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oodlawn had belonged to New York City merchant A. T. Stewart, and when he died in 1876 his trustee, a shady

Tammany Hall lawyer named Henry Hilton, gained control of it. When Hilton died in 1899, his heirs quarreled over the dis- position of the property, and the build- ings stood vacant while the case moved through the courts. In 1916 the proper- ty was logged, and thereafter its 40-odd structures became an alluring, if dan- gerous, playground for the children of Saratoga Springs.

Dean Margaret

There is reason to believe that Lucy Scribner did consider the possibility that Skidmore might move from its original campus on Circular and Spring Streets. Mary Elizabeth Larson, who was Mrs. Scribner’s secretary and companion from 1920 to 1931, remembered that the founder had long hoped to build Skidmore at Woodlawn, and had even suggested a possible purchase to Hil ton’s heirs. When the estate was auctioned off in 1916 Skidmore’s first president, Charles Henry Keyes, might well have seen it as a more practical location than the downtown campus of picturesque Victorian dwellings that were difficult and expensive to maintain. The biography of Keyes writ- ten by his son Fenton states that he “came up with the daring plan that the College buy the Woodlawn estate at the north edge of town,” only to see the plan defeated by local trustees who feared that moving Skidmore would cause its downtown neigh- borhood to decline.

Fenton Keyes heard the story of his father’s Woodlawn plan from Alice Moshier ’22, later chair of the Skidmore art depart- ment. But Guernsey Borst, chair of the business department in the 1930s, was also quoted in the Skidmore News during those years suggesting that a move to Woodlawn would be in the best interest of the College. And Dean Margaret Bridgman remi- nisced that Woodlawn was “a beautiful place to go for a walk and also to ski in winter. Every time I went there, I thought, Oh, I wish this were the cam- pus.” (Those thoughts probably preceded the winter of 1937–38, when both she and President Moore broke legs while skiing at Woodlawn.) When such a move was first considered, some of

Bridgman reminisced that Woodlawn was “a beautiful place to go for a walk and also to ski in winter. Every time I went there, I thought, Oh, I wish this were the campus.”

Woodlawn’s buildings could have been used for offices, class- rooms, and dormitories, and the extensive grounds would have been a long-term resource for a growing institution. But soon Woodlawn fell into disrepair. Tramps and youngsters entered the structures and sometimes built fires, causing some buildings to burn down, and the carriage paths became obscured by second-growth forest. Fifty Acres, which the College had bought in 1949 for athletic fields, of- fered some possibility for campus ex- pansion—but larger forces intervened. As the interstate highway system devel- oped, I-87 was planned to run right through Fifty Acres, so President Henry T. Moore gave up the prospect of build- ing a new campus there. In 1955, as the board of trustees formed a search com- mittee to replace the retiring Moore, its members knew that the leading edge of the postwar baby boom would reach Ameri can colleges in the 1960s. Skid-

more had to choose a new president who would be daring and creative enough to take advantage of this opportunity. Woodlawn remained overgrown and desolate; Skidmore re- mained underendowed and crowded. But two leaders were set- ting out on a course that would unite Skidmore and Woodlawn and utterly transform the College. Inaugurated in 1957, Val Wilson was an energetic new president. Texas Instruments CEO and four-term Dallas mayor J. Erik Jonsson was an RPI graduate with a daughter at Skidmore. Jonsson was a generous donor to his daughter’s college and soon joined its board of trustees. In 1960 he and his wife, Margaret, invited Val and Ruth Wilson to lunch at Saratoga’s elegant Gideon Putnam Hotel. As Ruth Wil- son recalled it, the president was speaking candidly about the practical challenges the College faced, when Jons- son rather suddenly in- quired, “What would you think of moving to a whole new campus?” Val Wilson calmly puffed on his pipe, then replied, ”I know just the place,” and led the foursome out to his car and over to Wood- lawn. The Jonssons were impressed with the beauty of the old estate and the potential it held for Skid- more.


Jonsson promptly pro- posed a move to his fel- low trustees: “I will give

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