College was an Episcopal preparatory school and college in
Racine, Wisconsin, that operated between 1852 and 1933. Located
south of the city along Lake Michigan, the campus has been maintained
and is today known as the DeKoven Center, a conference center operated
Community of St. Mary
Community of St. Mary via the DeKoven Foundation.
The historic buildings that make up the campus are among the few
collegiate neo-Gothic buildings that survive in the Midwest. Despite
their location, they are considered part of the East Coast College
architectural tradition. In part because of its early decline, the
campus has remained relatively intact since the period of its
construction, which took place between 1852 and 1876. The builder
of much of the campus was Lucas Bradley, a noted Racine architect, who
designed the campus in accordance with plans by J.F. Miller of New
York. Like many historic buildings in southeastern Wisconsin, the
College buildings are largely composed of Cream City brick.
1.1 Early years (1852-1859)
1.2 DeKoven era (1859-1879)
1.3 Decline as a college (1879-1889)
1.4 Preparatory school and later years (1889-1933)
1.6 Closure and recent history (1933-present)
2 Notable students
4 See also
Early years (1852-1859)
College was first conceived at an Episcopal Church conference
held in Milwaukee in 1851. Bishop Jackson Kemper, who headed the
meeting, became the founder of the college even before a site had been
laid out for it. Prominent citizens of Racine, including Marshall
Strong and Dr. Elias Smith, successfully lobbied to have the college
built in their city and raised funds for a rural six-acre site on a
bluff overlooking the lake. The state legislature granted the
institution a charter on March 3, 1852. The first classes began in May
of that year, which were held in a rented room in the city because the
college was still under construction. Construction of the first
college building, Park Hall, was not finished until September 1853.
The first major expansion to the college came in 1857, when a second
building was deemed necessary. Lucas Bradley, one of Racine's most
prominent architects, was chosen to design the building, which he
chose to make "a twin to the first". This building, Kemper Hall, was
completed in the autumn of 1859. During the same year, the national
economy was suffering the end of the Panic of 1857, and Racine began
to be affected. This depression encouraged Racine to merge with St.
John's Hall, a small theological institution in Delafield. The school
there closed and its faculty moved to Racine, including its rector,
the Rev. Dr. James DeKoven, who became warden of Racine College
DeKoven era (1859-1879)
DeKoven became Racine College's most notable warden. He was a major
High Church and
Anglo-Catholic views in the Episcopal
Church, and was one of the best-known preachers and orators of his
day. DeKoven's work at Racine was directly influenced by the Grammar
College of Saint James in Maryland, which in turn was part
of the "church school" movement inaugurated by William Augustus
Muhlenberg and his proteges in 1828. When DeKoven began to raise
money for new buildings at Racine College, he looked to England for
his inspiration. Most of the campus buildings were inspired by the
architecture of St. Peter's College, a high-church public school
founded at Radley in 1847.
Most of Park Hall was destroyed by fire on January 15, 1864, and
almost all of the sizable library of former president Roswell Park was
lost. Thanks to donations by the people of Racine, a replacement
building was constructed within the year. The college was also able to
begin construction on a third building, St. John's Chapel, within the
same year. Two years later, Emeline Taylor, the widow of former Racine
College trustee Isaac Taylor, died and bequeathed $65,000 to the
institution. This sum allowed for the construction of the campus'
fourth and largest building, which was named Taylor Hall. The
building would later be equipped with a bell tower at the cost of
American Civil War
American Civil War drove Saint James out of business, several
important teachers and professors joined DeKoven at Racine. Racine
College was sometimes called "the
Sewanee of the North", since both
were Oxonian church-operated institutions. The grammar school and
Sewanee, Tennessee were closely linked to Racine in the
postbellum era; the Chancellor of the University of the South, Bishop
Charles Todd Quintard, served on the Racine Board of Trustees, and an
early leader of Sewanee, Thomas F. Gailor, was prepared at Racine.
As a result of this further expansion, the college continued to build
new facilities. A dining hall was constructed in 1871 and an assembly
hall followed the next year. These buildings were placed between
the two halls, connecting them and creating what would also be known
as the East Building. A fire on February 4, 1875, destroyed much of
the interior of Taylor Hall, although the outlying structure remained
intact. Because of this, the building was able to be restored for less
than half the cost of the original construction, although collegiate
education was forced to be canceled for several weeks and did not
fully return to its prior state for over a year afterward. 1875 also
saw the construction of yet another new building, which housed both a
gymnasium and a chemistry laboratory.
