Construction on what is now West Sibley Hall began in August 1870 to provide a home for the Sibley College of Mechanical Engineering. The handsome stone structure was named for Hiram Sibley of Rochester, New York, one of the university’s original trustees, who had agreed to fund a building for the “mechanic arts” if university president Andrew Dickson White would similarly provide for a president’s house. Sibley chose a design by Syracuse architect Archimedes N. Russell, who had previously designed McGraw Hall on the Cornell campus.
Although White was personally in charge of the Sibley building project, Ezra Cornell himself attended to numerous details of the construction at White’s request. Together, the two men saw the project through to completion in June 1871, in spite of difficulties such as a shortage of stone from nearby quarries.
The increasingly rapid pace of technological change in the late 19th century and the associated surge of interest in engineering as a field of study created the circumstance leading to the next two additions to Sibley College facilities. The first, in 1884, was in the form of two new bays located a short distance to the east of the original Sibley building. The project, also financed by Hiram Sibley, was designed by the architect of West Sibley, Archimedes N. Russell.
Before his death in 1888, Hiram Sibley had asked Russell to develop a plan to guide the further development of Sibley College’s physical plant. The resulting plan led to the construction of the next expansion project in 1894; the construction of an east wing, designed by Cornell architecture professor C. Francis Osborne, for the 1884 addition. An almost exact copy of the original West Sibley building, this portion of the building is faced on its east end and north side with yellow brick, and was intended to be the nucleus of a projected quadrangle, faced with stone on the exterior and yellow brick on the interior. Funds for the 1894 project were provided by Hiram W. Sibley, son of Sibley College’s original donor.
It would also be Hiram W. Sibley who, in 1902, provided the means to literally tie West and East Sibley halls together when he donated funds to construct Sibley Dome — originally an auditorium and museum for Sibley College — designed by Arthur N. Gibb who was a graduate of the class of 1891.