Geneseo Genealogy: Classic revival home continues presidential lineage

Perched just above campus on Main Street, President Christopher Dahl’s house is a quintessential landmark that defines an era of architecture for which Geneseo is renowned.

According to the Association for the Preservation of Geneseo’s book Historic Geneseo, the site at 15 Main St. is a yellow classical revival home. It was built in 1896 and was designed by the famous American architect Claude Bragdon, who also created the Livingston County Courthouse, just steps away from Dahl’s home.

“It’s the type of house that a judge or a wealthy attorney would have built for himself using a good architect,” Dahl said.

According to Wayne Mahood’s SUNY Geneseo: From Normal School to Public Ivy, 1871-2007, prior to its Main Street location, the president’s house was located on Wadsworth Street until 1934.

According to Dahl, the college purchased the home in 1955, shortly after Francis J. Moench was appointed president. Since then, every succeeding president has lived in the house.

In recent years, the college has attempted to keep the design of the house consistent with Bragdon’s vision.

“During the ‘60s and ‘70s, the house had a Danish modern style with shag carpets and, in fact, even the grandfather clock was painted white for a while,” Dahl said. “That was the fashion of the day.”

After former President Carol Harter arrived, the interior of the house was renovated. The home was restored with its original design in mind, heavily influenced by the 19th century.

“They reconfigured the upstairs rooms in the house, so there are fewer bedrooms, larger bathrooms, no old sewing rooms,” Dahl said.

Since the Harter renovation, the college’s faculty has contributed to the art collection in the home. Professor emeritus of art Paul Hepler even constructed a wet bar using the siding of an old barn.

One of the prized pieces in the collection is an oil painting by the famous Hudson Valley School painter, John Frederick Kensett.

In 1996, Dahl moved in with his family after living on South Street in his time as provost. He said every president is required to live in the house and must pay a maintenance fee in every paycheck, as mandated by the State University of New York.

He said he had made very few changes after moving in, just renovating the basement and redecorating his son’s room.

Dahl uses the home frequently to host members of the college community.

“What we do with it is to use it for college entertainment,” he said. “Last week we had the admissions ambassadors, phone-a-thoners, and research council … that’s the kind of thing we have the house for.”

After Dahl retires, he said he does not anticipate the college making any additions to house or changing the furniture in order to preserve its historical integrity.