With the encouragement of Rev. DeKoven, a collection of nine Episcopal
bishops held a meeting in 1876 where they declared Racine
Church University for the West and Northwest", and collectively wrote
that it was "the only church college proper in actual operation
between Kenyon College, in Ohio, and the Pacific Ocean." They agreed
to support the college's mission by helping it open grammar schools
across the Midwest that carried on its educational philosophy.
College was one of the first schools to have a college football
team. They were known as the Racine Purple Stockings, after the
Chicago White Stockings, on whose field they played. Racine and the
University of Michigan Wolverines played the Midwest's first
intermural college football game on May 30, 1879. Michigan won,
1–0. The team continued to play in the NCAA for the next ten
years, and frequently played against teams such as Harvard, Yale,
Princeton, Northwestern, and Wisconsin.
Decline as a college (1879-1889)
James DeKoven died suddenly on March 19, 1879, after serving as
Racine's warden for two decades. His funeral was held there three days
later, and when the Episcopal Church declared him a saint, March 22
became his feast day. He is buried on campus, just outside the wall of
St. John's Chapel. His work in theology and education was compared
to that of John Keble, and like him, DeKoven's grave was considered a
shrine by Anglicans.
After DeKoven's death, the standing of the college began to decline.
As a result, the school's endowment shrank quickly, which led to a
further decline in the quality of education. The collegiate department
at Racine was forced to close in 1889, just ten years after the height
of its success and influence. In closing the college, its trustees
explained that with its lowered funding, it could no longer maintain a
high educational standard. The name "Racine College" was retained
despite the closure.
Preparatory school and later years (1889-1933)
Following the closure of the collegiate department, the grammar school
remained and became a preparatory school. A military school also
occupied the site, and the institution as a whole was advertised as a
"school for manly boys". During this time, most boys enrolled at
College were secondary (or grammar) school students preparing
for the Bachelor of Arts course. The campus continued to be a major
location for the Episcopal Church, which held a number of conferences
there in the early 20th century. Enrollment fell drastically during
World War I, leading to the college's closure in 1918.
The campus was vacant for a few years, before it reopened as the
DeKoven Academy in 1923. After resolving the college's debts,
which were in excess of $100,000, the Academy opened its doors on
October 1, 1923. Chicago business interests funded much of the
repayment. Originally, there was no military school at the Academy,
but that branch reopened in 1930. With the addition of a junior
college in 1932, it officially returned to the Racine
but this revival was short-lived. The depths of the Great Depression
had a delayed effect on the college, but it gradually began to suffer.
On August 8, 1933, the college's closure was officially announced, and
the last students left the campus shortly after.
The teaching at Racine College, especially Rev. DeKoven, had a wider
influence on education in the United States. Teachers and professors
trained by DeKoven brought great expertise and passion to other
college preparatory schools and to colleges and universities. Rev.
Sidney T. Smythe, the founder of St. John's Military Academy in
Delafield, was prepared at Racine and remained a devotee of DeKoven's.
To this end, he reopened St. John's Hall, where DeKoven formerly
taught, to house his academy.
Closure and recent history (1933-present)
The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee lost ownership of the grounds after
the school's closure, but Bishop Benjamin Ivins was able to arrange a
summer camp at the property, run by the Community of St. Mary, in
1934. Another summer camp was held the following year, and this was
successful enough that the
Community of St. Mary
Community of St. Mary bought the property
just before a sheriff's sale was to be held that fall. In December,
the sisters created the DeKoven Foundation for Church Work to manage
the campus, and organize "retreats, conferences, and church
activities," as well as continue to host a yearly summer camp for
girls. The DeKoven Center was sold back to the Diocese of Milwaukee
in 1985, which continues to operate the Foundation.
The campus became home to the Racine Montessori School, Racine's first
school offering Montessori education, in September 1963. Originally
opened in a single room in the East Building and educating only 32
students, the school continually grew to rent a larger space and
enroll over two hundred. The
Case Corporation donated the nearby
former Lakeside School building, which had closed in 1979, to Racine
Montessori, allowing the school to move out of DeKoven in
The Spectrum School of the Arts and Community Gallery opened in the
East Building in 1980. A summer school for children and year-round
school for adults, Spectrum offers supplemental art classes to people
of all ages. In addition to fine art shows, the Spectrum Gallery,
opened in 1996, holds regular exhibitions of students' artwork.
A controversial development plan, proposed in 1995, would have
converted the college buildings into apartments, as well as
constructing new apartment buildings within the site. This plan was
rejected by the DeKoven Foundation and a coalition of local
The DeKoven Natatorium, a community swimming pool located in the
gymnasium, closed on March 1, 2013, after 100 years of operation. The
cost of maintaining the pool grew too high for the DeKoven Foundation
to afford. The pool had been added to the gym building in 1913,
one of the few architectural additions since the death of Rev.
