaving a substantial amount of money to the Alpha Chapter of Sigma Phi at Williams College.
By Matthew Jeffers (Williams Class of 1998)
Reynolds, Marcus T. “Colonial Buildings of Rensselaerwyck.” Architectural Record IV No. 4. (Apr-June 1895).
“Marcus T. Reynolds Career as Architect Ended by Death.” Albany Evening News . 18 March 1937.
“Master Builder.” Editorial. Knickerbocker Press . 19 March 1937.
“Marcus Tullius Reynolds.” Obituary Record of the Society of Alumni Series 35 n. 2 (October 1937).
Johnson, Eugene J. Style Follows Function: Architecture of Marcus T. Reynolds . Albany: Washington Park Press, 1993.