I am always interested in the built environment and I am particularly interested in historic structures. While driving across town a couple of days ago, I passed by 611 South Water Street and noted that its front was under construction. This old house is of great interest to those who think about and study the history of Wabash College as the links between this house and the college go all the way back to the 1840’s.
Here is an image of the house taken in the 1950’s.
The tale of this home begins with our second president, Dr. Charles White. From an article in a 1958 issue of the Crawfordsville Journal and Review, “After the death of President Baldwin, the first president of Wabash College, in 1840, the trustees of the college, through the recommendation of Prof. E. O. Hovey, who was a tireless worker for Wabash in the early years, selected Dr. Charles White of Owego, NY, to succeed him. Since Mrs. Hovey and Mrs. White were sisters, Prof. Hovey was well acquainted with Dr. White, and knew that he was a man well prepared to serve the college as president…”
The sisters were delighted to be together in the same town and in anticipation of this event, Mary Hovey wrote a letter to her sister Martha in July of 1841 describing the lot which would become the White’s homestead, “The president’s lot (as we have always called it) is distinctly visible from where I am sitting. Its beautiful swell of green is very attractive to the eye as it rises a few rods southeast of the college. I never look at it without having my heart swell with emotion at the thought of the attractions it will probably possess by another fall. The expectation is that Mr. White will rent for one year and during that time a house will be erected upon the site of which I am now speaking.” By April of 1842 the Whites were living in their new home.
Here are pictures of the sisters…
The house came to be known as White Hall and this map, a section from the 1878 Atlas of Montgomery County, serves to show where the lot was in relation to Wabash.
The college is the large green rectangle on the left and the black star is the where the home was originally built. If you look again at the atlas image you will note a blue star also. This is the current location of White Hall. When the Indianapolis, Bloomington and Western rail line was built it ran down the center of Franklin Street. In the early 1880’s White Hall was turned to face east and moved south to its current address on South Water Street.
The Whites were a happy, loving family and lived in White Hall until their untimely deaths in the early 1860’s and the home was jointly inherited by their children. The next occupant was William Carter White [W1852]. William was the son of President White and served as Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory at Wabash for twenty-two years. When he retired from the college in 1884, he and his wife Fannie moved to California. It was at this point that the house was sold out of the family and moved to its present location.
From its time as the president’s home through the years as the gracious home of a leading member of the faculty, White Hall was a center of college life for over four decades. Clearly a well-built home, its presence continues to serve as an anchor for South Water Street.Best, Beth Swift Archivist Wabash College