By ACG History Intern, Samantha Hertel
The Victorian Gothic mansion nestled within the grounds of the Garden has been referred to as Lake Dormer, the E.B. Fred House, the Agricultural Dean’s Residence, or simply 10 Babcock Drive throughout its nearly 130 year history. Residence at the house was reserved for the current Dean of the College of Agriculture, passing between the first four Deans of the school and their families for ninety years. The house was originally constructed in 1896 after the Board of Regents approved its construction as part of a list of demands made by the first Dean of the College of Agriculture, William A. Henry, to keep him from leaving the University. The Regents commissioned distinguished architects Allan D. Conover and Lew F. Porter to design the house, as they had already designed other buildings on campus such as the Red Gym and Science Hall. Dean Henry hoped to use the two acres surrounding the house to teach his young son about the responsibilities of agriculture, adding a vegetable garden and a small enclosure for fowl in the backyard.
When Dean Henry retired in 1907, Harry L. Russell took up the position of Dean and moved into the residence. Dean Russell served the College of Agriculture for twenty four years, expanding the scope of College concerns to include the social sciences as he pioneered programs in agricultural education, economics, journalism, and sociology. The young Russell family took advantage of several features of the home; the children often used the high attic ceilings for basketball and the waxed stair railing as a slide. Dean Russell called the Agricultural Dean’s Residence home until 1931 when Chris L. Christensen was named his successor as Dean. Dean Christensen’s fourteen year tenure was marked by the creation of WRAP, the Wisconsin Rural Art Program, and the expansion of agricultural economic and rural sociology courses during the throes of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Dean Christensen also made a handful of alterations to the Agricultural Dean’s Residence, removing doors, lightening woodwork, and opening the first floor layout to create a more modern, welcoming home for his twin sons that were born during the first year of his residency.
Dean Christensen left the University in 1943 to assist with the war effort and Edwin B. Fred became Dean. Dean Fred served the College of Agriculture for only two years before being named President of the University in 1945. Although it was customary for the previous Dean to vacate the house, President Fred and his wife, Rosa, enjoyed the home so much they resided there for nearly forty years while Fred served as president emeritus of the University until 1980. The Freds enjoyed watching the quiet farmland that encircled their home bloom into a vibrant, bustling college community over the years. The residence was converted into office and storage space following the Fred’s departure, closing in 2010 for renovations. The future of the house remains uncertain.
Although the Agricultural Dean’s Residence no longer houses members of UW faculty and their families, the residence still carries the imprint of the many people that once called it home. The 1984 nomination of the Agricultural Dean’s Residence to the National Register of Historical Places provides recognition of the home itself as a prime example of an ideal family home crafted at the turn of the twentieth century and of first Dean of the College of Agriculture, William A. Henry.