Christian alumni group buys Wheelock House to create student housing

by Daniel Kim | 11/11/15 7:58pm

Wheelock House, which is located at 4 Wheelock Street, has housed several small businesses over the years, including Robert’s Flowers, a rare book dealership and psychologist’s office. The purchase and sales agreement for the building was made in September, and Christian academic group the Eleazar Wheelock Society will purchase the property. The society, which was founded by a group of alumni in 2008 and is not affiliated with the College, will renovate the property into an off-campus apartment similar to a living and learning community for those interested in faith and reason.

Former Eleazar Wheelock Society student director Hilary Johnson ’15 said that the renovations are planned to begin in December and will take approximately one year to complete. The purchase and renovation of the Wheelock House was funded completely by alumni donations, she said.

Wheelock House, which is the second oldest home in Hanover, was built for the College’s founder Eleazar Wheelock in 1773 and served as the official residence for several College presidents. The house was given to the town of Hanover for use as a public library in 1900, although it eventually repurchased by the College in 2007, Johnson said.

Johnson said the society has had a vision for a physical house and community for students from its inception. She said this vision aligned with the needs of the College to provide more housing space for students.

“For a long time students have been asking for a place in which they can have an LLC,” she said, “The Wheelock house was an under-utilized space, but the College can’t put student beds into the house because of Hanover laws. To convert the house to be student apartments is something that EWS could do but the College could not.”

Johnson said that although Wheelock originally intended the house to be for his family, then-students were living then in the basement and upper floors of the building.

“From the very beginning, the house was envisioned as a place where faculty and students could engage around our education in a way in which community encourages the flourishing of people and of their education,” she said.

The College’s director of real estate Ellen Arnold said the society approached the College roughly six months ago about their interest in purchasing the property. The society expressed an understanding of the historical significance of the house and wanted to allow the house to be used for Dartmouth students, which she said she understood to be one of the house’s original intentions.

“We knew that they had raised funds to renovate the house in a way that would help preserve the history and the architectural features of it, and that was something that had never been presented to the College before,” she said. “It just seemed like a good opportunity to see some work done on the property — to see it preserved and protected in a way that was consistent with its history.”

Arnold said that the group wanted to further engage students on campus.

One of the significant issues for the College was assuring that there were appropriate preservation restrictions in place, Arnold said. Although the interior of the house will be renovated, the exterior will remain the same.

“Obviously the building is a really old structure, so it needs a lot of work to make it habitable,” Johnson said. “The apartment will need to follow certain federal requirements. There needs to be fire safety, [and] there also needs to be amenities in the back. The front building was Wheelock’s home, and the rear brick were the stacks which don’t have plumbing or piping, so the building needs to be winterized again.”

Clinical psychologist Donna Steinberg, who has held her office on the second floor of Wheelock house for six years, said that she was both sad and surprised about the sale of the house.

“[Wheelock House] has been a great spot for me,” she said. “I have a beautiful space with three windows, a view of the trees and a fireplace. It has just been very comfortable for me. Also, my lease was supposed to be up in June 2017, so I had a little more time on the lease — that was the surprising part.”

Steinberg said that as a tenant, she does not have a say in the matter.

“Dartmouth owns the building, so [it] can sell it to whomever [it wants] to,” she said. “I didn’t really like the news because I wasn’t planning on moving this fall, but it’s going to work out fine for me.”

Steinberg said that she will be moving her office to 3 Lebanon Street later this month. Robert’s Flowers will be moving to its former location in Lebanon Street, which previously housed Lemon Tree Gifts.