Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, turns 180 years old today. Beta Theta Pi’s Xi Chapter is the oldest fraternity on campus. It was installed in 1855. It was the first fraternity chapter in Illinois. Currently on campus, Beta is joined by Phi Gamma Delta (1867), Sigma Nu (1891 at Lombard), Sigma Chi (2007), and Tau Kappa Epsilon (1912). Other organizations which were once on campus include Phi Delta Theta (1871), Lambda Chi Alpha (1915), and Phi Sigma Kappa (1928).
The Illinois Delta Chapter of Pi Beta Phi was chartered on March 7, 1884. In 1889, the Epsilon chapter of Delta Delta Delta became the second women’s fraternity at Knox. College. A member of the Simpson College Tri Delta chapter initiated the chapter at the home of one of the charter members. A reception was held at the Phi Gamma Delta Hall at Knox College. Phi Mu established a chapter at Knox in 1912; it closed in 1989.
The 1929 stock market crash and the onset of the Great Depression hit Lombard College, also located in Galebsurg, extremely hard and Lombard closed its doors. The last class graduated in 1930. Knox College invited the Lombard students to transfer to Knox, with the same tuition cost and without loss of academic standing. The men’s and women’s fraternities attempted to make the best of the situation. The Pi Beta Phi chapters joined together to create Pi Beta Phi’s only doubly named chapter, Illinois Beta-Delta. The Alpha Xi Delta Chapter approached Zeta Pi, a local organization at Knox, about the members becoming members of Alpha Xi Delta. Seven collegiate and 29 alumnae members of Zeta Pi were initiated into Alpha Xi Delta in September 1929. It remained the Alpha Chapter. The chapter was declared dormant by the national organization in 1973. The Delta Zeta chapter also moved to Knox and it closed in 1964. It is unclear what became of the Theta Upsilon chapter (that organization became a part of Delta Zeta in 1962).
In 2007, the Eta Kappa Chapter of Kappa Kappa Gamma was established and in 2010 Alpha Sigma Alpha joined the Knox fraternal community.
My favorite story is that of Knox College graduates Grace Lass, Pi Beta Phi, and Francis Hinckley Sisson, Beta Theta Pi. They were married in Galesburg, Illinois, on June 16, 1897. She served as Grand President of Pi Beta Phi from 1895-99 and he was President of Beta Theta Pi from 1912-18.
Grace Lass Sisson
At the time of their marriage, Mr. Sisson, who had done post-graduate work at Harvard University, was the Editor of the Galesburg Daily Mail. In 1903, they moved to New York City, where he took a job with McClure’s Magazine. A year later, he became Advertising Manager for the American Real Estate Company and took over as its Secretary from 1908-14. He then took a job with the H.E. Lesan Advertising Agency. From there he became the Assistant Chairman of the Railways Executive’s Advisory Association. In 1917, he was employed as the Vice President of the Guaranty Trust Company. He was still with the company when he passed away in 1933. In addition, he served as President of the American Bankers Association
When the Sissons moved to New York City, they lived in several homes. The 1906 Pi Beta Phi Directory lists the Sissons at 839 West End Avenue. In 1917, their address was 70 Undercliff in the Park Hill section of Yonkers. The 1931 Westchester City Social Record lists the Sissons as still living at the 70 Undercliff address with a winter residence of 480 Park Avenue. In the 1936 Pi Beta Phi Directory, the Sissons were living at 170 Shonnard Terrace in Yonkers.
The Sissons called the home at 170 Shonnard Terrace “Chateau Fleur de Lys,” the name given to it by Dr. H. deB. Seebold of New Orleans who built it in 1890. The Gothic Renaissance chateau was designed by Seebold and he spent 20 years collecting old world treasures to use in it.
The gray stone home was said to be only one of four French chateaus on the Hudson River. An article about a charity bridge event that Mrs. Sisson hosted for the Charity Organization Society in the early 1930s, described the home’s interior:
Through this foyer one reaches the beautifully proportioned Robin Hood room in which the bridge will be held. The handsome, carved oak ceiling, from which the room derives its name, came originally from the Earl of Nottingham’s manor house and is made from black oaks which grew in Sherwood Forest.
Here also are the huge windows, reaching from floor to ceiling, brought from a French chateau. Of leaded opaque stained glass, with a pattern of rippling gold, they flood the room with a honey-colored light.
There is a room for every mood in this fascinating house. There is the quiet sanctity of the Chapel, lighted with the jewel colors of stained glass that lends to its dimness a beauty which changes with every shifting light and the gayety and brightness of the frivolous Marie Antoinette room, with its painted woodwork and garlands of flowers.
Each room has its share of treasures, from the library with its exquisitely carved Italian door to the kitchen with its simple Norman fireplace, all showing the artistic design and careful workmanship which the artisan of that brought to his task….And in this house, Mrs. Sisson has created a gracious background and a fit setting for this unique collection, through her understanding of its enduring perfection.
Mrs. Sisson died on August 16, 1939 at the age of 71. In 1941, dancer Michel Fokine and his wife Vera purchased the home. The home stood empty from 1958-63 when it was the target of vandals and souvenir hunters. It was purchased by Thelma Stovel. A article in a 1966 Herald Statesman, told the story of “one of Yonker’s oldest and most historic homes” and the effort Stovel was putting into the chateau’s renovation.
In 2001, Kohle Yohannan purchased the home from a Haitian woman in her eighties who was then living there. Windows were broken, squirrels roamed freely, the roof leaked, and the list of repairs that needed to be done was very long. Although it took 10 years and much effort, he did a phenomenal job of restoring the home. It has been rented for photo shoots (Neiman Marcus, Victoria’s Secret, Vogue magazine), music videos (Beyonce’s Irreplaceable) and film/television (Mona Lisa Smile, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire). He changed the name to Greystone Court.
It is currently on the market for $4+ million (down from $6 million a few years ago). See the link below, and then take a look at the castle in which the Grand Presidents of Pi Beta Phi and Beta Theta Pi once lived.
© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2017. All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed this post, please sign up for updates. Also follow me on twitter @GLOHistory and Pinterest www.pinterest.com/glohistory/