ACS National Historic Chemical Landmark at UNH

Plaque New Hampshire Land Grant CollegeFew contributions to the understanding of the rare earths could overshadow the achievements accomplished in the chemistry laboratories at UNH. Chemistry has been a part of the university from its beginning. UNH traces its origins to the acceptance of the Morrill Act by the New Hampshire Legislature in June 1866, which led to the establishment of the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Hanover, in association with Dartmouth College. The first faculty member of the college in 1868 was Ezekiel W. Dimond, who was appointed professor of general and applied chemistry. An 1865 graduate of Middlebury College, Dimond was synonymous with the institution in its early days. Not only was he professor of chemistry, he was also the president, business manager, architect, supervisor of construction, and lobbyist in the state legislature. His efforts led to the construction of Culver Hall, which contained a chemistry laboratory, described in 1874 as the only one in the state. Thus the Department of Chemistry is the only department that has existed for the entire history of the university. Dimond served as professor of chemistry until his untimely death, at the age of 40, in 1876.

Succeeding Dimond as head of chemistry were Benjamin T. Blanpied (1877-1889), Fred W. Morse (1889-1909), and Charles L. Parsons (1909-1911). When Parsons resigned in 1911 to become chief chemist of the U.S. Bureau of Mines, Charles James succeeded him and served as professor and head of the Department of Chemistry from 1912 until his death in 1928. For the most part, the department focused on the inorganic and analytical disciplines under his leadership.

While the New Hampshire College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts was still located on the campus of Dartmouth College at Hanover, the State of New Hampshire was bequeathed the entire fortune of a Durham farmer, Benjamin Thompson. He specified that an agricultural college be founded on his property in Durham. In 1891, preparations began for the college to move to Durham. Charles Parsons designed the new chemistry laboratories in Conant Hall, which was constructed during 1892-1893 at a cost of $40,000 to house the Department of Chemistry and other science departments. From 1906 to 1928, Conant Hall also housed the offices and laboratories of James.

Plaque Conant Hall ACS LandmarkBy the late 1920s, Conant Hall was no longer adequate to accommodate chemistry; James designed a new building for chemistry and agricultural chemistry. Completed after James's death, the Charles James Hall was dedicated at the 1929 fall meeting of the Northeastern Section of the American Chemical Society (ACS). Conant Hall is now one of the three surviving original buildings of UNH at Durham. The interior has been completely altered since its use by the Department of Chemistry, and today it serves as a classroom and office building. The exterior, however, is remarkably unchanged from its appearance in 1893, when the Department of Chemistry first occupied Conant Hall and when, in subsequent years, James and his students conducted the thousands of manipulations needed to complete rare earth separations. Conant Hall and Durham became known worldwide among chemists as a center of rare earth research.

The American Chemical Society acknowledged Conant Hall as a National Historic Chemical Landmark at a dedication ceremony on October 29, 1999.