A man, a house, and 6,000 women!
By Charles Milhauser
This is the story of Rood House, which, after May 2007, the college will no longer use as a residence hall.
Henry Harrison Rood was born in New York in 1841 and named for his father’s idol, President William Henry Harrison. At age 15, Henry came to Nevada, Iowa, where he attended school for two winters, learned the trades of plasterer and mason, and taught school. In March 1860, he walked from Nevada to Mount Vernon and enrolled in Cornell College. He withdrew in September 1861 to enlist in the 13th Iowa Volunteer Infantry. During his military service, he attained the rank of first lieutenant and served as adjutant and judge advocate. After returning to Mount Vernon, he formed a partnership with his father-in-law, Dr. James M. Armstrong, in what evolved as a clothing store, known later as Rood, Young & Wilcox. In 1875, “on account of impaired health from close confinement in the store,” Rood began traveling as a salesman for several clothing wholesalers. In 1893, he purchased a onethird interest in the Mount Vernon Bank and became its vice president.
Colonel Rood, as he was always called, joined Cornell’s Board of Trustees in 1867, became its secretary the following year, and treasurer in 1891, positions he held until his death. He signed every diploma during his tenure as board secretary—approximately 1,700. “Colonel” was a muchcherished honorific accorded prominent men with military connections. Rood was a charter member of the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic, president for 24 years of the civic society known as Crocker’s Iowa Brigade, and colonel on the staff of several Iowa governors.
In 1883, Rood commissioned a 12-room house from Cass Chapman, the Chicago architect who had designed King Chapel and would design Bowman Hall the following year. Mrs. Rood died in 1914 and Colonel Rood in 1915. Only one of their seven children, a married daughter, survived them. The house became
the residence of music professors Frank and Julia Shaw.
The Class of 1894 purchased the house in 1919 and presented it to the college, which opened it that fall as “Rood Cottage” to house women students. Two houses, which stood respectively where Merner and Olin are now, were moved and attached to Rood: the Alexander Crawford House in 1936 to the east side and the Anna Jordan House in 1954 to the north. The three buildings, connected by ramps and steps, had their special charm and coveted space: Tower Room, Sky Room, and Penthouse. Rood served as a men’s dormitory in 1931–32 and housed the Naval Cadets in 1943–44. It became co-ed in the fall of 2002.
The colonel’s wife, Frances Armstrong, attended Cornell’s Preparatory Department. Her cousin, Frank Armstrong, Class of 1874, paid for the first organ installed in the chapel. Armstrong’s second wife, Blanche Swingley, Class of 1891, provided funds for Armstrong Hall. Frances’ other first cousin, Alice, married William Platner. Alice was supposed to have been so jealous of her cousin’s stately house that she persuaded her husband in 1892 to build her an even grander edifice two bocks west, now the Music Practice House.
The colonel had a distinguished career. The house still stands. As for the more than 6,000 women who have lived there, their secrets are safe with me.