DeKoven, and had previously closed in 1979 because of structural
problems. After a renovation effort, it had reopened in 1991.
The DeKoven Center holds a variety of community events in addition to
serving as an event space for the Episcopal Church. One of the largest
annual events, that takes place in St. John's Chapel, is the madrigal
feast put on by the choir and theater departments of Horlick High
Gen. Mark W. Clark
Bishop Robert Harper Clarkson
Joseph Doe, U.S. Assistant Secretary of War
Bishop Samuel Cook Edsall
James H. Elmore, Mayor of Green Bay, Wisconsin, 1890 to 1895
Norton J. Field,
Wisconsin State Assemblyman
Francis Joseph Hall, theologian
Alexander James Horlick (1873-1950), vice president of Horlick’s
Malted Milk Company, mayor of Racine, son of William Horlick
Ernest de Koven Leffingwell, explorer and geologist
Tad Lincoln, son of President Abraham Lincoln
Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell
James C. Reynolds,
Wisconsin State Assemblyman and Senator
Wallace Rice, author and designer of the Chicago flag
Earl Winfield Spencer Jr., U. S. Naval Commander and first husband of
the Duchess of Windsor
Maj. Gen. Eben Swift
Maj. Gen. Charles A. Willoughby
John B. Winslow, Chief Justice of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court
^ a b c "Racine History - DeKoven Foundation", Virtual Industries
National Park Service
National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information
System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park
^ Racine College
^ a b Property Record: 600 21st St,
Wisconsin Architecture and History
Wisconsin Historical Society.
^ Inventory - Nomination Form, National Register of Historic Places,
National Park Service.
^ a b c d e f g h i "Racine
College Established Here in 1852, Expanded
in 1857; Once Nationally Famous",
Racine Journal Times Sunday
Bulletin, October 7, 1956.
^ a b c d e Wheeler, Rev. Homer. Historical sketch of Racine College,
founded at Racine, Wis., A.D. 1852., Atwood & Culver printers,
^ Armentrout, Don S. and Slocum, Robert Boak. "Vested choir", An
Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, Episcopal Church of the United
^ Slocum, Robert Boak and DuPriest, Travis T. To Hear Celestial
Harmonies: Essays on the Witness of
James DeKoven and The DeKoven
Center, Sesquicentennial Edition, 1852-2002, Wipf and Stock
^ Thomas F. Gailor, Tennessee Encyclopedia
^ Luther, Rev. F.S. "Racine College: A Chapter From Its History", The
Church Times, Vol. XXIV, No. 2. Milwaukee, October 1913. p. 26-30.
^ "Glad You Asked: Racine College's place in football history; the
route of racine's first white settlers; dirt biking and rocketry at
Bong", Racine Journal Times, April 8, 2007.
^ "Racine College", America's Lost Colleges.
^ James Kiefer's Christian Biographies
^ Pope, William. "VIII. The Valley of the Shadow of Death", Life of
the Reverend James de Koven, D.D.. New York, James Pott & Company,
^ Stone, Fanny S.Racine, Belle City of the Lakes. S. J. Clarke,
^ The Interior, Volume 44, September 11, 1913.
^ Federal Writers' Project. The WPA Guide to Wisconsin: The Badger
^ Advertisement, The Church Times, Vol. XXXII, No. 9. Milwaukee, May
1922. p. 758.
College to Reopen School for Boys", Racine Journal-News,
July 12, 1923.
^ Baird, Laura. "Kemper Hall: Early history of SJNMA tied to Nashotah
House", Lake Country Now, September 28, 2016.
^ About Us, The DeKoven Center.
^ "Montessori School to Open", Racine Journal Times, August 18, 1963.
^ "Montessori's New Home", Racine Journal Times, September 14, 1996.
^ "The Story of RMS", Racine Montessori School.
^ "Spectrum Gallery opens", Racine Journal Times, March 14, 1996.
^ "Neighbors voice opposition to DeKoven Center plans", Racine Journal
Times, March 14, 1996.
^ "End of an era: 100-year-old DeKoven Center pool closing", Racine
Journal Times, February 9, 2013.
^ "DeKoven pool reopens to make a big splash", Racine Journal Times,
July 20, 1991.
^ "Racine: Belle City of the Lakes, and Racine County, Wisconsin,
^ Sankey, Alice. Racine: The Belle City, Western Publishing, 1958.
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