Historic Marker Granted to Home of the Presidents
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 21:09
The Oxford Historic and Architectural Preservation Commission (HAPC) presented a historic marker award to Lewis Place, the current home of Miami University President Hodge on Thursday, Sept. 27. Lewis Place has been the home of the university President since 1903.
In the University Archives, the folder on Lewis Place is bulging with newspaper articles and handwritten notes dating back to the early 1900’s.
Even before Miami began leasing the house, it held a strong place in Oxford society. According to a 1976 Oxford Press article about the building, Lewis Place is “the finest old house in Oxford.”
First-year Carmen Wymer toured the building.
“I was inside I was impressed with the classic architecture and even more impressed by the story behind it,” Carmen Wymer said. “I didn't know that house was hundreds of years old or even what purpose it served on Miami's campus. After hearing its story, I'm glad it's being considered to become a historical mark.”
The house was built by Romeo Lewis in 1839 in the style of a Florida plantation house. At one time, the front windows of the house opened like doors to increase air circulation in the hot summer months. The bull-whipped front porch and half circle walkway often served as the setting for summer parties held by the Lewis family. Lewis and his family lived in the home for 49 years and left a long history in their wake.
Lewis’s wife, Jane, lived in the house for a time after her husband died and became well known for taking in orphans and widows and operated a stop on the Underground Railroad. Jane Lewis was affectionately called “Aunt Jane” for her hospitality and generosity.
A portrait of Jane Lewis hung in the house when President John Millett’s family lived at Lewis place. Valerie Hodge spoke about how today, the same portrait hangs in her study.
“She keeps an eye on things around here,” Hodge said. “We like to think that if she came today she’d recognize how the house is being used because she had parties all the time and was a very hospitable person so I think she would approve.”
A number of changes have been made to the house including a major renovation project in 2007. The Hodges have influenced the design of the interior of the building in little ways.
“Elaine Brandner who is the senior interior designer, she let me help choose things so then it made the house more personal to me,” Hodge said.
The front door of Lewis place opens to a hall with living rooms on the left and the right side and a carpeted stair case in front. The rooms are filled with overstuffed chairs and couches complemented with dark wood side tables. Seasonal touches of orange and yellow leaves appeared on side tables and fireplace. Each living room as well as the dining room and both president and his wife’s studies have its own fireplace.
According to Hodge, at one time there were over 16 fireplaces in the house which were originally used at the only source of heat.
“All around the house you’ll see these landscape paintings in the rooms and some people like modern art or portraits, but the president and I, we like landscapes,” Hodge said. “So we went over to the Miami Art Museum and they let us borrow any paintings we wanted.”
In the dining room at Lewis Place a large portrait of the university’s first president, Robert Hamilton Bishop, overlooks the stately dining table. In the sun room at the back of the house there are a number of black and white photos of Oxford life through the years and the original skeleton keys serve as décor as well as a reminder of the rich history of the house.
One of the major renovation projects during 2007 was the addition of space and materials for catering staff. The Hodges host more than 80 events a year out of Lewis Place, so the renovators wanted to give catering exactly what they needed to make their jobs easier.
“Before they did the remodeling there was no storage there was catering facility of any kind here, so every time we had an event they had to bring over all the food, all the glassware and silverware every single time,” Hodge said. “When we planned for the renovations we asked catering ‘What are you going to need’ so they got just what they needed.”
The kitchen and the catering rooms have a more modern feel although the dark wood cabinets remain consistent with the antique feel of the rest of the house. In the middle of the kitchen there is a square table with four chairs around it. According to Valerie Hodge, this table is a great work space for the caterers during events, and is also where the Hodges enjoy their breakfast cereal. The sun room at the back of the house is walled by floor to ceiling windows which over look the back porch and the manicured lawn and flowers in the backyard.
The Oxford Historic and Architectural Preservation Commission started the Historical Plaque Program in 2009.
According to Sam Perry, planner for HAPC, the program was started to get people to appreciate the many historic buildings and sites in Oxford.
Lewis Place will be awarded a Tier 1 plaque, meaning it qualifies as a historic structure.