Campus Life

Post-World War II and eager for a Penn State education

Army-surplus buildings on campus housed influx of returning student veterans

A late 1940s aerial view of Penn State's Windcrest Village and Pollock Circle, housing for student veterans returning from WWII. The complexes were located about where South Halls is today on the University Park campus. Credit: Penn State University Archives / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — In March 1944, college and universities across the United States began preparing for a flood of admissions applications from servicemen returning from the Second World War. Some of these students would be resuming an education interrupted by the conflict; others would be veterans taking advantage of financial assistance guaranteed by the new Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944 (better known as the GI Bill of Rights).

Headed by then-President Ralph Dorn Hetzel, the Pennsylvania State College — and other institutions across the country — planned to erect temporary dormitories to house this avalanche of incoming students. The federal government had acquired a large number of surplus buildings that were originally meant for emergency purposes during the war, and Penn State (and others) sent representatives throughout the Middle Atlantic states to find any structure labeled as surplus that could be dismantled and transported back to campus. The competition among schools for these surplus buildings was intense.

After WWII and the enactment of the GI Bill, a massive influx of soldiers enrolled at the Pennsylvania State College. To house these veterans, trailers were brought to campus as living quarters. This area, located near present-day Redifer Commons, South Halls and the Breazeale Nuclear Reactor, became known as "Windcrest." Credit: Penn State University Archives / Penn StateCreative Commons

Penn State managed to find about a hundred trailers that the government had used to house defense industry workers in the New Castle, Pennsylvania, area. The buildings were moved to the University Park campus in 1945 and set up on a grassy hillside above E. College Ave. and east of Shortlidge Road. Utilities and dirt streets were installed and the college rented these trailers to married student veterans and their families for $25 a month.

Windcrest Trailer Park in winter, looking east, circa 1946. Credit: Penn State University Archives / La VieAll Rights Reserved.

By the spring of 1946, "Windcrest" had grown to a community of 250 homes, consisting of standard, expansible and privately owned trailers, and a community hall. Seven trailers were devoted to laundry, each equipped with two washing machines and a drying yard.

Mrs. Lyon serves breakfast in their family's Windcrest trailer, circa 1946. Veteran Harris Lyon, right, enrolled in the freshman class that year with his daughter Patricia, left.  Credit: Penn State University Archives / La VieAll Rights Reserved.

"It was the non-academic side of college life that residents of that little community would remember best — the beds that folded from the living room walls of those tiny trailers, the kitchens equipped with gasoline or kerosene stoves, the communal baths (the trailers had no sewer connections), the camaraderie that evolved among residents who shared these 'luxuries,'" wrote author and historian Michael Bezilla in "Penn State: An Illustrated History."

Other amenities eventually included mail service; milk, ice and baker routes; and a play yard for the families' children. Community members organized a local "borough" government, fire department, health service, library and co-operative store.

A Penn State student veteran with his family in their Windcrest home, late 1940s. Credit: Penn State University Archives / Penn StateCreative Commons

For unmarried veterans, whose numbers far exceeded married ones, Penn State erected 14 single-story, prefabricated structures north of Windcrest and just off Pollock Road. The "Pollock Circle" complex housed approximately 850 men, and contained a central cafeteria — called the Pollock Union Building, or PUB.

Windcrest Trailer Park and Pollock Circle, circa 1946, on what is today the University Park campus. Credit: Penn State University Archives / Penn StateCreative Commons

In 1947-48, the college acquired more trailers for Windcrest families, bringing the total there to more than 340, and purchased 25 more prefabricated housing units similar to those in Pollock Circle, for single veterans. Known as "Nittany Dormitories," these units were set up east of Pollock Circle and south of the poultry barns.

"Nittany Dormitories," former Army surplus barracks, circa late 1940s at the Pennsylvania State College. Credit: Penn State University Archives / La VieAll Rights Reserved.

By 1947-48, about 2.2 million Americans were attending college, with 1.15 million of those being former members of the armed services. Today, more than 5,600 students throughout all of Penn State's campuses, including Penn State World Campus, have direct military ties as either active-duty service members, reservists, veterans or military dependents.

Military appreciation at Penn State

Penn State has a longstanding and proud tradition of serving the men and women of our military through education benefits, resources, support and more. This year's Military Appreciation Week from Nov. 8 to 16 will honor America's “Greatest Generation” with a weeklong series of campus events, including a film screening, Veteran’s Day ceremony, student veteran panel and more.


Last Updated September 03, 2020