Racine College

Different phases in the life of this institution:
Early years (1852-1859)
DeKoven era (1859-1879)
Decline as a college (1879-1889) (after death of DeKoven)
Preparatory school and later years (1889-1933)
Closure and recent history (1933-present)


1875-6 Racine Miscellaneous Directory, published by Murphy & Co.,
City, State and Railroad Directory and Gazetteer Publishers, 105
Wisconsin St., Milwaukee, Wi.
College Mercury, (Literary) Students of Racine College, pub. and
Proprs. Racine College; H.H. Martin and A.B. Eldredge, editors;
Semi-monthly, $2 per year, issued 1st and 2nd Saturdays of each
Month; established 1867.

The Death and Funeral of James DeKoven
“THE DEATH OF OUR WARDEN.” This phrase of five words was the headline of the article which appeared in The College Mercury of Racine College on April 7, 1879. Its simplicity in many ways underlines the impact that the unexpected death of James DeKoven had on the school, its students and staff, the city of Racine, and the Episcopal Church of the United States. The opening paragraph of this article is a summation of this event and its effect:
On the morning of the 19th of March, the Rev. James DeKoven, D.D., Warden of Racine College, died of apoplexy. As the news of his sudden death spread through the College and Grammar School, the scene was affecting in the extreme. Each felt as though a revered parent was gone. Tears came to the eyes of many a youth, who had long since come to manly strength and stature.

The April 7th issue of the Mercury was the first to be published after March 19. The editors provided an overview of the life of DeKoven, the events following his death and the many tributes paid to him throughout the country.

DeKoven’s health. In January of 1879, DeKoven fell on an icy sidewalk in Milwaukee and broke his ankle. The accident happened early in the morning as he walked to the station to get the first train for his return to Racine. He could not get up and went unnoticed for almost an hour. His Racine doctor, John G. Meachem, described his progress of recuperation as good and expressed no concerns about his general health. Meachem does mention DeKoven’s worries about his weak heart: “His mother died of paralysis, lingering paralysis, and he had great dread of being himself the subject of the same disease.”
The Funeral. James DeKoven died on Wednesday the 19th and his funeral was held on Saturday the 22nd of March during a blizzard in Racine. The description of his funeral in the Mercury is very complete. Following the directions given by DeKoven before his death, there were three celebrations of Holy Communion on the morning of his burial at 7, 8, and 9 o’clock. A public viewing of his body occurred after the nine o’clock service. The actual funeral service took place at 11 a.m. and began with a formal procession from Taylor Hall to St. John’s Chapel. This involved not only the Racine College Community but former students, visiting clergy, citizens and elected officials of Racine and Wisconsin. At the conclusion of the service the procession moved from the chapel to the grave accompanied by the hymn “For all the saints who from their labors rest.” The spot chosen for his tomb is on the south side of the chapel under the window nearest to his seat inside.

St. John’s Chapel on the morning of James DeKoven’s funeral

The description of the chapel and the burial service is quite detailed. Special attention is given to the many floral tributes that were sent to the college for the funeral. Among the different detailed descriptions is the following.
The tribute of the old students now resident in Chicago was a cross five feet high of choice white flowers. On the upper arm of the cross was a large

crown of tea roses with a band of purple flowers. At the intersection of the cross were the letters I.H.S. in scarlet blossoms. The based consisted of three broad steps inscribe with purple violets with the prayer, ‘Grant, O Lord, eternal rest.’
The photo that accompanies this article was taken the morning of the funeral and shows the profusion of flowers in St. John’s Chapel. Memorial services in DeKoven’s honor were held in many churches around the country.
The widespread nature of the articles which began appearing on March 20, 1879, attest to DeKoven’s celebrity. The contested episcopal election in Illinois in 1875 had obviously contributed to his fame. From his little college in Wisconsin he had come to be known throughout the United States.

Daily Globe, St. Paul, Thursday morning, March 20, 1879
The Classes of 1870 and 1871 at their reunion – June 19, 1906. At the tomb of James DeKoven.

