Built in the early 1800s, Wildwood is one of the oldest university president’s homes in existence today and has served as the residence for the families of eight presidents of Southeast Missouri State University. Currently, the beautifully restored home is used for many University events and activities hosted by the first family throughout the year.
Wildwood was part of a 124-acre tract of land purchased in 1922 to be used as a demonstration farm for the Department of Agriculture. The land was originally part of a grant from the Spanish government in the late 18th century to Don Louis Lorimier, founder of the city of Cape Girardeau. The only building on the land was a wine cellar. Louis Houck, a long-time member of the Board of Regents, led the conversion of the wine cellar into a home for the college’s president.
Some of the features and historical information about the house include:
- The rounded ceiling of the cellar appears to be in perfect condition, a credit to the stone masons who erected it long ago. In the original building, the room served as the foundation for four brick rooms on an upper level. The cellar is empty, but has been used for special entertainment activities, including Elizabethan dinners and Halloween parties.
- The original two-story structure, built with 16- to 20-inch solid-stone walls, was renovated in 1923.
- Wildwood’s formal dining room table was purchased at the 1904 World’s fair in St. Louis by Louis Houck and served as the original table for the Board of Regents.
- The grounds feature a Japanese sculpture, given by Toshiaki Arai of Tokyo, Japan, and more than 150 rosebushes in the Pearl G. Scully Garden. The vineyard was originally located on this part of the property along with a house.
- All artwork currently on display in the home is owned by the University and is on loan from the Rosemary Berkel and Harry L. Crisp II Southeast Missouri Regional Museum.
- Two cabinets on the far wall of the downstairs’ reception room were part of the library when Miss Sadie Kent was librarian.
- A Chinese cloisonné horse, crafted during the late 19th Century Ching Dynasty, is displayed in the dining room. The donor, Bernard Schmidt, graduated from Southeast in 1934.
- The home has been occupied by eight presidents, their spouses and families since 1924. Dr. and Mrs. Serena made it their home from 1924 until 1933. President and Mrs. Parker, along with their children, occupied the building from 1933 until 1956. Dr. and Mrs. Scully and their sons moved into the residence in 1956 and remained until his retirement in 1975. Dr. and Mrs. Robert Leestamper lived in the house from 1975 until 1979. President Bill Stacy and his family resided there from 1979 until 1989. Dr. Kala Stroup and her family occupied the house from 1990 to 1995, and Dr. and Mrs. Bill Atchley lived in the house during his 1995-1996 presidency. The house was occupied by the family of Dr. Dale Nitzschke from 1996 until 1999. Dr. Robert Foster (1989-1990) and Dr. Kenneth Dobbins (1999-present) and their families chose not to reside in the home since they already had homes in the Cape Girardeau community.
- The term “Wildwood” was given to the home by Mrs. Parker.
- The 8,800-square-foot home is currently used for official University functions, housing for campus guests, dinners and entertainment. It still sits on 10 acres of the original 124-acre tract.