She has stood sentry for well over a century, a proud witness to both the constancy and the progress of her neighborhood.
With style in her gabled roof and substance in her limestone foundation, she once preened rightfully, known to all the residents of her bustling river city as the William S. Dewitt jr. house, a cornerstone of an elegant neighborhood.
In 1894, the year she was born, her collegiate neighbor launched its first football team and, though the Lawrence Vikings lost their first game 80-0 to the more experienced Ripon Redhawks, they persisted and developed into a well respected Division III team.
The Dewitt house saw other kinds of progress from her perch on North Union Street. The country’s first electric street car ran just one block south, down College Avenue, and the university’s co-ed bicycle club peddled past. By 1894, Lawrence already had been a co-educational facility for 45 years. They were one of the first campuses in the country to welcome women.
She also saw peace, located just steps away from the stately, spiritual Lawrence Chapel.
Residents of the Dewitt house could sit on their wrap-around front porch with its Tuscan columns and watch all the comings and goings of the university to its south and City Park to its north. They could stroll less than half a mile down the Lawrence Street Hill to see the innovative Vulcan Street Hydroelectric Central Station, one of the first hydroelectric facilities in the county.
Imagine the conversations her walls have absorbed in the last 129 years!
Since 1972, Lawrence University has owned the Dewitt House and it had been a dedicated home for various student organizations over the years. Today, she maintains a determined regality, despite her peeling paint and sagging front porch.
She has stood empty now for several years.
Recently, the university announced plans to raze the former Dewitt House due to concerns with her structural safety.
I don’t have the expertise to offer an opinion on Lawrence’s plans to demolish the Dewitt House. As the proud but often frustrated owner of a house built in 1931, I can attest to the expense of maintaining old houses and I know it isn’t easy.
I just wanted to honor the old girl and to offer her one more chance to tell her story to an appreciative audience.
Bravo, Dewitt House! Bravo.