Wooster residents condemn the College’s lack of communication in their decision-making process.
As members of The College of Wooster community packed into the newly-built Wooster Inn, Waldo H. Dunn, professor of English language and literature from 1913 to 1931, had one thought on his mind. “Today, as I stand in this beautiful Wooster Inn, I see in my mind’s eye a road running far back in time and space, a road along which I recognize hard working and devoted people, whose hopes and dreams and labors find fulfillment here,” Dunn told the crowd at the Inn’s 1959 dedication ceremony. 63 years later, however, the Wooster Inn’s end is near.
On Feb. 11, President Sarah Bolton emailed the College’s alumni, notifying them of the College’s decision to demolish the Wooster Inn and detailing the reasons behind its demolition. “Faced with many other competing campus financial priorities, including much needed investments in campus housing for Wooster students (not to mention a growing Wooster hotel industry we wish to very much support),” Bolton said, “The College of Wooster Board of Trustees has made the difficult decision that it would not be prudent to move forward with the significant capital improvements required to operate the Inn.” The complete demolition of the Inn will take place on April 18.
In 1950, the College purchased the two-and-a-half acres along Wayne Avenue and, in 1957, the College decided to build the Wooster Inn at the location. The Inn was built as a gift to the College on behalf of Dr. Robert E. Wilson and his wife, Pearl. The Wilsons viewed the Inn as a tribute to Robert’s father, William H. Wilson, a professor of mathematics at the College of Wooster from 1900-1907. “Although the Inn does not bear any family name, both Robert and Pearl desire that it should be completely identified with Wooster,” said Dunn, “it is intended as a memorial to their parents.”
From its initial opening in 1959 to 2018, the Inn was a place for members of the campus community and the broader Wooster community to come together as one. The Inn also served as a place for guest speakers to stay at the College, such as Jane Goodall in 2004. In 2018, however, the College did not renew their 10-year lease with the Inn’s management, leading to the closing of the Inn in December 2018.
In 2019, the College’s Board of Trustees initiated a formal bid process to find a new innkeeper for the Inn. After a review of the Inn during the bid process, however, trustees concluded that the Inn was too expensive to repair for future use. “With estimated necessary repairs exceeding $4 million, not including the significant additional cosmetic renovations,” Bolton told the Voice, “we did not find a potential operator willing to take on that level of financial commitment.”
The College’s decision to demolish the Inn was a surprise to many alumni including Wendy Barlow, a member of the Wooster community since 1970. “Devastated,” said Barlow when she received the news. Barlow fears that losing locations such as the Inn will lead to disconnections between the College and the Wooster/Wayne County area. “The Wooster community at large has so many amazing people, so much to offer, so to bring the two together is an exceptional equation,” said Barlow, “and once you start taking away the venues for bringing people together, you separate these ideas and the ability to do amazing things.”
After the Inn’s demolition, the College will install 12 tennis courts at the Inn’s current location. “The College’s tennis courts, which are located on Beall Avenue, are in profound need of replacement,” said Bolton. “Only six of the 10 courts are safely usable, which significantly limits the ways that our teams can practice and compete there,” said Bolton. Along with the 10 courts, the Scot Center contains four indoor tennis courts and the tennis team also has access to six indoor courts at a local racket club, according to Adam Clark, head coach of the Wooster men’s tennis team, on Next College Student Athlete (NCSA)’s website.
When asked how much the new tennis courts will cost the College, Bolton did not provide an estimate, citing that “the cost specifics will be known as the plan becomes solidified.”
On April 7, the City of Wooster’s Planning Commission approved the College’s preliminary plan to install 12 tennis courts at the Wooster Inn’s current location. At the meeting, 30 concerned community members along with several College faculty and staff members attended the meeting.
Doug Drushal, a Wooster attorney, presented the College’s preliminary tennis court plans to the planning commission. “What we need to understand here is that this really doesn’t have anything to do with the Wooster Inn,” said Drushal, “this didn’t cause the Wooster Inn to come down, this didn’t cause the Wooster Inn to have problems…” Drushal told planning commissioners that the new courts will be slightly larger than the current courts and that the courts will not have lighting. Additionally, the preliminary plans include a parking lot for 73 cars.
Despite Drushal’s remarks, Wooster community members expressed disappointment with the College’s decision to remove the Wooster Inn, citing a lack of transparency on the decision and the College’s removal of 25 mature trees from the Inn’s location.
Barlow shared her concerns with commissioners, calling for the Inn’s consideration as a historical site and her disappointment with the lack of community input on the College’s decision to demolish the building.
Martha Bollinger, a Wooster resident, has lived adjacently from the Wooster Inn for 40 years. Bollinger shared several concerns with commissioners regarding the College’s preliminary plan, the College’s removal of 25 trees and the lack of a public forum regarding the Wooster Inn’s fate. “The College of Wooster, in sharing their plans and being inclusive, has been lip service at this point and their actions have spoken louder than what their words are and their actions are not something we appreciate,” Bollinger told commissioners.
Katherine Ritchie, a Wooster resident and an alumni of the College, also expressed disappointment with the College’s decision to shut down the Inn. “We’re here tonight because this is our first time that we can really vocalize how we feel,” said Ritchie.
“We have no authority over the College of Wooster’s determination to tear down the Wooster Inn,” said Mark Weaver, a member of the planning commission and a professor emeritus of political science at the College, as he voted yes for the College’s preliminary plan. After Weaver’s comments and the commission’s decision, Jeffrey Lindberg, professor of music at the College, left the meeting prematurely. “I was upset,” Lindberg said, “because I felt that the planning commission should have given the people who live in that area the opportunity to review, digest and discuss what was being planned for the Wooster Inn location. I don’t believe that the residents were allowed reasonable due process.”
Druchel said the planning commission will receive the College’s final plans for the tennis courts “relatively soon.”
When asked what will happen to the current tennis courts, Mike Taylor, associate vice president of facilities, design and construction, told the Voice that the College does not have plans for the area and that the area will likely be a “green space.”. Taylor said he hopes the new tennis courts and green space will be available for students by this fall.
Barbara Hustwitt, a member of the Wooster Area Chamber of Commerce, expressed her disappointment to the College of Wooster’s administration and called for the Inn to be considered as a historic site. “By initiating a community-wide fundraising campaign, the Wooster Inn can not only be saved but, by utilizing imagination and advertising, become a profit-producing enterprise, one that The College of Wooster, the alumni and the community can be proud of for at least the next  years,” wrote Hustwitt in a letter to the College’s administration. “It is not only disappointing that you have acted without transparency but highly offensive that you do not appear to acknowledge that we are a part of your community,” she continued. “You do not seem to be concerned about us or the relationship between the College and the community. Nor do you seem to appreciate that Wooster’s taxpayers cover the cost of paving the streets that border or intersect the College property, pay for plowing the adjacent and internal streets through the winter and pay for signs directing visitors to the campus.”
As the Wooster Inn’s future draws to a close, Barlow reflects on the Inn’s historical importance.
“Every person I have talked to about the Wooster Inn begins by giving me a list
of their special memories,” said Barlow. “It was a special place, designed with great care and with the purpose of bringing the campus, community and visitors together.”