Off the Map: Former college displays Delaware County's history

Lenox College campus brings something special to Hopkinton community

James LeClere looks through a book chronicling the genealogy of the DeShaw family, which he is related to, in the resear
James LeClere looks through a book chronicling the genealogy of the DeShaw family, which he is related to, in the research library of Old Main at the Delaware County Historical Museum Complex at the former Lenox College in Hopkinton, Iowa, on Friday, Sept. 26, 2014. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Editor’s note: Each week we target a town on a map of Eastern Iowa and go there in search of a story. We hope to discover and share stories of people and places we might not ordinarily take note of, but who make our communities special.

HOPKINTON — Right on Highway 38 in Hopkinton, a town of fewer than 1,000 people, sits a quaint former college campus.

It was called Lenox College, and it operated from 1859 until the 1944-45 school year. The campus, now owned and maintained by the Delaware County Historical Society, beckons visitors to take a step back in time.

Donna Wall and Patty Hucker, two of the 18 board members for the Delaware County Historical Society, work to keep the stories of this historic site alive.

When Lenox College closed, its buildings were used to house a high school and later an elementary school. But in the late 1950s, the buildings were vacated. The Delaware County Historical Society was created not only to preserve the former Lenox College, but also tell its story and the story of Hopkinton and the surrounding county.

Clarke Hall, which once served as the female dormitory for Lenox College, was the first building the society made into a museum, Hucker said.

“It has evolved over the years,” she said. “And now visitors don’t want to miss this gorgeous campus. There’s just so much here, really something for everyone.”

The Delaware County Historic Society is in charge of nine buildings, including several college buildings, a gymnasium, a former Presbyterian church, two farm buildings and a train depot, complete with a caboose out front.

Inside each building, visitors will find Civil War exhibits, recreated shops, agricultural artifacts, natural history displays, local history stories, and school and college memorabilia.

“Visitors don’t believe how much stuff there is,” Hucker said. “Our buildings are full. But we just keep adding to displays and updating them.” Wall added they’ve been glad to partner with AmeriCorps members in recent years to help with exhibit updates and research.

Hucker and Wall are eager to share the interesting stories, people and facts connected to the place that they have learned over the years.

“It must have been a fun place to go to school,” Hucker said.

The property is maintained through volunteer time and donations, Hucker said. Even the local school kids get involved by raking leaves in the fall, not a small task given the copious number of mature trees on the campus. The Delaware County Historical Society also hosts various fundraisers throughout the year, including the upcoming Old Time Radio Show Dinner Theatre event on Oct. 18, to support keeping the buildings open and work to restore them.

While the official visiting hours have ended for the season, Hucker said they offer tour, self guided or docent-led, by appointment most any time of the year. Contact the museum at (563) 926-2639 or (563) 926-2416.

“We are pretty proud of this place,” Wall said. “There’s so much history with it.”