Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


President's House

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Institution Name: Wellesley College
Original/Historic Place Name: Webber-Durant Residence
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1854original construction Webber, Aaron
1926first remodelling Aldrich, William
1930second remodelling Klauder, Charles Z.
1932alterations Unknown
1967alterations Unknown
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: none specified
Walls: none specified
Roof: none specified
ca. 1854private residence
ca. 2004-present (2007)president's house

Significance: architecture, education, landscape
Landmark designation:
Narrative: see below
References: see below

The President's House is one of the few buildings that pre-dates the college campus. Built by Aaron Webber in 1854 on a hill overlooking Lake Waban, it provides a fitting location for the college president, just as it did for the founders of the college, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Fowle Durant, who purchased the home in 1865 and lived here for the duration of their lives. From this house they planned Wellesley College and watched it grow. Indeed, they situated many of the college's first buildings to be visible from the vantage point of their house.

In 1917 when Mrs. Durant died (Mr. Durant had died in 1881), the house passed to the college. It was soon renovated as a guest house and used for receptions until 1926 when the board decided to have President Pendleton move to the Webber-Durant house and turn Oakwoods (the President's house from 1901-1926) into a residence for the dean. The 1926 addition was designed by William Aldrich, a Boston architect who had designed the Wellesley College coat-of-arms and would be appointed to the board of trustees in 1930. A third and more extensive remodeling occurred in 1930 when Charles Klauder of the Philadelphia firm Day and Klauder designed an extension to the drawing room and a terrace off the west facade. The drawing room extension appears to have been the infill of and addition to the original piazza on the south side. A garage was added in 1932 and then the house remained the same until 1967, when the serving pantry was remodeled and the bowed bluestone terrace with cast balustrade was built.

Architecturally, the house displays Federal, Italianate and Colonial Revival features, echoing the tastes of the times in which it has been in use. There are several side and rear ells, added dormers, and new terracing at the rear. All changes have been recorded on plans and in photographs. Many of the alterations have occurred at the time of a change in use.
The main facade has an imposing central double-door entrance with six-light transom, within an open flat roof porch supported by fluted round columns and square pilasters set on square bases and having composite capitals. On the south facade is a one-story rectangular projecting bay with glass and a paneled door flanked by long two-over-two, three-quarter lights. A large square projecting ell with a polygonal bay is situated near the southwest corner of the house. The flat-roofed ell is topped by a balustrade of the same design as that on the main house, with slightly more attenuated balusters. The rear or west facade, from where College Hall Hill and the college buildings can be viewed, has a bowed terrace with cast concrete balustrade on a raised brick foundation. The main block of the house displays five sets of French doors.
The ells on the north end of the house are also visible from the front and rear elevations, although they are not dominant due to the set back. The architectural details are similar. Visible from the east side of the house is a one-story projecting oriel with copper roofing. The north end of the house is a one-story addition over a raised brick garage that is built into a slope. The grade of the land in front of the house slopes to the driveway and garage.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Fergusson, Peter, James F. O'Gorman, and John Rhodes. The Landscape & Architecture of Wellesley College. Wellesley, MA: Wellesley College, 2000.

II. Location of other data:

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Last update: November 2006