Fenwick Hall was named for Bishop Benedict Joseph Fenwick. Bishop Fenwick was Bishop of Boston from 1825-1846. He founded the College of the Holy Cross in 1843. Bishop Fenwick himself donated volumes from his own personal library as well as from Georgetown's library to begin building the fledgling college's library. Several of these original books can be found in the College of the Holy Cross Special Collections. They still bear the Georgetown stamps in their front covers. In 1852 a devastating fire broke out that nearly destroyed the entire building. As Fenwick served as a chapel, dormitory and sole academic building on campus this would have closed Holy Cross. But fortunately a highly successful campaign to raise money to rebuild the college allowed Holy Cross to reopen.
The original building, before the fire, presented a central three-story unit flanked by two-story wings both with upper dormer stories. As in the present Fenwick, a grand entrance porch was supported by columns.