Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project


President's House

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Institution Name: Wheaton College (MA)
Original/Historic Place Name: Wheaton Homestead
Location on Campus: 28 E. Main St.
Date(s) of Construction and Designer(s):
1829original construction Wheaton, Laban Morey
1936renovation Unknown
1962renovations Rich, Howard L. Rich & Tucker Assoc.
Type of Place: Individual building
Style(s): (Glossary)
Foundation: granite
Walls: clapboard
Roof: shingle
1829-1905private residence
1905-present (2007)president's house

Significance: architecture, culture, education, landscape
Landmark designation:
National RegisterNorton Center Historic District (1977)
Narrative: see below
References: see below

Across the street from the main college campus, the president's house stands at the head of the Upper Campus quad, and with the library forms the axis of the campus plan designed by Ralph Adams Cram. Laban Morey Wheaton built this country-version Greek Revival house for his bride Eliza Baylies Chapin; the house became the college president's residence upon the death of Eliza Wheaton in 1905. Laban M. Wheaton and his wife were the moving forces behind the founding of Wheaton Female Seminary. When Laban M.'s sister died, his wife Eliza suggested founding a school for the higher education of women in her memory, instead of merely erecting a monument. Laban M. Wheaton contacted Mary Lyon for assistance in establishing the curriculum, rules, and staff, and she visited the house on several occasions. Laban M. was a trustee from 1834 until his death in 1865. After his death, Mrs. Wheaton exerted significant behind-the-scenes influence on the Seminary and its trustees.

It is impossible to overemphasize the influence that Eliza Baylies Wheaton had on Wheaton Female Seminary and College. She offered scholarships or other necessities when she wanted particular individuals chosen as principal or president, funded the additions to Seminary Hall, and always covered annual deficits. Several of the Seminary's strongest leaders were chosen by Mrs. Wheaton, including A. Ellen Stanton (Principal 1880-1897) and Samuel Valentine Cole (President 1897-1925). Mrs. Wheaton also made significant gifts to the town of Norton, including a public library building, renovations to the Trinitarian Congregational Church, and annuities and vacations for ministers, teachers, and others. Mrs. Wheaton was a dedicated homemaker, making her own preserves, and frequently sending delicacies and flowers to the Seminary. She was a great favorite amongst the Seminary students and teachers, who visited her frequently, even into her old age, and brought her roses for her birthday, thus beginning the tradition of Founders' Day. Wheaton family influence extended even beyond the Seminary's first 70 years and Mrs. Wheaton's death: she made the Seminary her residuary legatee, and the Seminary and College used the income from her estate to construct all the buildings on Upper Campus. Indeed, until the College's first successful capital campaign in the mid-1960s, all construction was funded by the endowment based on Mrs. Wheaton's estate.

Upon Mrs. Wheaton's death, the Trustees voted to make her home the residence of the president, who had formerly lived in Old Metcalf Hall with the students and other teachers. The original three-story structure consisted of nine rooms, with an east wing containing a dining room, kitchen, pantries, and servants' living quarters. The present living rooms were each at one time divided into two rooms. The second floor contained four bedrooms, but parts of one of these were converted into a large guest bathroom and a bathroom for the master bedroom, with the remainder added to the latter room, making it about thirty feet in depth. The third floor, reached by a staircase from the master bedroom, apparently has always been a single large room, about 18' x 22'. Both Presidents Cole and Park used this room as a study. Additional bedrooms and bathrooms, a middle hall and staircase were created at some time in the 19th Century, and the servants' quarters were relocated. The carriage house was apparently built subsequent to the original house, but is now connected to the east wing by upstairs and downstairs passageways. The porches on the north, west, and south sides of the house are original, although that on the south side has been extended toward the east.

The house was modernized and renovated in 1936. The house now contains fifteen rooms, five bathrooms, and five hallways. On the first floor are the living room, music room, dining room, kitchen, housekeeper's sitting room, and a studio. On the second floor are six bedrooms, a sewing room, and a study. There are three stairways in the house and one in the carriage house, more than eighty windows, twenty-three closets, and six entrances to the house. Howard L. Rich of Rich & Tucker, Associates, designed renovations in 1962 when President William C.H. Prentice moved into the house. The exterior of the front of the house remains virtually unchanged since Mrs. Wheaton's day. The wooden fence along East Main St. was replaced with a facsimile during the summer of 2003.

Among Mrs. Wheaton's interests was the collection of specimen trees. The house had been placed in relation to ten or eleven American Elms, several of which still survive. Mrs. Wheaton planted American and European Beeches, European Larches, Norway Pines, a Tulip tree, and a fruit orchard. The president's house garden is often featured as part of annual tree walks offered by the botany professor and college archivist.

I. Bibliographic sources:

Boas, Louise Schutz. Women's Education Begins: The Rise of Women's Colleges. Norton, MA: Wheaton College Press, 1935.

Boulding, Christine, and Hope Phillips. Norton Center Historic District [including Wheaton College]. National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

Helmreich, Paul C. Wheaton College 1834-1957: A Massachusetts Family Affair. New York: Cornwall Books, 2002.

Larcom, Lucy. Wheaton Seminary: A Semi-Centennial Sketch. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1885.

Meneely, A. Howard. "The President's House." Wheaton Alumnae Quarterly 32, no. 1 (January 1953): 18-21.

Paine, Harriet. Life of Eliza Baylies Wheaton: A Chapter in the Higher Education of Women. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1907.

"Seminary Items." The Rushlight especially 26, no. 3 (June 1881): 23; 34, no. 4 (February 1890): 68; 2, no. 1 (December 1905): 22-23.

Shepard, Grace F. Reference History of Wheaton College. Typescript. 1931. Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Architectural History of the Wheaton College Campus: History of Land and Building Acquisition. [Norton, MA.: s.n.], 1987, rev. 2002.

Stickney, Zephorene L. "Faces behind the Facades: Campus Development & Named Buildings at Wheaton College, Norton, MA." Online (2006). Wheaton College, Norton, MA.

Stickney, Zephorene L. Wheaton Imagined, Wheaton Realized: Twentieth Century Perspectives on Planning. Norton, MA: Wheaton College, February 1988.

Stickney, Zephorene L., and Sandra C. Davidson. Of All Our Immemorial Past: 150 years at Wheaton. Norton, MA: Watson Gallery, Wheaton College, 1985.

II. Location of other data:
University: Library, Special Collections, Facilities Management Office
Government Offices

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