The DeKoven Center

The DeKoven Center

On a pleasant Sunday in early June, my partner and I visited the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin. Situated on the Lake Michigan lakeshore, this property began life as Racine College. Seeing the historic buildings alone makes a visit worthwhile, not to mention St. John’s Chapel and the Spectrum Art Gallery. However, the purpose for our visit to DeKoven was to attend In the Spirit of Peace, a benefit concert to aid Ukrainian refugees.

The DeKoven Center website provides a wonderful Vision statement.

Set along Lake Michigan’s bluffs in Racine, The DeKoven Center’s 11-acre campus is a unique and versatile setting that offers nationally-recognized architectural treasures, gorgeous gardens, serene wooded areas and other distinctive spaces, ideal for everything from reflection to celebration. 

Originally built as the Racine College in the early 1850s, the center’s quadrangle of American Gothic buildings features a full-service retreat and conference center (Taylor Hall), where people of all faiths and interests come to renew mind, body and spirit.

Historic Background

The DeKoven Center website provides historic information about the former Racine College.

The DeKoven Center began as Racine College, founded and chartered in 1852. Its first building was constructed that same year, and is now part of the East Building paralleling Lake Michigan. In 1859, Dr. James DeKoven came to Racine College from St. John’s School in Delafield to become Warden of the College. It was Dr. DeKoven who gave the campus its focus, modeling the quadrangle on English colleges, with faculty and students living on the campus and eating together in a common Refectory, today known as the Great Hall. 

Under Dr. DeKoven’s leadership, Racine College became a prominent institution of higher learning, attracting excellent faculty and good students. Mary Todd Lincoln visited the campus, considering the school for her son Tad. Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great essayist and poet, lectured here and later, General Billy Mitchell was a graduate. Dr. DeKoven himself gained fame as a preacher and writer, and is commemorated every year on March 22nd. James DeKoven died in 1879, and the college continued in one form or another until the Great Depression forced its closing in 1933. 

The Quadrangle

The DeKoven Center campus consists includes the former Racine College quadrangle. An impressive collection of Civil War era cream city brick buildings surround landscaped grassy areas interspersed with walking paths. It’s a pleasure to stroll the quadrangle. During our early June visit, we were fortunate to see lilacs in bloom.

St. John’s Chapel

Collegiate Church of St. John

St. John’s Chapel was built in 1864 at the center of what was to become the college’s quadrangle. In the antiphonal style, rows of pews face the center aisle. On the north and south walls, stained glass windows depict Christ’s Apostles. At the rear of the nave is a choir loft and pipe organ. The cream brick building’s steep gables are trimmed with ornamental brickwork, as are the windows and entrances. The exterior bottom of the chapel is studded with 86 class memorials dating from 1869–1929.

School life centered around daily services as part of life at Racine College. Students attended chapel twice a day and a vested choir sang during evensong.

The Rev. Dr. Roswell Park, the founder and first president of Racine College, is buried to the east of the chapel. On the south side of the chapel is the tomb of the Rev. Dr. James DeKoven, the second president of Racine College and an Anglican saint.

Spectrum Gallery

The DeKoven Center includes the Spectrum School of the Arts and Community Gallery, located in the historic East Building. Drawing, painting, and ceramic classes are offered. A wide variety of artwork is exhibited throughout the Gallery, which also includes a library and music studio.

Benefit Concert

In the Spirit of Peace was a benefit concert for Ukrainian and other refugees around the world. It supports the activities of the UN Refugee Agency.

The concert was presented in the DeKoven Center Great Hall. The Spirit of Racine Music Makers performed vocal choir, hand bell and chimes, and instrumental selections. The concert program explained:

We dedicate this concert to the millions of people around the world who have been displaced by the trauma of war, violence, and persecution. Please visit the display at the back of the hall to learn more about the ways in which refugees need assistance and consider offering a donation to the United Nations Refugee Agency during our playing of the Ukrainian National Anthem. Thank you!

Spirit of Racine Music Makers
Spirit of Racine Music Makers
Benefit Concert in the Great Hall
Benefit Concert in the Great Hall
UN Refugee Agency Display
UN Refugee Agency Display

Great Hall Stained Glass Windows

Stained glass windows adorn both the east and west walls of the Great Hall. These windows are gifts from various Racine College graduating classes.

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