The cornerstone for Stephen Ridgley Hall was laid on October 20, 1900, and the building was leased to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition Company for use during the 1904 World’s Fair.
During the World’s Fair, the building was known as the Hall of International Congress, with the second floor used by the British Government for a magnificent display of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee gifts, and the main reading room on the first floor used for social and professional purposes such as balls and meetings.
The architects were the Philadelphia firm Cope & Stewardson, represented by James P. Jamieson. The general contractor was Bright Construction Company. These companies worked together on other early campus buildings.
It was occupied by Washington University in St. Louis in February 1905 and was officially named Ridgley Library on May 3, 1907. When Olin Library was completed in the early 1960s, Ridgley’s reading room was turned into a lounge space, which is now known as Holmes Lounge. The lounge was renovated in 1997.
Stephen Ridgley was born on July 26, 1806 in England, and moved to the U.S. at the age of 10. He entered the lamp manufacturing business of William Carleton of Boston in 1830. After working as a laborer for some time, he moved to St. Louis — after visiting the area a few years earlier — and started his own business, Webb, Chapin and Ridgley.
After a year he bought out his partners and joined with Aloner Stone of Lexington, Massachusetts. Stone withdrew eight years later, and Ridgley continued for another couple of years. When he retired in 1850, he had accumulated a considerable fortune. In 1866 he was elected State Senator, and served as Chairman of his Senatorial Delegation throughout his term. He gave $76,000 to Washington University for the construction of a fireproof library, Ridgley Hall. He died in May 1892.