The university’s first library, this Oread limestone and red sandstone building was designed in the Romanesque Revival style by Kansas City architect Henry van Brunt, who also designed the first chancellor’s residence immediately east of it. Both were funded by an 1891 bequest of Boston leather merchant and philanthropist William B. Spooner, uncle of Francis H. Snow, an original faculty member and the fifth chancellor. Dedicated in October 1894, it was the library until 1924, when the much larger Watson Library opened.
In 1926 it became the Spooner-Thayer Museum of Art, housing collections that were a 1917 gift of Sallie Casey Thayer in memory of her late husband, Kansas City department-store magnate William B. Thayer of Emery, Bird, Thayer. These collections included ceramics, glassware, textiles and Asian paintings. In 1978, the artwork was moved to the new Spencer Museum of Art.
The Museum of Anthropology opened in Spooner in 1979; it was renamed the Anthropological Research and Cultural Collections in July 2005 and became part of the Biodiversity Institute in fall 2006.
In fall 2007, Spooner Commons was completed as a joint project of the Hall Center for the Humanities, the Biodiversity Institute and the Spencer Museum of Art. The space on the main level is used for meetings, workshops, symposia and lectures, and exhibits on the arts, sciences and humanities. The $500,000 project included new wiring, lighting and furnishings.
Renovations to the exterior of Spooner Hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, began in spring 2010 and were completed a year later. The work, by Nouveau Construction and Technology Services and the Western Construction Group, includes consolidating and patching deteriorated stone and replacing capstones that are beyond repair. The exterior was cleaned and waterproofed, and steel panels on upper walls wee repaired and coated to prevent further deterioration.
A courtyard on the south side of Spooner is named for Lawrence department-store owner Arthur D. Weaver.