DeKoven Foundation

DeKoven Foundation and Racine College

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.

Looking west past the chapel on your right

Looking west past the chapel on your right

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

East Building

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.”

Racine College, August 1876

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.

1863 Letter to Stafford Smith from Racine College

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.

1883 Racine College

1883 Racine College

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.

Excerpt from 1858 Racine City Directory:

Racine College

Faculty. – Rev. Roswell Park, D. D., President, and Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; Rev. Joseph H. Nichols, A. M., (Chicago,) Professor of English Literature; Rev. George Cowell, A. M., Acting Professor of the Greek and Latin Languages; Marshall M. Strong, Esq., A. M., Lecturer on Legal Science; Philo R. Hoy, M. D., Lecturer on the Natural Sciences and Physiology; Warren J. Durham, A. B., Principal of the English Department; Mr. Dan Howard, (of the Racine Commercial College,) Teacher of Writing; Mr. Shepard D. Cutting; Steward.

Racine College was founded by the citizens of Racine, under the auspices of the Protestant Episcopal Church, at the instance of the Rt. Rev. Jackson Kemper, D. D., and the Convention of the Diocese of Wisconsin, which met in Milwaukee, June 11th, 1851, acting through its Committee, consisting of the Rev. Azel D. Cole, D., D., Gen. Philo White, and Mr. Jacob Morrison. It was incorporated with full collegiate powers and privileges, by the Legislature of Wisconsin, March 3d, 1852; and the corner stone of the present College edifice was laid on the 5th of May, following, when an eloquent and appropriate address was delivered by the Rev. Joseph H. Nichols, then Rector of St. Luke’s Church, Racine. The College exercises were commenced with nine Students, on the 15th of November, 1852, soon after the return of the President, from a summer’s tour in Europe; and the first Collegiate year closed with thirty-three Students, on the 28th of July, 1853, when the first Commencement was held, in Union Hall, and a very impressive address was delivered by the Rev. W. W. Arnett, D. D., of Milwaukee, on Christian Education. But the College building was not completed for use until the opening of the fourth session, on the 14th of September, 1853, commencing the second Collegiate year. The second Commencement was held in St. Luke’s Church, on the 27th day of July, 1854; when an able address was delivered by the Rev. Robert H. Clarkson, D. D. of Chicago, on the Cultivates of the Natural Sciences. The third Commencement was also held in St. Luke’s Church, July 26th, 1855, when a learned address was pronounced by the Rev. Hiram N. Bishop of Kenosha, on the Protestant Reformation. – At the fourth Commencement, held in the same place, July 24th, 1856, and instructive address was delivered by the Rev. Azel D. Cole, D. D., President of Nashotah Theol. Seminary, on the Study of the Exact Sciences; and the address at the fifth annual Commencement, was delivered by the Rev. Alexander Carpenter, of Kenosha, on Domestic Education.

The site of Racine College, comprising ten acres of valuable land, generously given by Charles S. Wright and Truman G. Wright, Esqs., excepting that a donation of $500 from Isaac Taylor, Esq., was made over to them as a partial payment. An additional lot, north of the preceeding, was afterwards purchased of the Messrs. Wright as a site for the President’s house; the price being $400; a part of which was paid by the avails of Lectures delivered by the President of the College, in the winter of 1852-3; and the other part, by a subscription made by a few citizens of Racine, as announced in the second Annual Catalogue. A very grateful tribute should here be paid to the memory of Charles S. Wright, Esq., one of the greatest benefactors of the College; who died July 27th, 1855, — greatly respected and lamented.

St. Francis statue from Dekoven garden

St. Francis statue from Dekoven garden

The present College building was erected under the direction of a Committee, appointed by the subscribers to its funds, and consisting of Dr. Elias Smith, and Messrs. Isaac Taylor and John M. Cary; to whom the thanks of this community are eminently due, for their assiduous, judicious, and gratuitous prosecution of the work to a successful close. The edifice is built of pale brick, in the Gothic style, and is 126 feet long, by 34 feet wide. The central part, which projects to the front, contains four large recitation rooms; besides a chapel, with open roof, occupying the whole of the upper story; and kitchen and dining room in the basement. There are ten rooms in each wing, designed for Student’s dormitories, but three of them are occupied by the Steward’s family in the South wing, and one by the Officers of the College, who have charge of the North wing. – The location is a beautiful one, on the southern margin of Racine, traversed by the Main Street of the city, in an oak grove, fronting on Lake Michigan, and commanding an extensive view of the Lake, in its ever varying phases.

In April and May, 1857, the citizens of Racine munificently subscribed $12,000, for the erection of a second college building, a twin to the first; the corner stone of which was laid by the Rt. Rev. Bishop Kemper, on the fourth day of last July, and the exterior of which is now completed; while the work on the interior is still in progress. It is under the charge of a building committee, consisting of Isaac Taylor, Esq., Lyman W. Munroe, Esq., and Dr. Elias Smith, of the Board of the Trustees; Lucas Bradley, Esq., being the architect.

Racine College now numbers twenty-five surviving graduates, chiefly in the shorter course of studies; but its sole endowment consists in land, building, and apparatus, worth about $30,000, and free from all incumbrances. It is hoped that benefactions will yet be received, which will place it in a stronger and more independent position; and that it will grow with the growth of our city and our state.

Photos from Racine College’s History

Baseball team


Ball game


Taylor Hall?


Chemistry lab


History class




Playing cricket


East Building showing clock


Football team in the endzone

Taylor Hall after the fire

Taylor Hall

St. John's Chapel at Racine College

St. John’s Chapel at Racine College


Students used to engrave their names on the bricks of their dormitory.



Utley is a famous name in Racine history, and easy for me to remember, because my kindergarten teacher was Miss Utley!


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

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