In 1850, a University of Vermont classics major named John Ellsworth Goodrich came together with a group of his fellow classmates to found the Delta Psi fraternity; an organization devoted to the promotion of Greek and Latin literature and deep-seated friendship. As interest in Goodrich’s group grew, he found it necessary to obtain a headquarters that would inspire its members as equally as the texts they enjoyed reading together. They found a home in the Richardsonian Romanesque mansion at 61 Summit St. Over the next one hundred and fifty years, Delta Psi evolved into one of the leading fraternities on campus and its awe inspiring residence attracted some of Vermont’s best and brightest young men including world renowned author and philosopher John Dewey.
I grew up passing this house every day on my walk home from middle school. I can clearly recall its members clad in brightly colored Patagonia syncillas, heavy norwegian sweaters & two tone CB down vests playing football on the front lawn and drinking cheap beer on the porch, the late fall sun reflecting off of their oakley frogskins. At the beginning of each semester, stop signs, street cones and other random neighborhood objects would start to disappear, the casualties of a semi-annual plegdship period. Dad never really paid the disappearances much mind. He was a fraternity man himself and could relate position the pledges were put in. He’d been through it in spades. One morning we awoke to find the marble bench that Dad placed under the maple tree that shaded our driveway gone. He marched straight over to 61 Summit St. and wrapped the bronze knocker on the front door until it dented the wood. “I would like my bench back please.” ”I’m sorry sir but I have no idea what you are talking about.” Dad strode by him and examined every room on the ground floor and saw no sign of the intricately carved bench. “The apple has certainly fallen far from the tree here,” he said as he walked out the door and back to our house without his stolen property. A week later Dad got another one, this time cementing it into place.
In 2003, the girlfriend of a Delta Psi brother called the police. Her boyfriend had been kidnapped she said. They found him hogtied, donning Oakley frogskins and drinking cheap beer in the custody of his own pledges (just kidding about the frogskins). This prank was the last straw for the University that agreed with my Father - The apple had fallen and the tree needed to be chopped down and burned. After a century and a half at UVM, the Delta Psi fraternity was indefinitely suspended. To make matters worse, their house, once the physical embodiment of the classicism and tradition their organization was created to promote, had fallen into disrepair and needed roughly two million dollars for restoration. The brothers and alumni scrambled to save their house but their efforts were too little too late and they were forced to sell 61 Summit St. to the university in 2007. The house has since been emptied and the current plans are to gut the inside and turn it into an admissions building.
A few weeks back, while home to visit my mother, I decided to take a walk over to the deserted house and poke around. I don’t know whether it was the thought of Goodwill’s dying legacy or the unfinished quest for my father’s bench that spurred my interest. I didn’t care. I found an open window and, after climbing through, took my time examining every room of the four story fraternity capturing images with my camera and my mind. On each floor was an eerie, empty sea of mahogany, coffers and bronze gilt light fixtures. Beautifully carved tables were stacked in piles in the center of the main hall. The library’s bookshelves were still filled with dust covered books on philosophy and antiquity. I found myself wondering if Dewey ever had a glance at any of them as I moved toward one of the many ornate, grotesquely decorated fireplaces. They seemed to be in every room, each one as distinct and different as the snowflakes so frequently collected on the house’s windowsills throughout those notoriously long, brutal Vermont winters. The fireplaces, like the house itself, were designed to motivate, to feed the fire of inspiration in its dwellers both figuratively and literally. Unfortunately, the light of Delta Psi has gone out and my father’s stone bench is nowhere to be found.