With the recent dedication of the Dominican Heritage & Alumni House from the revitalized remains of William Babcock’s Edgehill, a new chapter in the life of this 123+ year old structure begins.
Like other 19th-century buildings, an incomplete record obscures Edgehill’s history. The construction timeline is a mystery, but it is known that the building was commissioned as a father’s wedding gift to William Babcock (1851 – 1918) and his bride, Helena Redington of Augusta Maine, who married in the late 1870s. Photographs taken by William’s brother Harry date back to 1882 which is at odds with the accepted completion date of the mansion as 1887. Whatever, the Queen Anne style home was built past the gateposts at Magnolia and Palm Avenues in what was then the Magnolia Valley area of the Coleman Tract near Meadowlands, the summer home of San Francisco Chronicle co-founder Michael DeYoung.
The marvel of the wedding gift that became Edgehill soon became shrouded in grief as Helena Babcock passed away in 1887 after the loss of three children. In 1895, William – a banker and tugboat tycoon – married Julia Beck (1861 – 1954), a prominent widow from a Baltimore family. The couple lived at Edgehill and its 50-acres where they maintained beautiful gardens, greenhouses and a kennel of Dachshunds! Julia expanded and remodeled the Queen Anne mansion, while decorating her home with antiques and furnishings acquired during travels abroad. Sometime between 1891 and 1894, she added “gingerbread” detailing to the house as well as a tower. The Babcocks’ life together came to an end in January 1918 when William contracted pneumonia and died. Julia was sole heir to his fortune and engaged herself with philanthropic and civic activities.
In January of 1920, after returning from a trip abroad, Julia sold the Edgehill property to the Dominican Sisters for $75,000. The sisters converted the building into their second dormitory – the first being Meadowlands, which they had acquired for $40,000 in 1918. Edgehill was opened to returning seniors on August 30, 1920. The 1924 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of the property includes a 2.5-story building with outbuildings that include a restroom, laundry, chicken coops, dairy bar, cow barn and greenhouse! By 1950 most of the outbuildings had been removed. Over the years, Edgehill provided the college with residence facilities, a novitiate, classrooms, offices, a dining hall and the Garden School pre-school established in 1946..
By 1986 the aging Queen Anne mansion was found to be unsafe as a residence hall and offices were instead located there. In 1989, fter the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the building was closed. Now, more than two decades later, Dominican University has completed its restoration and reopened Edgehill as a center of Alumni activities.