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Every Wooster student is a temporary guest. Our dorms and houses hold our things, our schoolwork and all our good and bad decisions until we graduate: a stopping-point that never feels real enough. Over a period of time lengthier than our student tenure, dorms and residences too undergo the quiet change of renovations, as well as the more dramatic change of demolitions. Will anyone remember the drama of the Holden Annex’s existence in a few years? Will anyone remember Scot Cottage, a building set for destruction at the end of this year? Students in Professor Madonna Hettinger’s Historical Preservation workshop are interested in exploring the histories of these buildings, and all the culture and community that exists in tandem with the memories they bear.
As part of a series of independent research and projects, Hettinger’s students are investigating the pasts of campus houses, and the preservation initiatives required for each building’s conservation. Houses being studied include ones currently in use, such as Westminster, as well as Overholt House, a special mansion that teams will dismantle and restore entirely at another location.
“My students in this class really decided to take a novel approach to the ideas of historical preservation, so instead of worrying about paint colors and trying to recreate a perfect house from the past, we focused on these houses as places where communities were built. And so, we are really interested in how people have made a house meaningful. There are plenty of examples of that on this campus,” said Hettinger.
Kimi McBryde ’18 was excited to join a team exploring Scot Cottage in light of its upcoming demolition.
“In my freshman year, that was a facet of the campus, everyone knows Scot Cottage. To see the administration take away something so central to student life is really upsetting, and in this project we’re talking about how to preserve this space even if we can’t preserve the building,” said McBryde.
Its history stretches over multiple student organizations, from Men of Harambee and various Greek groups to a Vegan co-operative. Before these student groups became involved with Scot Cottage, its inhabitants ranged from the children of missionaries to U.S. Marines in hiding. These marines were considered AWOL, as they refused to fight in the Vietnam War.
McBryde talked about discovering that latter bit of history in the journal of an alum, which showcased Scot Cottage as a place with a past more extensive than a mere party house: “It was so special to learn about that history.”
In order to preserve memories of Scot Cottage before its demolition, members of the class are in talks with Special Collections about archiving some stories and materials for future generations of Wooster students. For other houses, especially ones that aren’t at risk for demolishment just yet, students of the class are interested in rolling their sleeves up for the practical work of house upkeep.
“Professor Hettinger wants us to use hammers and to go in and get that real world experience,” said McBryde.
As such, in a future iteration of the workshop, students may get to live in the very houses they’re refurbishing. “We’ll begin restoring these houses, room by room,” Hettinger said; with this energy, these living spaces can endure both inside and outside the archive.