Ewell Hall, originally called Phi Beta Kappa Hall, is located on Old Campus at 221 Jamestown Road, across the Sunken Garden from Tucker Hall. It served as a memorial to the Phi Beta Kappa (PBK) academic honor society founded by five students at William & Mary in 1776. (The Phi Beta Kappa Society grew into a prestigious national honor society which persists to this day.) The plans to construct the first Phi Beta Kappa Hall were proposed by President Julian A. C. Chandler in 1919, approved by the Board of Visitors in 1923, and executed beginning in December 1924. Opened in 1926, to mark the 250th anniversary of PBK’s founding, the building held assembly space, an auditorium, guest rooms for members of PBK, and two rooms important to the history of PBK: a recreation of the Apollo Room at the Raleigh Tavern where the organization held its first meetings, and the Francis Phelps Dodge Room, named for a benefactor of the society.
Phi Beta Kappa Hall was part of the expansion of campus after William & Mary admitted women in 1918 and began to plan a modern campus to meet the needs of a new model of co-education. The ensemble of buildings planned by architect Charles M. Robinson and landscape architect Charles F. Gillette situated a core of six academic buildings and six residential halls connected by unifying landscape features. This is one of only three buildings not designed by Robinson in executing his new campus plan. Instead, architects John Kevan Peebles and Finlay Forbes Ferguson designed the building. The cornerstone for the building was laid on June 3, 1925, and the building was dedicated on November 27, 1926.
Throughout the years the building has housed, among other things, a movie theater, a radio station, converted women’s dormitory rooms, and the National Office of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave $250,000 to William & Mary in 1954 for the reconstruction of PBK Hall after a fire on December 29, 1953. The Music Department moved into the north wing in 1955 from its former location in the Williamsburg Methodist Church, and an addition to the department was virtually completed by 1958. The building was renamed Ewell Hall in 1957, when the Phi Beta Kappa name and memorial moved to a new auditorium building further west on Jamestown Road. It has since housed the music department and main administrative offices for Arts & Sciences, with the addition of various wings to accommodate the university’s ever-growing need for space.
Since 1859, different buildings have been named on campus for Benjamin Ewell. The first Ewell Hall – the old College Hotel on the south side of Jamestown Road – was purchased by William & Mary in 1859 to serve as student housing. When Benjamin Ewell died in 1894, the hotel was renamed in his honor. When that building was torn down in 1927, the name Ewell Hall moved to a science building that stood on the north side of campus until 1932.