It should come as no surprise that within the bounds of the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory is a presidential home that is almost as old as the White House.
Built in 1822 by Henry P. Wilcox, Marietta’s eighth postmaster, the Wilcox-Mills House that sits on the corner of Fifth and Putnam streets has been the home of Marietta College’s presidents since 1937.
Through a history that includes mail-tampering, a big expansion and some very generous owners, Marietta College has and continues to protect and preserve the home-added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973-as a historical staple to Marietta and the college.
“It is a grand home, and is a delight to live here,” said Diane Bruno, wife of current Marietta College President Joseph Bruno. “I’ve really enjoyed reading about the history of the President’s Home and hearing stories from Marietta College alumni and residents.”
The Brunos moved into the home when Joseph became president in 2012, and have brought their own style while maintaining its historical integrity.
“(We) are very aware of the home’s history and are respectful of that,” Diane Bruno said, as the pair have kept the home nearly the same as it was before they moved in except for some minor changes. “I only requested that the laundry facilities be moved from the basement to the second floor.”
According to the Historic Campus Architecture Project (HCAP) under the Council of Independent Colleges, Wilcox quietly left his home after being accused of mail tampering in 1825, and through a series of bank transfers, the house was left in the hands of Col. John Mills, Sr., a local banker who also served as the college’s treasurer.
The house then went to Mills’ sons, who were both generous benefactors to the college, as the house underwent characteristic changes that reflected the Mills family’s wealth.
Marietta city councilman Harley Noland, whose family owns a different property built by the Mills family, said much of the home as it is today can be credited to the Mills family.
“The original section is the rear section that’s a story and a half,” Noland said. “It’s federal, so it’s very plain, then they built onto that.”
When the Mills moved in, the house took on quite a different size.
“That’s how many houses in Marietta are, where the wealthy had them built up as a facade,” Noland said.
Research by the HCAP noted that Mills put in the side porches and the front portico in 1840, eventually expanding the house with a back wing and then adding the curved iron railing at the Putnam Street entrance.
Mills’ sons, John Mills Jr. and W.W. Mills, left the house and all of its contents to Marietta College in the 1930s.
“They left everything to (them), all the silverware, glass and real estate,” Noland said.
In 1937, the residence officially became the home of the college president, and today, Bruno said a traditional practice and privilege left to the president is one of her favorite parts of preserving the history of the home.
“When we moved in, we were allowed to select pieces from Special Collections to display in the home, and I really enjoyed that,” Bruno said.
A portrait of the grandson of Rufus Putnam, Catharinus Putnam Buckingham, hangs in one of the parlor rooms of the house, adjacent from a portrait of his wife, Mary Gird Buckingham, and are among several of the pieces hand-selected by the Brunos.
In 2012, the home saw a major overhaul in maintenance and renovations, with new interior paint and carpet, a renovated kitchen, re-upholstered chairs, new furniture, the addition of upstairs air conditioning and a reconfiguration of the master bathroom.
“The college has really done a great job at preserving it,” Noland said. “At one point the president’s house was not well-maintained because there was no money, but that’s not the case anymore.”