On April 3, 1918 a deed was recorded in purchase of lots five, four and the east half of lot three of Block 1 in University Additions, the corner of University Ave and Brooks Street in Madison. Three houses were on the 182 by 160-foot parcel and it sold for $46,000. (Footnote:
Portage, Wisconsin Daily Register, 18 May, 1920, page 3 – article about the Rev. Dawson leaving Portage for the chaplaincy of the St. Francis’ Society. Not confirmed by deeds or purchase agreements, but given that Dawson was likely largely responsible for engineering the purchase it is likely accurate.
WSJ 10 March 1922, page 11. Col 4. - A lengthy description of the property in a petition of the University Commission of the Church in Wisconsin to the Mayor, etc., of Madison. Maybe the best description of the houses, etc. on the lots mentions that one of the houses has been occupied by Cleveland and an altar installed on the second floor. https://www.newspapers.com/image/401352660/
) It would be another ten years before a chapel and center for Episcopal Church students on the campus of the University of Wisconsin would be realized on that land. Reflecting on the purchase, Bishop Webb wrote in the February, 1919 Church Times that “A large lot on University avenue came unexpectedly on the market. It is an ideal lot.” (Footnote:
“Church Work at the University of Wisconsin”, The Church Times, February, 1919, page 470. (The Church Times was the “Official Organ of the Diocese of Milwaukee” published from 1890 to 1958. Most issues from 1897 to 1926 are in the public domain and accessible at HathiTrust.org: https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/005947607
HathiTrust also has the 1947 History of the Diocese by Harold Ezra Wagner online in full view (https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/005947915) which also has some pages on St. Francis House. Hereafter “CT”. )
But that was not the beginning. In May of 1915, the Rev. Morton C. Stone accepted a call to be rector at St. Andrew’s on Regent Street and serve as chaplain to students at the University. To that end he established rooms with a chapel and office in the triangular building, the Eleanor Apartments, on the corner of West Gilman, Francis, and University Ave. (Footnote: CT, September, 1916, page one and following. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89064896616?urlappend=%3Bseq=573 )
In the spring of 1916 he resigned his rectorship at St. Andrew’s to devote his time fully to the chaplaincy. In May of that year an important and exciting meeting led by Mr. William Dawson, a former Methodist minister, Rev. Stone, and Bishop Webb of the Diocese, among others, took place at which the “University Commission of the Church in Wisconsin” was formed to raise money to purchase land and build a permanent chapel. (Footnote: CT, June 1916. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89064896616?urlappend=%3Bseq=521 ) World War I took its toll, the chapel was closed in 1918 and Rev. Stone moved on to Racine to do educational work. (Footnote: CT, June 1918, page 347. The bishop wrote, “I am very sorry to have to close the chapel at the present time, but it seems wisest to so on account of war conditions.” ) The “St. Francis’ Society”, as it was called, was not dead however, as Bishop Webb reported in the February, 1919 Church Times meeting with a number of students at Grace Church.
The Rev. Dawson resigned his post in Portage, Wisconsin in the summer of 1920 to come to Madison and took up residence in the house on the corner, 1001 University Ave. In 1921 the work among the students saw a spirited revival with the appointment of the Rev. Stanley Matthews Cleveland as a full-time chaplain. (Footnote: “Student Work At Madison”, The Church Times, September, 1921, page 386 has perhaps the most complete biography of Rev. Cleveland taken from The Living Church. https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89064896632?urlappend=%3Bseq=396 - The original biography with photo from The Living Church is at https://www.google.com/books/edition/The_Living_Church/uuhqiO80aekC?hl=en&gbpv=1&pg=PA707 ) The Rev. Cleveland wasted little time, opening the house at 1015 University Ave in September as the “St. Francis Club House,” the home of the St. Francis’ Society. In the July, 1922 issue of The Church Times he wrote in his extensive Annual Report that “The work among students at the University of Wisconsin during the academic year 1921-1922 has been largely experimental. It seems however, to have resulted in a stable organization, and, I think, can be fairly said, now to be on its feet.” St. Francis Clubhouse saw an average of 243 students a month drop in to the club house for recreation, rest, reading and so forth. The little chapel in the house would only accommodate about eighteen people so little attempt was made to have any Sunday services, those were conducted at Grace Church. (Footnote: "Annual Report of the Student Chaplain at Madison" - This extensive report covers several pages in The Church Times: https://hdl.handle.net/2027/wu.89064896632?urlappend=%3Bseq=731 )
The Rev. Cleveland’s tenure as chaplain was central to the establishment of the St. Francis’ community, but it was cut short by an illness that forced him to resign at the end of 1924 and return to his Ohio birthplace where he died in 1926 at the very young age of 37. He was replaced by the Rev. Norman Captive Kimball, who had had plans to go to New York City, but accepted the job for four or five months. (Footnote: The Capital Times, 31 Dec 1924, page one. https://www.newspapers.com/image/517927084 ) “Four or five months” was not to be as he stayed on until 1931 when he was tragically killed by a car in March of 1931. (Footnote: His death on March 7th was headline news in both Madison papers. He had been travelling to Milwaukee in a blizzard when his car stalled. Crossing the road to use a telephone, he was struck by a car driven by a man who was temporarily blinded by the blowing snow. Many tributes and memorials followed in the weeks following. )
It was Kimball, however, who saw and ushered in the building of the present St. Francis House.
