General Charles Gates Dawes returned to Evanston last week to urge his fellow Evanstonians to help him reclaim his mansion at 225 Greenwood St. Hired by the group, historical actor Robert Lindsey addressed the “dear citizens of Evanston,” telling them he thought he had “deeded my house to Northwestern University so the people would have a museum that would tell the story of [Evanston’s] past” and be a “repository of history” for the Evanston community.

About 50 people gathered in front of the Dawes House, home to the Evanston History Center, to voice their protest against the University’s role in recent events that led to the closing of the Center for safety reasons and a demand that EHC implement repairs that could cost $4 million.

That the History Center was closed abruptly in April, that it needs repairs for safety and ADA-compliance and that the old mansion could use repairs are not disputed by the University. What the future holds for the Evanston History Center (EHC) and the Dawes House and whether the University has a moral or legal obligation to allow the Center to remain in the mansion, where it has enjoyed a $1/year lease for about 20 years, are issues that have become clouded with emotion.

In an interview with the RoundTable last month, Eugene Sunshine, Northwestern University vice president for business, called the mansion a “sinkhole” for money and said he feared once repairs began, the need for other repairs would be uncovered.

Mimi Peterson, in her speech that followed Gen. Dawes’s appeal, said, “You are looking at what Northwestern University calls a ‘sinkhole’ and what the rest of the world calls a landmark.” She also quoted Mr. Sunshine as saying the Center “should put emotion and history aside,” as the University has done with the mansion.

“This time the University has gone too far; they have crossed the line. Does [Northwestern] President [Henry] Bienen want to be remembered because he closed the History Center to children of Evanston?” she asked. She invited the crowd to join the organizers in a march to Mr. Bienen’s office.

At the University, about a half mile north, Mr. Sunshine voiced a different view. Although he acknowledged the University did not wish to spend $4 million on the mansion and had closed the Center and asked for a fire safety inspection, he repudiated Ms. Peterson’s group, their tactics and their goal. He said he felt there were “good conversations” going on between the University and some members of the EHC board. Still, he acknowledged the endgame was to have EHC vacate the premises. “We gave the EHC a draft about a week ago,” he told the RoundTable, “including a plan to reopen the place for partial use and a termination date of December 2009.”

Marge Wold, president of the EHC board of trustees, told the RoundTable that the General Dawes group is separate from EHC. “We [EHC representatives] feel we can be more effective trying to negotiate with Northwestern.” She said their goal is to find a way to have control of the house,

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...