Louisville architect and longtime Centre trustee Hugh L. Nevin was responsible for eight new buildings and several substantial renovations at Centre during the mid-20th century. Nevin Hall, the last of his work on campus, was dedicated in 1968.
When Hugh L. Nevin was named trustee emeritus in 1960, Centre president Thomas A. Spragens described him as “the trusted advisor to the College on architectural matters.”
“The work of his firm in planning the restoration of Old Centre . . . and in designing two new buildings in harmony with it in 1940 has given Centre a group of buildings universally hailed by architects for their classic simplicity,” Spragens said.
The first two of Nevin’s campus additions came in 1940: Wiseman Hall for freshmen and 762 West Main (formerly McReynolds Hall) as a residence and the College dining hall. It is likely that his firm—then called Nevin, Morgan, and Kolbrook—was also responsible for the portico and columns added to the back of Old Centre that same year, although those blueprints no longer exist.
His extensive renovations to Breckinridge Hall in 1947 included adding the distinctive turret. The 1949 renovations to Carnegie Library nearly doubled the book capacity and added a third floor within the existing building. Alumni Memorial Gymnasium came in 1950, as did the Phi Kappa Tau house on Maple Avenue, funded jointly by the College and the fraternity. In 1962, when his three duplex buildings of the new Fraternity Quad brought all six fraternities on campus, the Phi Tau house became a residence hall and later a home for administrators. The board enthusiastically voted to name Nevin’s final project in his honor. Nevin Hall opened in 1968 and mostly housed first-year men until 2015, when first-year women joined them.
Little is known of Nevin’s early years. He was born on Feb. 27, 1876, according to his World War I draft registration card, and he married Cora Stellar, also from Louisville, in 1901.
He started out in the plumbing business and briefly attended law school at the University of Louisville, before embarking on a long career as an architect. Although he specialized in the comfortable bungalows he called “artistic homes,” his practice was wide-ranging.
Among his notable projects were the first WHAS radio station in 1922, what was probably the first suburban shopping center in Louisville, at Fourth and Oak, in 1925, and several structures, including the Highland Baptist Church, in Cherokee Triangle, still a nearly intact pre-WWI streetcar suburb.
He was deeply involved with the Louisville YMCA, serving as president and for more than 40 years as a member of its board. As a teen, he played on one of the earliest basketball teams in the country, Louisville’s 1895 championship YMCA team.
In 1964, he recalled those early games to an Associated Press reporter.
“We had bushel baskets on shelves and had to climb up to take out the ball after every basket,” he said. “Rules were liberal. We rolled the ball along on the floor. We could tackle an opponent.”
A keen fisherman and sportsman all his adult life, he was longtime president of the Bernheim Forest Foundation; Bernheim Forest’s largest lake, Lake Nevin, honors him. He was also an elder and Sunday School superintendent at Louisville’s Highland Presbyterian Church.
Although Nevin did not attend Centre, he joined the board in 1941 and served 19 years before taking emeritus status. In addition to being an honorary member of Centre’s chapters of Omicron Delta Kappa leadership society and Phi Kappa Tau social fraternity (whose house he had built), he received an honorary degree from the College in 1965.
Hugh Nevin died at the age of 93 on July 30, 1969, after a very brief illness, leaving Centre nearly $300,000 (about $2 million today), almost half of his estate. It is fitting that his name lives on to this day in the memories of the nearly five decades of students who spent their first college year in the residence hall that bears his name.
by Diane Johnson
September 29, 2017