The first announcement in the Madison newspapers of the new St. Francis House appeared in February of 1929 when the Capital Times reported that “Funds are now available and work will probably be started this summer.” (Footnote: "Erection of St. Francis House Starts In Summer", 13 Feb 1929 Capital Times https://www.newspapers.com/image/517899874/ ) The paper reported that the estimated cost would be about $125,000 but final action on the construction plans will not be taken until the recovery from illness of Assistant Bishop Benjamin Ivins. Plans dated March, 1929 were drawn by the Milwaukee firm of Eschweiler and Eschweiler; requests for proposals to sub-contractors were eminent. Indeed, sub-contracts were let late June by the general contractor, John H. Findorff and Son of Madison, today still a major builder in Madison. Click here to see the sub-contractors article in the paper. Ground was broken July 1, 1929 and the cornerstone was laid in October of that year.
Whether installed for the opening or within the year, an organ by the prolific organ building company of M.P. Möller of Hagerstown, Maryland was installed in a loft on the second floor off the hallway to the apartment. (See the second-floor plan above.) Bill Mueller, the organist from 1963 until 1985, described the organ which accompanied services for over 30 years:
“Its stop list was reflective of the tonal design of the early 20th century. That design was characterized by pipes voiced on the mellow and warm side. There was very little upper work to give brilliance to the overall sound. It essentially contained 9 ranks of pipes which were installed in the ceiling of the chapel to the upper left of the altar. The console and choir were in a recessed area on the second floor just under the pipe chamber.” (Footnote: Bill Mueller, email 8/29/2021. The organ, with some errors in detail, is listed in the Organ Historical Society’s organ database: https://pipeorgandatabase.org/organ/32143 )
The organ was revised and rebuilt with the 1964 addition and lost in the 2012 move. There are pictures of the organ and description of revisions in the second part of this history.
Work proceeded quickly through the winter, the House was dedicated and opened on February 22, 1930. Activity at the House was intense in the following years. With the Rev. Kimball’s tragic death a year after the House dedication the interim chaplains were replaced shortly by the Rev. Alden Kelley in June of 1931 who served for the next eight years. Announcements of tea-dances, guest speakers and other activities at the House fill the newspapers. In 1932 the “St. Francis Playmakers” participated in a church drama tournament, losing unfortunately to the players from the First Congregational church.
When the Rev. Kelley left in 1939, he was replaced by a man who after three years would leave for Puerto Rico to become, in 1943, the bishop co-adjutor there, the Rev. Charles Boynton. These war years were disruptive and while ministering to the student population was filled at times by interim and visiting pastors, the Rev. Gordon Gillett took the reigns for two years in 1942, leaving in 1944 to be replaced for just about 8 months by the Rev. Daniel Corrigan. A certain amount of stability to the chaplaincy returned with the appointment of the Rev. Carroll Simcox in March of 1945. He stayed until March of 1949. Much more stability reigned once Father Gerald White took over in November of 1949. Mrs. Yvonne Otto, the widow of a former rector of the parish in Oshkosh who died in 1946, moved into the apartment on the second floor to become housemother and hostess in March of 1951, retiring at the end of the 1964-65 academic year. (Footnote: Mrs. Otto's appointment: Neenah, Wisconsin News-Record, March 20, 1951, page 3. “A letter was received from St. Francis house, Madison, telling of the appointment of Mrs. William Otto, wife of a former rector of the Episcopal church, Oshkosh, had been name dean (sic) of St. Francis house.” ) Click for Mrs. Otto's Find-a-Grave memorial.
