Upon cresting the Hill, visitors to Gambier will find what looks like a gingerbread house perched above Wiggin Street. Finn House, which has had many names and served many purposes, has weathered over a century and a half of change at Kenyon.
Finn House was built by an 1849 graduate of Kenyon around 1850, though the identity of the builder is unknown, according to Tom Stamp, College historian and keeper of Kenyoniana. It is of the Carpenter Gothic architectural style, and was originally erected by the builder to serve as an oyster house, though it did not serve this function for very long.
Finn was occupied by Peter Neff ’49, from 1860 to 1888, during which time it was known as Neff Cottage. Though initially an Episcopal rector, Neff became a prolific businessman, and accomplished many business endeavors while living in the house. These included buying the patent for the tintype photographic method — which was invented at Kenyon — from Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy Hamilton Smith, as well as cornering the market on lampblack, which was “a fine form of carbon that was used in making photographic prints,” Stamp said.
Neff was also involved in oil wells and other commercial ventures, and left Gambier in 1888 for Cleveland. Once there, he became one of the founders of the American Geographical Society. Neff Cottage was known as “Clifford Place” during Neff’s time in Gambier, nicknamed after his daughter, Elizabeth Clifford Neff.
Near the turn of the 20th century, Finn was painted red and used as a lodge for the Psi Upsilon fraternity. Beginning in the 1950s, it became the house for Dean of Students Tom Edwards and his wife, Gloria, who were the first to live in the building during this period. It remained the dean’s house until 2006, when incoming Dean of Students Tammy Gocial declined to live there because she did not want to live in such a public space, according to Kenyon Review editor David Lynn.
Stamp explained that renovation and construction followed this decision, and the building was moved a few yards to the side and to the south of its previous location to give it space away from the Kenyon Inn. The airy, windowed Cheever Room was added in 2008, replacing a garage that had been situated at the rear of the building, and a modern concrete basement was constructed underneath. These renovations were made possible by funds provided by James P. Finn ’70, a current trustee of the College and co-chair of the board of The Kenyon Review. Finn House is named in honor of his parents, John L. and Mary C. Finn.
The Kenyon Review moved into the building in 2009 when renovations were complete, following the destruction of Walton House, where it was previously housed.
“What’s remarkable about it is it does feel like a house, a cottage,” Lynn said, “and I think The Kenyon Review feels that this isn’t just an office building. This is a home for our staff, and for our many associates and interns.”