The Mystery of the Missing Frat House: Research Questions at UMD Archives

The University Archives at Hornbake Library is home to a wealth of information about the history of our school, campus, and the College Park area. One of the frequent tasks that we perform is researching questions that people have about the university. Some of the most commonly requested information has been gathered together on the University of Maryland A to Z: MAC to Millennium website, but there are also questions that aren’t so easily answered and require a bit of detective work on our part.

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One such question arrived in our inbox recently from an alumnus who wanted to know if we had any photos of his old frat house. He said he had graduated in 1955, and during his junior and senior years, he lived in the Alpha Chi Sigma house on campus, which he remembered as being an old farm house with a metal roof and a water pump on the front lawn. According to the gentleman, the house was demolished during the construction of Cole Field House. With this information in hand, I began my investigation to uncover what I could find about the AXE fraternity house.

I began my search for the AXE house by looking for a building that was displaced by Cole Field House, but it soon became apparent that no such building existed. By investigating the 1954 freshmen M Book, I discovered that the AXE house was actually situated approximately where Tawes Hall is today, across from Anne Arundel Hall.

1954MBook(http://www.lib.umd.edu/univarchives/handbooks)

The building did not appear on campus maps before 1950 or so, which led me to believe that it was not owned by the university. This hypothesis proved true when I was able to match a named address with the house’s first Greek occupant, Tau Kappa Epsilon.  Campus maps show the Tekes occupying the house by 1951 (which coincides with the first appearance of the house in university cartography). According to the 1952 M Book, the house was located at a unique address called “Engel Terrace.”

1952MBook(http://www.lib.umd.edu/univarchives/handbooks)

I finally had a name to match with the location. University building records do not record the construction or acquisition of an Engel house, so I referenced the index of the minutes of the Board of Regents’ meetings and uncovered several discussions about an “Engel property” from 1940. Apparently when the state was constructing University Lane (the present-day Campus Drive) and connecting it to Adelphi Road, they saw fit to cut through the property of an Engel family. The family petitioned the university to provide them with rights of ingress and egress to their property to the newly constructed road. (See attached minutes)

At one time, the Engel property was located on the southern side of the old road, as seen in this aerial photo from 1926.

1926

 

1926crop(http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/1849)

But by 1948, construction of Campus Drive had placed the home on the opposite side of the new road. (Here it is pictured just below Anne Arundel Hall)

1948

The answer as to how the entire property came into the university’s possession was uncovered in the files of UMD President Harry Clifton Byrd (Byrd files on Engel property). At some point between the construction of the road in 1940 and 1946, it was decided that the entire Engel property should be acquired. After the family declined what the university felt was a reasonable price, there was talk about taking the matter to court. At last, under threat of state condemnation of the property in early 1947, the heirs of the Engel estate, three sisters, agreed to a purchase price of $70,000.

Tau Kappa Epsilon literature from 1951 claimed the Engel house, which they rented from the university starting in 1950, was over 120 years old, although this has not been substantiated. Their annual UMD chapter yearbook provided the best picture of the house that I was able to uncover:

1951TKE

The only other close-up images of the house, and the only known images of its interior, from our collections come from TKE Terrapin yearbook entries from the years they occupied the Engel house.

Teke yearbook blurbs from their stay in the Engel house bragged that “George Washington once slept there” (doubtful) and claimed that their wooded lot on the extreme western end of campus would become “the ideal spot for the future Fraternity Row.” But despite their braggadocio, TKE jumped at the opportunity to abandon the old farm house and relocated to Knox Road for the 1953/54 school year.

With TKE gone, the university next gave the Engel house to Alpha Chi Sigma, and these fraternity brothers appear to be the house’s final occupants. No images of AXE’s time in the Engel house have been identified.

A photo of the 1957 construction of McKeldin Library shows that the house was still standing at that time, as it is still visible behind Anne Arundel Hall.

1957

1957crop(http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/2122)

By 1963, the structure had been demolished, as the university had begun construction of Tawes Hall, thereby ending their brief stewardship of the aged Engel house.

1963(http://hdl.handle.net/1903.1/6510)

tumblr_my28km4upg1smu8clo1_500And there you have it! Another successful archival mystery solved by the gang at Hornbake Library! Do you have any burning questions about the University of Maryland or any of our other special collection areas? Be sure to check out our website where you can find information about our holdings and contact a reference librarian. Or maybe you fancy a bit of mystery-solving yourself? Stop by the Maryland Room at Hornbake Library where you can request materials from our collections and get your history detective on! (And impress your professors with the amazing primary source materials you incorporate into your next paper!)

Ian Bucacink, graduate student assistant in the UMD Archives, prepared this post for Terrapin Tales. We appreciate all of Ian’s hard work to solve this mystery and all that he has contributed to our blog and the daily operations of the Archives over the last year. Ian’s leaving us soon for a new job, so we wish him well as he heads off to solve archival mysteries of a different sort!

Terrapin Tales is the official blog of the University of Maryland Archives. Check back Wednesdays this semester for our ongoing blog series, UMD123, where we take a look at Maryland “by the numbers,” and follow us on social media: @UMDArchives on Twitter and https://www.facebook.com/UMDArchives/

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