Home Life

issue 03 | fall 2013
Continuum - Home Life - Fall 2013

Monomoy Place welcomes a new president and his family this year, and in an unusual alignment of stars, this year marks its bicentennial, its sesquicentennial, or its 113th birthday, depending on how you tell its story. Measuring the age of Monomoy is a little like trying to affix a starting date to the building of Rome—there are several significant years in its development, but it didn’t sprout forth fully formed at any one time.

The house on the corner of Broadway and Rose Street, as Mulberry Street was first named, has always held the two adjoining parcels of land facing Broadway on the plot set down by the founders of Granville in 1804. A young physician, William Samuel Richards, purchased the pair of empty lots from the early settlers in 1813, exactly 200 years ago, for $80.

Dr. Richards built a prominent frame house on the corner lot, where Monomoy stands, and there he raised his six children and met with his patients. It was a simple frame structure in the Connecticut Valley vernacular style commonly used in early Granville. The house passed out of the Richards family in 1861. It was owned briefly by a music teacher, John Fassett, and then two years later by another physician, Dr. Alfred Follett, who had been living in nearby Johnstown with his wife and three children.

The house underwent a transformation after the Folletts purchased it in 1863, and that year is most frequently used to mark the birth of Monomoy Place. It’s not clear whether the house was completely torn down or left at least partly in place but substantially renovated. Given the economic impact of the Civil War, it would have been practical to preserve and reuse parts of the original house, including its foundation. A tour of the present cellar strongly suggests that the original footprint of Richards’ house was left in place, and the front of Monomoy sits on that house’s original stones. But more telling, perhaps, is a letter from a neighbor named Caroline Pritchard who had grown up with the Richards children. She wrote of the Richards family, “They lived in a large, old fashioned house whose timbers were oak, and when sold to be rebuilt were found to be solid as when first put in.” 

Follett’s house was a showplace, ornamented in the popular Italianate style with wooden brackets along the eaves and the elaborate window casings that still remain. It was given a straight porch across the front, and a side entrance and porch on Rose Street, probably for his medical practice. The slate roof was hipped, with dormers and a central gable.

When Dr. Follett died in 1897, his wife Lucinda inherited the house. His adult daughter Sally was living there too, with her husband of 13 years, John Sutphin Jones. Jones was the son of Welsh immigrants, a man with great ambition and talent for business. He had been working as a train conductor when he married Sally in 1884. They moved to Wisconsin and then Chicago as Jones pursued his business in coal, but when he became embroiled in an eight-year lawsuit against the colossal New York Coal and Rail Consortium, he and Sally moved back to Granville and in with her parents. A year after his father-in-law died, J.S. Jones won the protracted lawsuit, bringing him a tidy sum of $700,000, likely the basis for his sizeable fortune in years to come.

Although Monomoy still belonged to his mother-in-law, J.S. Jones gave the place a substantial makeover to reflect his new financial status. He added a much higher roof and a staircase to accommodate a third-floor ballroom. A curved Queen Anne style front porch, a solarium to the west, and a large paneled dining room with two hearths were among the many expansive changes we recognize today. Grand parties were held at the house and documented in the local society columns. It was during this time, the early 1900s, that the house was first referred to as “Monomoy Place,” after a strip of land on the coast of Cape Cod near Chatham, named for the Monomoick branch of the Wampanaog Algonquins. The carved cylindrical stone by the front porch steps still stands as a remnant of J.S. Jones’s monumental upgrade.

Monomoy Place still belonged to his mother-in-law, and Jones wanted an estate of his own, so he began work on Bryn Du, a mile east of the village, in 1905. Jones and Sally lived at Bryn Du from then on, while Lucinda Follett and her staff stayed at Monomoy until her death in 1909. When his wife Sally died the following spring, Monomoy came to John Sutphin Jones through her estate.

The house appears to have been well maintained but little used during the next few years, until two of Jones’s sisters started living there during the teens and twenties. Margaret “Maggie” Jones Halderman, a widow, and Mary Ann “Molly” Jones, a spinster, occupied the house until their deaths, thanks to their brother’s largesse. J.S. Jones died in 1927, and his will left the house to Maggie’s use until she died, after which a trust would establish Monomoy as “a home for elderly indigent ladies.” However, in the years between his death and Maggie’s in 1932, the Depression likely depleted the funds intended for what J.S. called the “old ladies’ home,” and it never came to be.

That’s how Denison came to acquire the property, in August 1935, for $18,000. Monomoy Place was immediately put to use as a “temporary” freshman girls’ dormitory that fall, a purpose it served for the next 25 years. Denison renamed the house “Shepardson Hall,” but the name never took, probably due to the “Monomoy Place” stone beside the big front porch. The lovely old porch where young women sat with their dates through the war years was removed in the early 1950s, replaced by the simple portico we see today. 

By 1961, Denison women had all been moved to the East Quad, and Monomoy served for four years as the Alpha Tau Omega house until that fraternity built its own house uphill. Then it became housing for non-fraternity men (the “Moy Boys”) until the 1970s, when women students moved in and enjoyed the relaxed bohemian atmosphere. Maintenance had long been deferred, and the elegant old house started to tilt in the direction of seediness and disrepair. Denison locked the doors after the spring of 1976, and Monomoy sat empty for the next three years, awaiting almost certain demolition.

President Robert Good and his wife Nancy arrived in Granville the summer Monomoy was shuttered. Finding the house they inherited from the previous administration inadequate for the kind of community interaction they envisioned, Mrs. Good set her sights on rescuing Monomoy, and the president put his clout behind her. He wrote of the dilapidated house in 1978, “It is both campus and residential. It is both town and gown. It makes magnificent use of the green expanse of the lower campus, yet is in the center of Granville’s finest residential street. One day—some day—the President of Denison should live on that corner, whether in Monomoy or another house. It simply could not be more ideal.” Eventually, the Goods convinced most of the trustees to support the project, and Monomoy Place found yet another incarnation as home to the past three decades of Denison presidents and their families.

Published October 2013
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