88-year-old cottage, built in part with $10,000 from Elizabeth Keep
Clark and George Clark (Rev. Keep's granddaughter and husband),
defies easy architectural categorization. Oberlin historian Geoffrey
Blodgett '53 labels it "Pennsylvania Dutch Colonial."
The house was first designed in stone, but later substituted with
brick and an upper-story of timber and stucco during year-long negotiations
that preceded construction. A front porch runs the length of the
house; a sloping roof with wide eaves graces it. Bay windows, interior
alcoves with window seats, dark woodwork, and a striking central
staircase enhance the domestic ambience.
Mrs. Clark showed no interest in the tradition of self-boarding.
Architectural plans for Keep Cottage called for four first-floor
maids' rooms and a small maids' parlor. Planners fretted over whether
a maid might appropriately pass through the students' dining room
to answer the front door.
Elegance battled economy as a planning priority. Patton concentrated
embellishment at the building's front, concealing a plain dormitory
wing at the rear. Today--such was his success--some students believe
the building was once a private mansion, with the long halls of
dorm rooms added later.
While Patton planned Keep, one tradition of sorts was drawing to
a close. The architect, who earlier had designed Warner Gym and
the Carnegie Library, learned that Oberlin might contract with Cass
Gilbert to plan future campus structures. A vigorous marketing campaign
ensued. Patton went to New York City to seek out Lucien Warner,
chair of the board of trustees' architectural committee, but found
Warner out of town. He dispatched letters to Warner, President Henry
Churchill King, and planning liaison Azariah Root, the College librarian,
reminding correspondents that his father had known President Finney,
his grandfather had known Father Keep, and his late wife had been
Keep's granddaughter. He critiqued Gilbert's Finney Chapel and proposed
a meeting to discuss alternative plans for the campus.
"We appreciate very much the good work you have done for Oberlin,"
President King replied. "But...both our trustees and our faculty
committee have agreed in recommending Mr. Cass Gilbert...for the
general architect; so that I suppose that the matter is virtually
Cottage was to be Patton's last Oberlin building.
the co-ed Keep is mostly vegetarian, though rules hammered
out in an elaborate consensus process allow meat at special
Saturday night or Sunday noon meals--as long as it's organic
and locally raised.
Vestiges of Patton's era linger at Keep. China demitasse saucers
and small silver spoons remain behind glass doors in the library
bookcase. In the College archives, an embossed menu from the cottage's
1914 annual banquet records a feast of fried chicken, imported
wafers, "rose ice cream," bon-bons, and coffee.
Today, the co-ed Keep is mostly vegetarian, though rules hammered
out in an elaborate consensus process allow meat at special Saturday
night or Sunday noon meals--as long as it's organic and locally
raised. The ceremonies and regulations that once governed relations
between young women and men (the cottage was designed with a separate
men's entrance) have been replaced by a brotherly-sisterly friendship
style. ("We do refer to romance between housemates as 'house-cest,'"
says Keep's housing loose-ends coordinator Cambria Hamburg '04
in expounding on today's norms.)
The decision to include Keep in the co-op system was more exhaustively
discussed than even the building's original design. Oberlin's
faculty council rejected a proposal for a new co-op in 1952; the
cottage joined the fold 13 years later. President Robert K. Carr
worried that the co-op alternative might become "so firmly
established that it would be difficult or impossible to alter
its character or abolish it entirely."
Indeed, at Keep, the system seems entrenched. Timothy Haineswood
'03 is a second-generation Keeper. His mother, Gail Haines '70,
lived at the then all-female cooperative, as did her cousin Julie
Forsythe '70. Haineswood is trying to persuade his cousin, first-year
student Noah Hoskins-Forsythe, to move to Keep.
Things have changed a bit at Keep, says Haines. In her day, the
co-op still hired one full-time cook. A housemother remained,
and student workers counted out the appropriate number of utensils
and piled them on the tables before dinner, rather than having
students entirely serve themselves.
The basic spirit of the place persists.
"I remember sitting in big meetings and making decisions
together," says Haines. "I'm sure we didn't have dress
Today's Keepers have a message for the founding co-op generation.
"Alumni should know that we're still crazy," says Tim.
"If they lived here, they'll know what we mean."
Gail Taylor is a freelance writer who lives in Oberlin.