Listed by the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) as a Most Notable Historic Property in 2004, the current Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) Fraternity house at 24 E. Stewart Road has had a diverse history of uses over the last 104 years. Tucked away on a hilltop overlooking the University of Missouri Campus since 1908, the property has served as a military academy, a women’s dorm, and even a hotel and campground.
Colonel J. B. Welch bought 18 acres on what was then the western edge of Columbia from Flora Gray on June 16, 1902. He began construction on a large new brick building for a military academy soon after purchasing the property. After a grand start the mansion-academy burned in 1907. It was rebuilt by 1908, when it is labeled as “University Military Academy” on the Columbia Sanborn map. The school closed sometime after the death of Colonel Welch in 1915, but the building found a new use around 1920, when it became a women’s dormitory for the University of Missouri. Known then as Welch Hall, the dorm was home to 40 women.
The property almost became the site of Hickman High School. In 1925, Colonel Welch’s widow offered the board of education a good price for the academy building and the full 18-acre site (the property retains nearly seven acres today). The board decided to go with a northern location instead, which was at that time closer to the City’s population center. Ms. Welch sold the mansion a year later to Judge Stewart and Sons, who converted it to a hotel and campground known as Oak Hill Hotel.
In 1929, the SAE Fraternity bought the Oak Hill Hotel from Stewart and moved into the former academy building. The house was restored/remodeled in 1962 and again in the summer of 1964, at a cost of S100,000. The sixty-two year old house, with sixty-two SAE members in residence, suffered a major fire on Valentine’s Day, 1965. The house, heavily damaged, was rebuilt at a cost of $400,000.
Today, the Greek Revival-style, former Welch Military Academy continues to serve a residential purpose. According to the SAE website, “The Missouri Alpha Colony of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is one of excellence with an immense amount of motivation and drive to regain the once prestigious recognition it held on campus for over 120 years. Missouri Alpha was founded May 27, 1884 on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia. The chapter thrived in continuous existence until 2008, when our organizational recognition by the University was revoked. Re-colonization is currently underway and the enthusiasm of both alumni and new perspective members will ensure that the chapter will return to Oak Hill stronger than ever.”
National Register Nomination- What does it mean?
24 E. Stewart Road has been nominated to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The National Register is the Federal government’s official list of historic properties worthy of preservation. Listing recognizes a property’s historic importance to the community, state, or nation, and assists in preserving our nation’s heritage. National Register status also makes properties eligible for national and state historic preservation tax credits for eligible rehabilitation/restoration activities.
What’s the next step?
The City’s Historic Preservation Commission will make a recommendation on the National Register nomination to the Missouri Advisory Council on Historic Preservation at their July 1, meeting (7:00 PM, 1B, City Hall, 701 E. Broadway, Columbia, MO). The nomination has tentatively been scheduled for review by the Advisory Council on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 9:00 AM (Kansas City Hall Council Cambers, 414 E. 12th Street, 29th Floor, Kansas City, MO). The Advisory Council will then determine if official listing to the National Register of Historic Places is appropriate.
More information on the benefits and rights of placement on the National Register of Historic Places may be found online here. The complete list of National Register-listed properties in Boone County, MO may be viewed here.
To view additional pictures and read more about the history of this property, please review the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Bldg_NR application. Additionally, the State Historic Preservation Office may be reached at 573-526-1680.
Much of this text and research may be attributed to Historic Preservation Consultant Deb Sheals.