The Wickwire House, current home of Jackson College’s president and his wife, has a 140-plus year history that dates back to November 7, 1837, when Roswell Westen purchased 40 acres from the United States government for $50. It is unclear when exactly the house was built, but the McCann family sold the house and land to Forrest Badgley in 1911, who transferred the title that same year to his son, Maxwell Badgley. The Badgleys added a kitchen area onto the house, which they dubbed Shadowlawn. J. Sterling Wickwire bought the house and property from the Badgleys in 1933.
James Sterling Wickwire was a founder of Teer-Wickwire & Co., and served as chairman of the board. He had several other manufacturing interests, including helping to establish many Jackson industries such as General Products and Yardman.
He married Hazel Gilbert, daughter of John O. Gilbert who founded the world-famous Gilbert Chocolates Co. Sterling and Hazel Wickwire raised their three sons in the house, John Gilbert, James and Robert. She passed away in 1956. Sterling Wickwire later remarried the former Eleanor Youngs Pelham of Jackson.
Wickwire offered his home and 270 acres of Summit Township property to the board of what was then Jackson Junior College in 1961, with the stipulation that he would have lifelong possession. He also made provisions for his second wife to continue to live in the house one year after his death. At the time, the board of Jackson Junior College was searching for a location for a new campus for the College, and had purchased several acres in Summit Township from the Jackon Public Schools. The board felt the property Wickwire offered was a more beautiful location for the college campus and was no more or less accessible than the property obtained from JPS. However, Mr. Wickwire’s donation included the stipulation of no construction on the property. Thus, the campus was built in it’s current location, on the property close to but not aligning directly with the Wickwire estate. Sterling Wickwire died in 1971, and the Wickwire property went to the College in 1972. When the College ultimately acquired clear title to the Wickwire Property, most of the land was set aside as part of the Dahlem Environmental Educational Center. Mr. Wickwire’s House and the land immediately surrounding the house has been use as the home of the president of the College.
Following the death of Mr. Wickwire, President and Mrs. Harold Sheffer moved into the Wickwire House in January 1972. The Sheffers made the home a community center, hosting college and community groups for meetings, occasions and more. The Sheffers furnished the house with furniture and many antiques that had been part of their family farm in Centreville, Mich. With its dark wooden floors, the Wickwire House was a natural setting for antiques. The house was damaged by fire in 1976 and repaired.
In 1981, when Clyde LeTarte became president, he and his wife, Kathy, and their children moved into Wickwire House. The LeTartes decorated with several antiques and collectibles they had picked up throughout their married life. The LeTartes renovated the home’s kitchen, and Mrs. LeTarte started a travel business from the third floor.
In 1993, Lee and Norma Howser moved into the Wickwire House when Lee Howser became president. The Howsers used several of their own antiques to decorate the historic home.
In 2001, the Wickwire House underwent some revamping when current President Daniel Phelan moved in. The home was given a new roof, air conditioning system and new carpeting to make ready for JC’s new president.
President Phelan has since provided extensive landscaping to the house, surrounding grounds and the adjacent field in hopes of restoring the grandeur of the estate as envisioned by Mr. Wickwire. Ongoing maintenance to the property includes a new boiler and heating system, new doors, gutters, work on the crumbling foundation and basement drainage system. President Phelan also donated materials and his own personal labor to build a wine cellar in the home’s Michigan basement as well as to the grounds and landscaped areas. Wickwire House is also used to host gatherings of students, trustees, donors and community members.