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DeKoven Foundation

The DeKoven Foundation, also known as the DeKoven Center, Racine College, and several other names, is one of the most interesting places to me in Racine. I grew up relatively close to the grounds, and by the time I reached high school in the early 1980s, my friends from the neighborhood and I would run around on the DeKoven grounds at night in the summer time, scaring the heck out of each other.

When I first became aware of DeKoven, all we knew was that it used to be a boarding school, and then it was a place where nuns lived, and sometimes the swimming pool would be open and we would go swimming there.

At that time, there was no nursing home north of the chapel, just a tennis court, a garden, and then thick woods all the way to De Koven Avenue. If you wandered through the woods during the day, you could see where some streets had formerly come into the DeKoven grounds, and they were still there, along with curbs and old street lights.

Walking around the old college buildings, there were several places where you could see where kids had carved their initials into the bricks. If you walked to the chapel and looked closely at the walls near the ground, there were many many "Class of" stones set into the bricks.

Racine College -- Starting in 1852

Racine College started in in 1852, and one of the first buildings is still a part of the East Building, the long building that parallels Lake Michigan. In 1859, Dr. James DeKoven became the Warden of the College, and he began to model the college on English colleges in Oxford and Cambridge, adding new buildings in a quadrangle shape.

The old college's motto was "Vigeat Radix," which means, "May the root thrive," an appropriate motto for a college in a town named after roots (Racine means root in French).

From Racine: The Belle City:
"Later historians have linked old Racine College with many projects which helped make Racine a better place in which to live. St. Luke's Hospital is said to owe its origin to Dr. DeKoven and his associates. The headmaster of the school, Rev. Edward Spalding, raised the funds for the hospital and the Rev. Arthur Piper, Dr. Park's successor as rector of St. Luke's Church, laid the cornerstone in September, 1876. It had only 20 beds. Dr. John G. Meachem became head of the medical staff and president of St. Luke's Hospital Board. In addition to the hospital, the faculty is credited with founding Taylor Home for Children (formerly called Taylor Orphan Asylum), a home for the aged and three missions, in addition to assisting projects of St. Luke's Church."

Also from Racine: The Belle City: "When in its prime, the college was attended by such noted persons as the late Brig. Gen. William 'Billy' Mitchell; Earl Winfield Spencer, U. S. Naval Commander and first husband of the Duchess of Windsor; Gen. Mark W. Clark; Tad Lincoln, son of the president, and A. J. Horlick."


Dr. Joseph Nickols of St. Luke's Church, Dr. Azel Cole of Nashotah Seminary, Bishop Jackson Kemper, and two laymen, Gen. Philo White and Marshall M. Strong meet in Milwaukee at a convention of the Episcopal Church to plan an Episcopal College.

The college is granted its first charter.
Dr. Roswell Park (1807-1869) is Racine College's first president.
May 5, cornerstone of first building laid, with an address by the Rev. Mr. Nichols.

First college building is completed and named Park Hall after Dr. Park. All of Racine College's buildings were built by noted local contractor, Lucas Bradley.

Another fundraiser is held to for another building to add to Park Hall.

Financial "Panic of 1857" begins.

Financial depression reaches the midwest. Dr. James DeKoven DD (1831-1879) begins teaching at Racine College after his original school, St. John's Hall in Delavan, merges with Racine College.

Dr. DeKoven becomes Racine College's new warden.

January 15: Park Hall burns to the ground with the exception of one wing.

Taylor Hall built with funds willed by Mr. and Mrs. Taylor. Taylor Hall contained classrooms, a laboratory, and a library.
New chapel built "and therein the daily service was chorally rendered by a vested choir of thirty-two students, this being at the time the only vested choir west of the Alleghany Mountains."

"Dr. DeKoven becomes a delegate to the [Episcopal] church's triennial General Convention." (from Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County)

Taylor Hall destroyed by fire.

"Historical Sketch of Racine College" written by Rev. Homer Wheeler.

Taylor Hall rebuilt by public funds.

The Law Faculty consists of eleven members.

March 22: Dr. James DeKoven dies.

Grammar school student, Clarence Atkinson, sends a letter to his mother, Mrs. Glb. P. Atkinson, about receiving a package from home, being sick, and various classes he's taking.

Collegiate department closes.

Racine College yearbook

March 25, 1908, Reverend Henry Douglas Robinson, president of the College, becomes bishop of Nevada. The ceremony takes place in Racine's St. Luke's Church.

(postcard mailed in 1910)

"The preliminary program of the Conference for Church Workers in the Province of the Mid-West, to be held at Racine College, Racine, Wisconsin, July 8 to 17th, has been received. This program is planned especially to help both clergy and laity to grasp the vision of great opportunities for service in this new day. The various problems confronting the Church will be considered in classes and lectures, as will also Missions, Religious Education, Social Service and Church Music. The speakers and leaders include: Bishop Webb, Bishop Wise, Bishop Reese of Southern Ohio, the Rev. B. I. Bell, Miss Grace Lindley, and the evangelists, Ted Mercer and Tom Farmer. For information concerning the Racine Conference, address Miss Mary Knight, Executive Secretary, 572 Marshall Street, Milwaukee, Wisconsin." (St. Andrew's Cross, 1919)

"During the 1920s, the campus of Racine College played host each summer to the 'Racine Conference,' a series of workshops for Sunday School teachers, church musicians, and other lay leaders of the diocese." (from Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County)

"Before closing in 1933, the College was used as a grammar school, a boys' military school, and a junior college before closing in August, 1933." (from Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County)

1935: "Bishop Ivivs of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee assisted in making arrangements for the Community of St. Mary, the oldest women's Religious community of the Episcopal Church, to take title of the property. In search of a Summer home for dependent children from Chicago, the Sisters of St. Mary began to make use of the property and formed the DeKoven Foundation for Church Work." (from old DeKoven Center website)

"In the fall of 1935, after two successive and apparently successful summer camps, the Sisters incorporated the DeKoven Foundation for Church Work and bought the property, thus saving it from a sheriff's sale. Three years later, Sister Eanswith, who was Sister-in-charge from 1938 to 1958, and two other sisters began year-round residence, they and their successors maintaining it as a conference and retreat center." (from Racine: Growth and Change in a Wisconsin County)

1938: The Sisters of St. Mary create a small chapel in Taylor Hall.

Photos from Racine College's History
baseball team
Baseball team

ball game
Ball game

Taylor Hall?
Taylor Hall?

Chemistry lab
Chemistry lab

History class
History class


Playing cricket

East Building showing clock
East Building showing clock

Football team in the endzone
Football team in the endzone

Taylor Hall after the fire
Taylor Hall after the fire

Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall

Links to DeKoven/Racine College history
Historical Sketch of Racine College, by Homer Wheeler, 1876

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