In 1948, Cornell College acquired another building for its use, the Brackett House. Located on the eastern edge of campus, across the street from College Hall, the former residence of William Brackett has been used primarily as a boarding house for guests of the college. The house was built by William Brackett, a master carpenter who moved to Mount Vernon from the east coast. Brackett is also responsible for many of the buildings in town, including the second Methodist church (now the First Street Community Center), and he helped oversee the completion of King Chapel after the original contractor left. He built the house in 1877 with his wife and three children, Anna, Edgar, and Clara Brackett, all of whom graduated from Cornell between 1867 and 1881. The land on which the Brackett House sits originally belonged to Rev. George Bowman, the founder of Cornell, and it was later the site of Spangler’s Pottery, where the bricks for Old Sem and College Hall were made.
Clara was the only descendant to remain in Mount Vernon, and so she inhabited the house with her daughter, Elisabeth, after her husband, William M. Smith, died when Elisabeth was six. In 1912, Clara married Armstrong Spear, a fellow Cornell classmate from 1881, and so began the era of Brackett House hospitality, as Clara Spear enjoyed entertaining people from all over. Sometime between 1914 and 1919, she enlarged the original house with a dining room and closed porch, and also altered the original direction of the house 90°, to make it more accessible to guests.
Elisabeth Smith Ford inherited the house from her parents, and decided to will it to Cornell on the stipulation that one of her former teachers, Clara Blinks, be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. In 1952, the retired teacher passed away, and the college was now able to put the building to whatever use it saw fit. C.W. Neff, grandson of William Brackett (son of Anna Brackett Neff), presented the deed to the Alumni Association on May 15, 1953.
Initially, President Cole wanted to use the house for an admissions building and went head to head with the Alumni Association, who wanted the house to be used for alumni. Only after a generous donation by O.C. Pauley, given with the stipulation that it was to be used for renovating Brackett House, did Cole acquiesce to the use of Brackett for alumni. From 1953 until 1961, the alumni office occupied the ground floor of Brackett House (the upper floors became guest housing), until the office moved to Old Sem.
In 1977, Bess H. Medary, Class of 1915 donated $75,000 to the college, allowing Cornell to renovate and restore Brackett House to its former glory. A committee headed by Anne Secor, wife of President Philip Secor, planned and executed the renovations in the summer of 1978. Medary, who had been a classmate of Elisabeth Smith Ford, was also on the committee, overseeing the replacement of furniture and other aspects so the house fit into the appropriate time period. Among the committee’s other members was Margaret Keyes ’39, whose grandfather had come to Mount Vernon 116 years earlier with William Brackett.
Other than its short tenure as the alumni office, Brackett House has been primarily used as a guesthouse for visitors to the college, as well as a place for faculty socials every third Friday of the block. Since its early days as a guesthouse, Brackett House has played host to people such as Frederic Stock, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, and the soprano Alma Gluck, among other talented musicians and influential persons. In a letter from the Brackett House subcommittee on use of the home during the 1978 renovations, the members note, “Campus guests invited to use the home should include the following: alumni, parents of enrolled and prospective students, guest lecturers, performers and scholars-in-residence.”
Brackett House was closed August 5, 2012, its future uncertain. Three years later the building was renovated and it re-opened in June 2016, ready to host guests of the college once more.