Pictured from left to right:
The Rev. Dr. Arthur Piper (1845-1930)
A graduate of Racine College and Nashotah House, Piper served for more than a quarter century as rector of St. Luke’s, Racine. For three years he served as Warden of Racine College and as College President for ten years. He also served as president of St. Luke’s Hospital and chaplain at Taylor Orphanage.
The Rev. Luther Pardee (1848-1930)
Pardee served in various parishes in the Chicago area and as Dean of St. James Cathedral. The Rev. John Coleman (1846-1920)
A graduate of General Theological Seminary, Coleman served parishes in Philadelphia, Michigan and Connecticut retiring in 1879. Eventually, he moved to England where he died in 1920.
Mr. John O. Slemmons (1847-1924)
Slemmons was one of the oldest and most widely known traveling salesmen in the jewelry business, representing J.B. Bowden & Co. when he retired in 1919.
Mr. Frank O. Osborne (1849-1931) After a successful business career in Chicago, Osborne became a prominent attorney in St. Paul, Minnesota. A graduate of Racine College and Harvard Law School, he was a trustee of Racine College for several years and was the last surviving member of his class when he died in 1931.
Mr. Alfred Sorenson (1850-1939)
Alfred Sorenson was a well-respected Omaha newspaperman and author of The Early History of Omaha.
4 The College Mercury, Racine College, April 7, 1879, Vol. XXV, No. 2, p. 1.
Chief Justice John B. Winslow (1851-1920)
After receiving a B.A. in 1871 Winslow later joined Racine College faculty as an instructor of Greek. Graduating from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1875, he served as Racine city attorney for three years until being elected a circuit court judge for Racine, Kenosha and Walworth Counties. Elected to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1891, Winslow served for 29 years, the last 13 years as the chief justice.
The Rev. Dr. MacLean (1848-1930)
The Rev. Dr. T. W. MacLean served parishes in Minnesota and Joliet, Illinois.
Ex.-Gov. William Rush Merriam (1849-1931) Merriam served in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1883 and 1887 and was the Speaker of the House in 1887. He was elected as the 11th Governor of Minnesota and served from January 9, 1889 to January 4, 1893

Arthur Schultz diary, April 12 to June 12, 1912, Racine College

I finally found one of the Racine College ghost stories I had been looking for. This one stuck in my mind:
I am a Racine resident and am 100% convinced based on my own personal experiences that the Dekoven Center is haunted. I worked for a local caterer and we would cater weddings there using the basement of the old chapel for our work area. When being down there we have had the sinks on full blast filling up water pitchers and all of a sudden they will shut off. When standing at those sinks with your back to a sub basement area where an old unused bathroom is you feel like someone is watching you like they are down in that sub-basement area. There’s a staircase that goes up from the basement to an old office area and you hear what sounds like a chair moving in that office. We saw a figure of a man when looking up the stairs towards the office once. Your arm hair stand on end if you are ever down there alone. If you leave something on a table down there and come back it will be on the floor. It’s just a super creepy place and I have worked there at least 10 times and every time something creepy happens.

William Wishau reminded me of what an amazing resource the Wisconsin Historic Aerial Imagery Finder is. I grabbed some photos from 1937 and did a little annotation on Racine College (which closed in 1933).
Racine College, roughly 1901 to 1907 timeframe. The photographer is facing south toward the chapel, and would have been standing roughly in the middle of the oval running track.
Here is a 1907 real photo postcard with a nice view of Racine College’s (Dekoven) Taylor Hall. I have not seen quite this angle before. You can clearly see the nice, wooden porch on the left which no longer exists. On the far right edge of the photo is woman in a light summer outfit with hat. The postcard is covered, front and back, with tiny, perfect handwriting. The language appears to be German.
Here is a 1907 real photo postcard with a nice view of Racine College’s (Dekoven) Taylor Hall. I have not seen quite this angle before. You can clearly see the nice, wooden porch on the left which no longer exists. On the far right edge of the photo is woman in a light summer outfit with hat. The postcard is covered, front and back, with tiny, perfect handwriting. The language appears to be German.
Reverse of the 1907 real photo postcard of Taylor Hall.

Update: This postcard was written in German handwriting called kurrentschrift, and most people can no longer read it. I found someone on fiverr who transcribed this letter and then I was able to run it through Google Translate. Here is the translation:

Dec 12. 1907. My dear friend! I deserve a scold that I’ve been so long didn’t write to you 14 days one Letter started, had to stop and since the time i didn’t get back to it can. Will there be anything else this year? I don’t know. Very busy, papa has a corpse today, same thing tomorrow. Very many seriously ill. Already have this week written sermons. My work stays all lie. Just wish it was Easter. Then not so many are sick and class is over. It’s so bad. Dad is often very tired. Neither does mom probably. Said this morning the best is we go to Cal. Shouldn’t I wish-because if it comes like that, next year. To me that’s right. Everywhere God’s earth. Wanted not earlier. How are you all! Are you healthy? your l. husband and your l. Parents? Many warm greetings to all of you, as well as papa’s friends, from all of us. The other day was a beautiful winter dad would have wished you had been here. Think of you often. With love Lieschen.

Sources for Racine College page:
Notes from the DeKoven Center Archives, Issue 2 — March 2018