This is a photo of the first Beta Theta Pi house at Wabash. Prior to the purchase of this home, the Betas as well as the other fraternities, had rented space in the upper floors of buildings downtown. It was in these halls that our fraternity system grew. But change was on the horizon as the Phi Gams became the first of the Wabash fraternities to purchase a home and have all of their members living under the same roof. The other fraternities soon adopted this idea and according to an excellent essay by G.B. Landrigan in the book Tau of Beta Theta Pi – 150 years at Wabash, “Beta Theta Pi was at an unaccustomed disadvantage for purposes of rush.”
So although the men of Beta Theta Pi were not the earliest adopters of a residential fraternity on campus, what is interesting about the Betas is that they are the only fraternity on campus still in their original location. The other fraternities have moved over the years, but the lot at 513 West Wabash Avenue has always been home to this fraternity.
The home was originally built in 1876 by Alexander Thomson, brother of two of our founders and for nearly three decades the treasurer of the college. In 1906 several members of the chapter were renting rooms at 513 West Wabash and, after much thought, it was decided that the chapter would rent the entire house.
The frame house pictured above was extensively remodelled in the 1920s. Here is a picture of the finished project and the sharper eyed reader might also notice Byron Trippet in the chapter photograph.
The house changed from a frumpy old frame house into a lavish home with a strong English feeling. It was this house that served for the first half of the century. Old as it was, it had its creaks and groans and was hot in the summer and cold in the winter. By the 1950s it was clear that a new house was needed.
In 1961 the “old barn” was demolished and the college began to build a new house on the same spot. All alums from the past 50 years know it well. And although it was again extensively remodeled, 513 continues to be the address that all men of the Tau chapter of Beta Theta Pi call home.Best, Beth Swift Archivist Wabash College