The combination of Fr. White and Mrs. Otto in 1950s and into the 60s saw a rather tranquil “English” flavor to the St. Francis House community. Regular services, cost dinners on Tuesdays and Thursdays, confirmation classes, evensong daily at 5 p.m., and afternoon tea at 4 p.m. instituted by Fr. White were the hallmarks of life at the House. (Footnote: WSJ, Service listings, 14 Jan 1950, page 8. ) As were annual fund-raising bridge-teas involving women of the Episcopal parishes of Madison.
Change was in the wind with the coming of the 1960s. In October of 1961 the Diocese authorized a $600,000 development fund that earmarked $150,000 for the construction of a new chapel attached to the existing House. (Footnote: "Student Center of Episcopalians Plans New Chapel," WSJ, 7 April 1962, page 24. https://www.newspapers.com/image/401197143/ )
Fr. White retired effective June 30, 1964 and contracts were let for the new addition at the same time. Fr. Abel was appointed the new chaplain, the announcement coming on the same page of the Wisconsin State Journal as the sketch of the new chapel. (Footnote: 1) Fr. White’s retirement: WSJ, 13 June 1964, page 8; 2) Contracts let: WSJ, 2 July 1964, page 8. ) Construction of the new chapel, which featured not only a dramatic mosaic illustrating the Seraphic Cross of St. Francis made in Germany, but classrooms below, proceeded quickly; the first service was held in the new chapel on December 5th, albeit without the pews, the mosaic, or the organ. (Footnote: WSJ, 5 December, 1964, page 4. The article features a picture of Fr. Abel standing in the chapel with the mosaic wall behind him and mentions that the design was by the firm of William Horne and Associates of Madison. The mosaic was installed the next year as its shipment from Germany was held up by a dock strike. )
Forty-nine-year-old Fr. White served as acting chaplain after Simcox left in March of 1949 and was named permanent chaplain in November of that year. A native of Newfoundland, when he was 18, in 1918, his father became the Anglican Bishop of Newfoundland. He was the middle child of the Rt. Rev William Charles White and his wife Frederica and had sisters Dorothy and Elizabeth.
On a path to follow in his father's footsteps he attended Kings College in Nova Scotia, went to Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship in 1922 and was ordained in 1927. Following three years as a pastor in Manchester, England, he went to Racine, Wisconsin to become the chaplain of the Racine Military academy, St. Luke's hospital and the Taylor orphanage in Racine. In 1934 he became the headmaster of King's-Edgehill School in Windsor, Nova Scotia. His father, the bishop, died in 1943 and Gerald became the canon residentiary the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador that year. In 1948 he returned to Wisconsin where he became chaplain the following year after he married in Madison Miss Adalin Brown, who died in 1950. He retired in June of 1964 and died five years later at his home in Madison.
For four academic years between 1963 and 1967 I lived on the top floor of St. Francis House. My brother, Jim, was there for three years before me. We were “houseboys.” Those were turbulent times. In 1967 the one-way bus lane was put down University Ave and the SDS held a rally in front of the House to protest government – whether it was in Madison or Washington. It was only the beginning. After 2 ½ years doing graduate work and beginning my draft requirement work at Goodwill, Fr. Lloyd invited me to work as a program director at SFH, a post I gladly accepted to complete my CO work.
We attended the Special Convention of the Church in South Bend in 1969 and the Houston Convention the next year. During the campus riots of May, 1970 following the invasion of Cambodia, SFH was one of two “safe houses” on campus – the WSJ reported that about 20 students at the House were treated for tear gas effects. I just remember the lounge full of kids escaping to safety. With SFH fellow, the late Charley Taylor, we operated a draft counselling office in the basement, no doubt monitored by the FBI, as were our anti-war activities at the conventions. Following my CO work, I worked for a time as a grants officer for the Church visiting anti-war and community organizations. Returning to Madison in 1973 I was involved with Broom Street theater which rehearsed and performed at SFH from 1970 to 1975. I was married in the “new” chapel in 1974. Now, in 2021 ten years after the death of my wife and retired, I research and publish online history articles. I got curious about SFH after seeing varying dates for its construction and fell down this rabbit hole. I want to thank Bill Mueller for the pictures he took of the move of the house in 2012 and Allan Deptula for encouraging me to do this research.
Page created August, 2021, Updated September, 2021.
© Text copyright: Steve Spicer
Feel free contact me about this page.