For almost sixty years, Bradley House has been home to the President of Wesleyan College as well as the scene of celebrations, reunions, and rituals like the annual Senior Toast. Because of that long connection, some may be unaware that the College’s leaders and their families have not always lived apart from the students. Indeed, from 1928, when the Rivoli campus opened, until 1954, Wesleyan’s president and his family (and it was always “his” family) occupied a special suite of rooms in the Olive Swann Porter Building. That arrangement changed in 1954 when the W. C. and Sarah H. Bradley Foundation of Columbus, Georgia, purchased 66 acres adjoining the northwest side of the campus that included a two-story Georgian-inspired brick house and then donated the tract to Wesleyan for use as the president’s home. With the closing of the downtown campus and with increasing enrollment, the College found itself in need of additional student housing. The president’s apartment in the Olive Swann Porter Building could provide living quarters for up to 14 additional students, so the timing of this generous gift was especially fortuitous. Wesleyan named the president’s home Bradley Hall and its grounds Turner Acres in honor of D. Abbot Turner, a Wesleyan Trustee who served as chair of the Bradley Foundation at the time. Bradley Hall later became known as Bradley House.
The house was built in 1919 by George Kinnett for his wife, Annie Robertson Kinnett, and their family. The Kinnetts operated a small dairy farm, and the property included several outbuildings such as the cow barn that still stands. A wooden garage with an apartment above also was located on the tract. The Kinnetts sold the house and property to the George Fay family, from whom the Bradley Foundation made its purchase and subsequent donation to the College.
With Bradley House now part of the Rivoli campus, the College community rallied to make the home an inviting place for the president to live and entertain. Friends and alumnae established a $25,000 maintenance fund, $5,000 of which was raised by alumnae. Alumna and interior decorator Margaret Ferrill Robinson ’18 worked with Alleen Poer Hinton ’12, chair of the board of trustees’ committee on buildings, to remodel and furnish the house. Then, as now, the living room featured paintings from the Helena Eastman Ogden Campbell collection. The College also received gifts of furnishings and accessories for the president’s new domicile. Lottie Felder Bowen ’18, mother of former trustee Robert A. Bowen, Jr., donated furnishings for the sun parlor. Alice Domingos ’40 gave the bedroom suite that had belonged to her grandmother, Minnie Bass Burden, Class of 1874, whose father, Dr. William C. Bass, had served as president of Wesleyan. Those furnishings are now in one of the guest bedrooms upstairs. The inlaid sideboard in the formal dining room was a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Leo Huckabee. Mr. Huckabee was chairman of the board of trustees at the time.
Bradley House has experienced at least two major renovations, but the original architecture, balanced by a sunroom on the east end and a porte cochere on the west, has remained intact over the years. An extensive structural renovation, including remodeling the kitchen and converting the back porch into a breakfast room, was completed in 1980. In 1989, the kitchen was again remodeled, and a deck and small sunroom were added to the back of the home. In the summer of 1997, Bradley House underwent a dramatic refurbishment when Dr. Nora Kizer Bell became president.
A number of the rooms have had various uses over the years. The Red Room downstairs for years was a bedroom containing the Minnie Bass Burden furniture; now it is a den. The small bedroom off the hall and near the downstairs bath has been used as an office and as a den or sitting room. The family dining room has sometimes served as a den; it is once again a dining room. The formal dining room, the living room, and the sun porch have maintained their original uses.
When the Bradley Foundation purchased the property in 1954, the home had had only two owners, the Kinnetts and the Fays. Since then, eight Wesleyan presidents and their families have occupied Bradley House: Joseph Martin, Earl Strickland, Fred Hicks, Bob Ackerman, Nora Kizer Bell, Ruth Knox, Vivia Fowler, and Meaghan Blight. Each academic year begins with a reception for parents of first year students. Holiday parties are a highlight for faculty and staff, and outdoor gatherings under the big tent on the grounds of Bradley House have become a tradition at year’s end. One of the rites of passage for students since 1994 has been the Senior Toast, the students’ first alumnae event after being inducted into the alumnae association during Alumnae Weekend. Since 2009, Senior Toast has taken place at Bradley House, and seniors look forward to donning their festive attire and making the walk together from campus to Bradley House to celebrate their upcoming graduation with the president.
Past President Knox has said, “Wesleyan has been blessed in countless ways by members of the Bradley and Turner families, and we always will be tremendously grateful to D. Abbott Turner and the Bradley Foundation for their extraordinary gift of Bradley House in 1954. Just as Mr. Turner envisioned, Bradley House has provided a beautiful and gracious setting for the College community to gather over the years. The adjoining 60-plus acres also have allowed our campus to grow and to include not only the spacious equestrian center but also a significant portion of the Arboretum. These distinctive features of the Wesleyan experience are a direct result of Mr. Turner’s foresight and the generosity of the Bradley Foundation.”
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