The notable lives behind (seven more) big red buildings

How many times have you uttered the name of a Cornell building—whether you lived, ate, took classes, or studied there—without knowing anything about the person it honors? Here’s a look at some of those memorable lives. (And be sure to check out part one!)

John McGraw

McGraw was a self-made millionaire lumber mogul with a deep reverence for classical education, though he himself never received one. Instead, he committed to realizing this dream for his daughter, Jennie, by sending her on a grand tour of Europe starting in 1859.

One of the University’s founding trustees, McGraw gave $120,000 for the construction of the hall that bears his name, which opened in 1872 as one of the three original “stone row” buildings on the west side of the Arts Quad.

The four-story edifice was the first home of the University Library; McGraw and his daughter shared an affinity for rich, diverse university libraries—further informed by her European travels—and were convinced that an institution could not produce fine scholars without one.

From 1873–91, the building’s small tower was home to the Cornell Chimes, until they moved to the iconic structure (later named McGraw Tower) connected to Uris Library.

In January 2023, Arts and Sciences announced a planned $110 million renovation of McGraw Hall—including preservation work on the façade and major interior, structural, and systems updates throughout the building.

Read about more Cornell buildings and their namesakes in Cornellians.

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Illustration combining the front of an academic building with a historic photo of a man